The enigmatic Neil Bender, who runs a Manhattan real estate empire estimated to be worth more than $1 billion, is taking an uncharacteristically trendy step and opening a farmers’ market in one of his buildings in the Meatpacking District.
Bender’s company, which oversees the real estate holdings amassed by the late William Gottlieb, plans to open the market at 52 Gansevoort Street, between Greenwich and Washington streets, and stock it with fresh produce from Upstate New York’s Hudson Valley.
The two-story structure that was part of a row of buildings built between 1850 and 1893 (originally as three- to five-story buildings) is now part of the Gansevoort Market Historic District, designated by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2003. The building is currently vacant.
The plans have remained largely under wraps, despite a presentation by Bender’s architect for the project, Peter Wormser, principal of Wormser + Associates Architects, before the LPC in June.
Even the executive director of the Meatpacking District Improvement Association (MPIA), a business advocacy group, was not aware of the plans. “We would love to have a farmers’ market in the neighborhood,” she said. “But I can’t comment on the plans because this is the first I have heard of it.”
Neighborhood insider Jared Epstein, vice president of Meatpacking District property owner Aurora Capital Associates and a member of the MPIA’s board, had high praise for the plan when asked about it. “Opening a boutique farmers’ market on Gansevoort Street will continue the gentrification of the Meatpacking District and bring more valuable foot traffic to the gateway of the neighborhood from the well-heeled residents of the West Village,” he said.
The buildings were originally used for carpentry and construction. But in 1937, the properties were reduced to two floors and put to use by merchants as a vegetable market, according to the 2003 report by the LPC.
While it is unclear when the market will open, the most recent action was by Wormser, who filed amended construction plans earlier this month with the city’s Department of Buildings. The new plans reflected construction updates following the June 12 approval by the LPC of Gottlieb’s plans. The proposal includes replacing roll-down gates with garage doors with windows and installing a sign that will read: Gansevoort Market.
Bender, who secured his control of the estate following a court ruling in 2010, has taken a more active role in the properties than his great uncle, who was frequently criticized for leaving properties empty. Bender has even sold some of the estimated 100 properties.
Some insiders speculated Bender was creating the market to build demand for the mostly vacant blockfront he owns on the south side of Gansevoort Street from Greenwich to Washington Street.