The Real Deal New York

Buffing a shabby strip of Broadway

Hotel developers call chaotic stretch of Broadway 'architectural jewel'
By C.J. Hughes | March 31, 2008 02:46PM

Those looking for counterfeit handbags, $5 bottles of perfume or human hair wigs can find them on Manhattan’s slanting stretch of Broadway between West 23rd and West 34th streets.

The downmarket area, chaotic with street vendors and shoppers thronging to wholesale stores, is sandwiched between the Flatiron and Flower districts and is one of the few Manhattan neighborhoods in this area to have staved off gentrification.

Part of the area is in the Madison Square North historic district, notable for its ornate Belle Epoque buildings. It’s this architecture that a clutch of developers is betting
can attract tourists, despite the area’s chronic shabbiness.

The Ace Hotel Group, which already has popular outposts in Portland, Ore., and Seattle, and another planned for Palm Springs, Calif., will open a branch inside
the terra cotta and brick Hotel Breslin
at 1186 Broadway on the corner of West
29th Street.

When it opens in December, floors one through 10 of the landmarked building will feature 247 rooms, from 230 to 800 square feet, starting at $270 a night, said Alex Calderwood, the company’s founder.

The Ace’s top two floors, meanwhile, will house people who have lived in the building in recent years, when the hotel was a single-room occupancy facility, and who are
choosing to stay put, according to GFI Development Company, the project’s Manhattan-based developer.

Others who don’t want to move claim that GFI is harassing them to nudge them out the door. Though the Department of Housing Preservation and Development found that harassment did occur, a judge later dismissed the decision. The tenants are appealing, and the case could be heard in April, said Susan Cohen, a housing attorney with Manhattan Legal Services.

Simultaneously, the tenants oppose GFI’s effort to relocate laundry machines from the basement to the 12th floor and limit them to one elevator, Cohen said.

Meanwhile, the ground floor of the Breslin, whose façade sports raised Beaux-Arts garlands, is losing its dozen narrow shops, about eight of which now appear shuttered.

They will give way to a 24-hour restaurant from Ken Friedman, owner of the West Village’s Spotted Pig, which will occupy 3,500 square feet of the lobby, entered from 29th Street, Calderwood said.

Adding more West Coast élan will be an offshoot of Stumptown Coffee Roasters, a Portland company, in an 800-square-foot berth; there will also be Rudy’s, a multichain barbershop, across two floors.

The remaining 3,500 square feet along Broadway have yet to be leased, said Calderwood, but fashion retailers are being courted for a street that can command $300 a square foot.

“There are very few areas left in New York that have the feel of an emerging neighborhood,” Calderwood said. “This could put a stake in the ground for revitalization.”

Andrew Zobler, a principal of GFI, wouldn’t say what he paid for the Breslin, which he closed on last November. But he’s clearly banking on the area’s turnaround. Another hotel, NoMad, as in North of Madison Square, is planned for 1170 Broadway, a limestone turn-of-the-last-century office tower at West 28th Street. When it opens in December 2009, it will feature 160 rooms, Zobler said, plus street-level retail.

“I see this neighborhood as an architectural jewel that’s sitting in the middle of the most convenient location in Manhattan,” he said.

Like the Tenderloin, the 19th-century name for this area, where visitors fell prey to seedy characters, its modern-day counterpart has also suffered from crime.

In 2007, the 13th Precinct, which includes this neighborhood and other areas to the east, saw three murders, 210 assaults and 1,660 cases of grand larceny. In comparison, the adjacent 10th Precinct, covering Chelsea, experienced less than half those totals, with no murders, 162 assaults and 827 grand larcenies.

While criminals could deter visitors, the Ace, at least, thinks its low rates will win them over. At $270 a night, the rates will be about 15 percent cheaper than the average Manhattan hotel room this year, which is expected to cost $320 a night, according to industry estimates.

And while there are a handful of other hotels slated for west of Sixth Avenue and north of Herald Square, few are in the immediate vicinity, one exception being the 124-room Wyndham Garden Inn, slated for 37 West 24th Street.

Still, Calderwood sees his product competing with boutique properties farther downtown, which “offer a $400-and-up price point, so this is a relative value,” he said.

The area could change markedly if higher-end developments draw the same ilk, said Jennifer Brown, executive director of the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership, the business improvement district. “Everybody’s been hoping for an anchor that can benefit the rest of the corridor,” Brown said.

Other developers seem to be doing their part. There is construction at 1182 Broadway, a 17-story mid-block high-rise, inside the Madison Square North Historic District. And there are plans to renovate 1141 Broadway at West 26th Street.

According to plans filed by owner Mocal Enterprises with Manhattan’s Community Board 5, the building will gain apartments on floors six through 17, and the ground through fifth floors will stay commercial.

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