As Manhattan real estate values transform every last corner of the island into a haven of high-priced housing, another down-at-the-heels area has joined the ranks of unlikely hot neighborhoods.
Sixth Avenue between 24th and 31st streets is the locus of frenzied construction, as a former enclave of flower and flea markets becomes a high-rise residential corridor with thousands of new luxury condo and rental units. Less than a decade ago, several parking garages and an accumulation of low-lying buildings fronted by wholesale businesses dominated the neighborhood, and the Chelsea Flea Market was a weekend fixture attracting droves of bargain hunters.
Now many of the flower sellers have been forced or priced out of their storefronts and are largely relegated to 28th Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues. After 29 years in the neighborhood, the Chelsea Flea Market relocated to Hell’s Kitchen last year.
Developers are quick to tout the extent of the transformation.
“To imagine what it’s going to look like in five years, all you need to do is go back six years and double it,” said Jules Demchick, president of JD Carlisle Development Corporation, which is building a 46-story tower on Sixth Avenue between 29th and 30th streets. “It’s going to be a vibrant residential neighborhood.”
From a residential developer’s perspective, the area is ideal. It’s close to the 34th Street transit hub and to Midtown office buildings, and surrounded by Chelsea’s retail and dining establishments.
The seven-block expanse may have been ripe for building, but it saw no significant residential development until the late 1990s. A 1995 rezoning changed the area’s designation from a manufacturing district to allow high-density residential and commercial structures. Developers could build on these blocks, and build high.
Today, there are five rental towers along the stretch, all of which have gone up since 2000. Three construction plots dot the streets, the future sites of one rental tower, Rose Associates’ Chelsea Landmark at 55 West 25th Street, and two condo towers, Adellco’s the Remy at 101 West 28th Street and LCOR’s yet-to-be-named building at 101 West 24th Street.
Meanwhile, groundbreaking is imminent on two other sites. The JD Carlisle development between 29th and 30th streets will be a hotel with condo units starting at the 20th floor. On the next block, Herald Square Development recently purchased all the parcels on the west side of the avenue between 30th and 31st streets for redevelopment.
The new developments will satisfy some of the demand for housing in central Manhattan, filling a need that is stymied in neighboring prime Chelsea and the Ladies’ Mile district by height restrictions on residential projects.
On the other hand, the towers threaten to obliterate the neighborhood’s unique character. In the rental towers that have gone up since 2000, chain stores like CVS and Starbucks, as well as several bank branches, have filled the ground-floor retail spaces.
The Flower Market, which has been in the neighborhood since the 1890s, has lost dozens of flower sellers to evictions and rising rents since the residential development began (see below).
“I think it’s really sad that the city is letting the wholesale district be crushed,” said Cordelia Persen, executive director of the Flower Market Association. “On the other hand, it makes sense, because this should be a residential neighborhood.”
On the northern end of the district, several wholesale apparel and jewelry stores serving the Garment District are also likely to be forced out by new developments.
“Anyone who thinks they’ve been living in this outpost district with a cool little store underneath them that they never shop at, that’s going to go,” said Richard Hamilton, senior vice president at Halstead Property. “I see the neighborhood ending up a little bit like that area between 23rd and 30th streets on the far East Side that’s not quite Gramercy and not quite Murray Hill. It has a large number of buildings and is short on the cutesy.”
According to developers and brokers, because most of the new buildings going up are condos, residents will stay in the neighborhood longer than they typically do in the existing rental towers.
“The rents in those buildings are so high that I think people are going to choose to buy,” said Kevin Kurland, president of Kurland Realty. “I think it’s going to make it more of a long-term neighborhood.” Kurland said he expects the condos to sell for $900 to $1,200 a square foot.
LCOR’s 37-story tower at 101 West 24th Street will be the first completed condo development. Construction will be finished by late 2007, and the building will be Chelsea’s tallest.
“We felt it was time to have an ownership property in the neighborhood,” said David Sigman, senior vice president at LCOR. “Our target audience is the people already living in the corridor.”
Sigman said the changing face of retail along Sixth Avenue was a natural outgrowth of the rezoning, and that there would be a respite area for small businesses along side streets since developers can’t build as high there. Persen of the Flower Market Association said that with the exception of the Remy — which will be a glass tower composed of interlocking squares designed by Costas Kondylis — “they’re building modern, uninteresting monstrosities.
“It’s extremely complicated,” she said, “but I wish it was easier to preserve neighborhoods in New York without having to turn them into museums, like Greenwich Village.”
Once blooming Flower Market fading
Flower sellers set up shop between 26th and 29th streets in the 1890s because of the area’s proximity to the Ladies’ Mile stores and the one-time Tenderloin District’s restaurants, clubs and theaters. The Flower Market thrived there until the 1970s, when some sellers started relocating to the suburbs.
After the 1995 rezoning, though, the market started shrinking at a faster pace, and over the past 10 years most of the sellers on Sixth Avenue have been forced out of their storefronts.
“If you look at the revenue condo buildings bring to the city, we bring a lot less,” said Richard Walker, who has been selling flowers in the district for over 20 years and is the co-owner of Foliage Garden at 120 West 28th Street. “But the city is going to regret tossing the market aside.”
Plans to move the Flower Market to another neighborhood have been discussed for years but are currently on the back burner due to a lack of consensus among the merchants.
Aside from rent hikes and evictions, the shift to residential has also detrimentally impacted the flower sellers because it has led to an uptick in parking tickets, driving customers away and making it difficult for truckers to make late-night deliveries without getting fined, said Cordelia Persen, executive director of the Flower Market Association.