The Real Deal New York

Architects drafting a better office space in Garment District

Architecture firms find Garment District suits them
By The Real Deal Staff | June 27, 2008 06:41PM

When Gavin Macrae-Gibson moved his architecture firm from Midtown
Manhattan to the Garment District in 1995, he had no idea he would soon
be followed by many others in his trade.

Once a thriving
manufacturing area where an immigrant influx spurred the growth of the
apparel industry, the Garment District, bounded roughly by Fifth and
Ninth avenues and 34th and 42nd streets, by the 1990s had become one of
the most depressed parts of Midtown Manhattan with the gradual loss of
clothing factories, suppliers and wholesalers due to pressure from
cheaper clothing imports.

But it seems that at least one industry has quietly taken over the area over the past
few years: architecture, along with its counterpart, engineering.

10 or 15 years ago, there was a whole thing where architects had to be
in Tribeca; it was cool or something,” said Macrae-Gibson, whose firm,
Macrae-Gibson Architects, has offices at 450 Seventh Avenue between
34th and 35th streets.

“But I think after
Sept. 11, a lot of architects moved from Downtown to affordable areas
of Midtown. The Garment Center benefited from that influx, so we were a
bit ahead of the curve there.”

Tom Oprea, the
president of Oprea Design Group, also located at 450 Seventh Avenue,
said he has been in his current location about four years. “I know of
quite a few other architects in the neighborhood,” Oprea said. “And I
think the size of the space for the rent is pretty good. And it’s
convenient to other parts of the city.”

According to statistics
compiled by commercial brokerage Cushman & Wakefield, the Penn
Plaza/Garment District neighborhood has more space occupied by
architects and engineers than any other neighborhood in Manhattan.
About 906,525 square feet of space is used by the trades, which is 30
percent of the 3.03 million square feet of office space leased by
architects and engineers throughout Manhattan.

The Gramercy Park
neighborhood has the second largest concentration of architects and
engineers. In that neighborhood, they occupy 507,831 square feet of
space. Chelsea comes in third, with 309,155 square feet utilized by the

David Levy, a principal
at Adams & Co. Real Estate, said he first noticed a trend of
architects moving to the Garment District about three years ago.
Currently, in the 10018 zip code, which encompasses the Garment
District, there are about 143 architecture firms.

“We have a building at
48 West 37th Street with five floors, where I have five different
architectural firms, and I thought it was unique to that building,”
Levy said. “But then, as I started looking at it more closely, I
realized it’s happening all over that area.”

Architects are
attracted to the open, raw manufacturing spaces with affordable prices
found in the Garment District, Levy said. Rents typically range from
the low $30s to about $35 a square foot, he said.

“The space is well
priced, well lighted, lots of windows, interesting, with high ceilings,
and creative,” he said. “A lot of these buildings were used as apparel
space, and apparel people are also creative, and as that business has
contracted in size, it’s left these open spaces with high ceilings that
architects crave.”

Abraham Hidary, the
president of Hidrock Realty, a developer and landlord with three
buildings in the Garment District on West 36th Street between Fifth and
Sixth avenues, said he recently signed two architectural firms in the
area: WBTL Architects and China Construction Design International. Over
the course of several weeks this spring, another seven architecture
firms also looked at space in Hidrock’s buildings, where rents range
from $40 to $45 a square foot. Companies were looking for spaces
ranging in size from 2,000 to 6,500 square feet, he said.

“What our buildings
have that’s probably a benefit is a very lofty feel,” Hidary said.
“There are open ceilings, the concrete floor look, very large windows
that are not cut by a drop ceiling, exposed ductwork. It’s a raw look.

“There are also
buildings further down that have that in Soho and Union Square, but
we’re in a better transit area, right between Penn Station and Grand
Central and the Port Authority.”

Barbara Raskob, the
director of leasing at the Kaufman Organization and a commercial real
estate owner and manager, said that at one point Chelsea was highly
fashionable for architects, but that she has seen the Garment District
grow in popularity. Though architects no longer need ample open spaces
for their large drawing tables, since they use computers now, they
still appreciate the loft concept, she said.

“They still look for
the wide open spaces that allow them to do mock-ups and displays, and
to show whatever they’re doing more readily,” Raskob said. “It’s not
your traditional office layout.”

Perhaps even more important, many
architects are finding clients among the fashion tenants of the Garment District, she said.

in the Garment Center have historically had wonderful showrooms, and
they update them every couple of years, almost as frequently as they
change their fashion lines, to stay in touch with and present a new
image to their buyers,” Raskob said. “So they need the use of
architects perhaps more than the traditional office tenant, who will
leave an office exactly the same for 15 years.”

Oprea, whose offices
are at 450 Seventh Avenue, where the Kaufman Organization has about
four other architecture firms, agreed that architects can find clients
in the Garment District neighborhood. “I moved into this building
because I have lots of clients in the neighborhood,” he said.

Macrae-Gibson, also in
that building, agreed: “We’ve ended up doing a lot of work in the
Garment District for a lot of owners. We’ve done a lot of building
lobbies, fa├žades, tenant spaces, retail, all kinds of things.

“The Garment District itself is one of these districts that are in the process of changing, and change is good for architects.”

one change that may not be taking place any time soon is a proposed
rezoning of the side streets between Sixth and Eighth avenues from 35th
to 40th streets to allow office uses in those manufacturing zones, said
Steven Kaufman, the senior managing director of the Kaufman
Organization and a founding member of the Fashion Center Business
Improvement District.

The rezoning had been
opposed by many businesses in the apparel industry, and Kaufman said
the idea has died: “There’s nothing happening with that right now. It’s

However, city officials
have not given up on the proposed Garment Center rezoning, said a
spokesperson for the Department of City Planning. “A successful
rezoning plan will balance the needs of the garment industry, the
property owners and other developing businesses, and as soon as we
achieve a consensus on what the right balance is, we will take a
proposal forward into public review,” said a statement released by the

Kaufman said that if
the rezoning does eventually pass, it would not really affect
architects. It would not convert manufacturing areas to more offices
for companies like architecture firms, but would essentially legitimize
office uses that are already taking place, Kaufman said.

“It [would legalize]
what is already existing,” he said, referring to the fact that there is
currently little enforcement of zoning regulations restricting the use
of manufacturing space for offices.

Go to chart: Garment District leads Manhattan neighborhoods in attracting architecture, engineering firms

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