City Hall: Functional Government Hub Gains Cachet

Lofts, five-minute walk to Nobu in area becoming known as 'TriBeCa East'

It used to be that the only reason to trek to the City Hall area for many Manhattanites would be to contest a ticket or serve on jury duty. The area has generally been known as a five-day-a-week, 9-to-5 neighborhood, a hub for city government surrounded by fast food joints and functional, low-end retailers.

But that image has been starting to change. Several recent transformations of office buildings into luxury dwellings are bringing in families, Wall Streeters and singles, and providing cachet to an area that, until recently, had little.

Some brokers are touting the area, centrally located in terms of subways, as an eastern annex of TriBeCa, with considerably cheaper loft dwellings, and still only a five-minute walk from Nobu. Others note the fabulous architecture of the area, with City Hall, Tweed Courthouse and the Woolworth Building numbering among the countless historic, mostly government-related, structures. There s also City Hall Park, restored under Mayor Giuliani, as well as nearby South Street Seaport and the Brooklyn Bridge.

With a new influx of residents, brokers say the bustling daytime area will eventually become a bustling nighttime area as well, with more upscale restaurants and retailers.

“It s a very vibrant area,” said Shaun Osher, an executive vice president at Douglas Elliman. “I m finding people are coming here from all over. There are Wall Streeters who want to walk to work, Upper East Siders, singles and foreign investors. It s a very wide demographic of people, and not one particular group. I think that will add to the character of the neighborhood.”

Evelyn Cole of Stribling & Associates, who defines the core of the neighborhood as “any place you can see City Hall Park from,” said she is seeing a lot of young families moving to the area, particularly from the Upper East Side.

“Young families come down here on the weekends to the Seaport and parks, and that s a draw,” she said. “You can get more square footage down here than Uptown,” and some of the newest buildings have “the same services that you d find on Park Avenue.”

Children who live in the City Hall area are also eligible to attend P.S. 234, the excellent elementary school in TriBeCa that first drew families to that neighborhood in the 1980s, Cole said. “The families I see are usually also looking elsewhere in TriBeCa. Many have a baby on the way, and one in a stroller. They all ask about P.S. 234, even if they don t end up sending their children there.”

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While sharing some of the advantages of TriBeCa, the City Hall Park area is considerably cheaper. “People who can t afford a three bedroom for over 2 million in TriBeCa can find one here for 1.35 million,” Osher said. “And those numbers will appreciate,” particularly as money is pumped into the nearby Financial District during the rebuilding effort there, he said.

Two developments leading the way around City Hall are a 23-story condo known as 150 Nassau at City Hall Park and Tower 270 at 270 Broadway.

The 150 Nassau Street building, which overlooks City Hall Park, was erected in 1896 as the tallest “skyscraper” in Manhattan at the time and was known as “the crown jewel of Park Row,” according to Douglas Elliman, which is doing the marketing for the building. Conversion of the former office building to lofts began before Sept. 11. There are four residences per floor, ranging from one-bedroom apartments for around $550,000 to a 9,000 square-foot penthouse apartment on the market for $10 million. Around 80 percent of the units have been sold, and around 50 percent of the building is occupied.

Tower 270 at 270 Broadway, another conversion, is being marketed by Stribling & Associates. Cole said the building is notable for the amenities it provides two shifts of doormen (“rare for the TriBeCa area”), a 24-hour concierge and an on-site manager. The development, which mostly houses larger units, is about 75 percent sold at this point. A three bedroom, 3.5 bath unit in the building runs about $1,695,000. A potentially four bedroom, 3.5 bath 4,000 square foot unit in the building runs about $685 a square foot, Cole said. 80 Chambers Street is part of the same structure, but has a separate entrance because the developer of the building retained ownership of that portion.

Other developments in the area include 15 Park Row, a 28-story Beaux-Arts office tower partly converted to rental apartments in 2000. There have also been plans to convert the upper floors of the Woolworth Building to residential use or a hotel, “but nothing appears finalized,” Osher said. Osher said he expects people to move to the City Hall area because there is still authentic conversion space available there, not the new construction seen in TriBeCa now that much of what s convertible there has already been converted. “People want a downtown loft with character,” he said.

Loft space in the City Hall area is high-ceilinged, with big windows, but consists of concrete and terracotta, not brick and wood like in Soho. “It s a cross between the great lofts and the prewar type apartments with multiple bedrooms,” said Cole. As far as new construction, there is little open space for new development, though one significant plot of land was put on the market in July. NYU Downtown Hospital s parking lot could fetch as much as $100 million as home of a 50-story tower topped with luxury condos. The site, which is being marketed by Cushman & Wakefield, is just steps from City Hall Park and is next to 150 Nassau, and is known to many as the Beekman Hospital parking lot.

With its proximity to TriBeCa (“Five or six of the best restaurants in the city are within walking distance”), Battery Park City, the Financial District and the Seaport, Osher sees the City Hall area as a hub “where several different worlds are meeting.” Transportation is another plus. “You can walk two blocks and get onto any main subway line in Manhattan,” he said.

Osher said he also expects the City Hall area to become a destination address for retailers and restaurants in its own right eventually. “I think over the next five years retail is going to change,” he said. “You ll see more upscale restaurants coming here. Even some of the delis are already getting hipper, and you re not as concerned you might get ill from something you eat there,” he said. “There is now also a Starbucks around the corner from my office, though I regret using that as an example,” he said. Cole also said she sees signs of transformation, noting a home accessories and furniture store and an art poster shop that recently moved in.

“I think some things are changing right now,” she said. “But a lot of store leases have to expire for new tenants to come in. So it s going to take a little time.”