Posts tagged with "Soho":
Broadway, Manhattan’s longest street and a main commercial drag, spans the length of the island from hilly Inwood to Lower Manhattan’s breezy Bowling Green. There are shops from nose to tail, but a recent survey found that Broadway is also home to almost 200 vacant storefronts, dead zones on one of Gotham’s liveliest thoroughfares.
Glaring vacancies aren’t limited to Broadway though. From Madison and Fifth Avenue to Broadway in Soho and Bleeker Street in the West Village, high-end commercial strips in Manhattan are having trouble attracting commercial tenants. A healthy vacancy rate is 5 percent, but some fancy areas are in the midst of high-rent blight, with one in five (20 percent) storefronts vacant.
Further north, in Washington Heights, a whole block of immigrant-owned businesses were essentially evicted after new landlords proposed a 100 percent rent increase and declined to renew their leases.
Why is this happening?
The causes are predictable, but the solutions are not.
High rent, high taxes, regulations that favor owners over tenants, and plain old capitalism—the incentive for owners to seek their property’s maximum value, and the consumer’s desire to acquire goods at the lowest price—all contribute to the twin plagues of vacancy and the mall-ification (national chains displacing small, local businesses) of Manhattan. Stakeholders, though, disagree on what should be done to solve a growing crisis at street level.
This spring, the Manhattan Borough President’s Office (MBPO) recruited volunteers to count all the vacant storefronts along Broadway, citing a dearth of information on how many vacancies exist, and where. The survey follows an effort from two years ago where the office reached out to small businesses and offered potential policy solutions to businesses’ problems.
But first the report had to determine what a small business is, a question that is not as obvious as it seems.
The federal government’s Small Business Administration (SBA) measures business size by number of employees or the company’s value, depending on the sector. The Small Business Act, though, uses a measure that doesn’t exactly conjure visions of mom-and-pops: It says small businesses have fewer than 500 employees. Under the same rules, a microbusiness has fewer than five employees and requires $35,000 in capital or less to get going.
In New York State, small businesses are companies that employ fewer than one hundred people, while New York City’s Department of Small Business Services doesn’t set a number. Instead, it encourages any self-identifying businesses to seek out its resources.
Consequently, the MBPO’s March 2015 report called for a standardized measure of “small,” and the recommendations in its report are geared toward firms with 15 or fewer employees.
No matter how you define them, it’s clear that the not-so-invisible hand of the market is driving these firms out of business on Manhattan’s main streets. One problem? Stratospheric commercial rent increases. In 2014, the average asking rent in Manhattan was $65.14 per square foot. With ever-more high-income individuals flooding Manhattan, landlords are reluctant to offer 10- or 15-year commercial leases lest they get stuck with a lower-paying tenant as commercial land values in the neighborhood skyrocket.
Other problems, the report found, include businesses not having enough insurance, delaying tax payment, and under-budgeting for utilities. On the city side, some business owners in the report cited punitive agency inspectors who, instead of working with the owner to correct an issue, slapped the business with a fine.
Additional solutions don’t seem politically viable or aren’t effected at a scale that works.
A special tax for businesses in most of Manhattan eats into viability, too. In June, Mayor Bill de Blasio rejected the city council's proposal to alter commercial rent tax, an almost four percent surcharge on annual rent of $250,000 or more on businesses below 96th Street. As rents have risen, the tax threshold has stayed the same, and more businesses have become impacted. A bill (sponsored by Councilmember Dan Garodnick) that would raise the ceiling to $500,000 in annual rent didn’t make it into the final 2018 budget, though the item could be considered at a later date. If that limit were approved, the city would lose $52 million in revenue annually.
Zoning regulations encourage new development with huge storefronts that work for Chase and CVS but not for their independent counterparts. On the Upper West Side, though, neighbors are seeing mixed success from initiatives like a 2012 zoning change that limited storefronts to 25 feet, but don’t limit store size, as businesses are free to expand up or down as space permits.
But some advocates say these reforms don’t go far enough to stop business closures and the encroachment of chain stores.
“There is a crisis,” said Kirsten Theodos, cofounder of TakeBackNYC, an advocacy group for New York City small businesses. New York is losing 1,000 small businesses and 8,000 jobs per month. Theodos, who lives near the East Village, said all of this “fuels the hyper-gentrification and whitewashing of the city, a process that’s really accelerated over the past six years.”
Her group supports the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA), a piece of local legislation that would set new rules around renewing commercial leases. Among other provisions, SBJSA would give commercial tenants, at minimum, a ten-year lease plus right to renewal and the option of arbitration to come to a new rent. The legislation is designed to slow, not stop, the rate of change in neighborhoods, and level the playing field for florists and bakeries competing for storefronts with Starbucks and Pottery Barn.
When the bill was first introduced in 2014, it had the support of 17 councilmembers—now it has the support of 26, or half the council. But in a city dominated by real estate interests, the bill is a nonstarter, Theodos explained. REBNY, the city’s largest real estate trade association, opposes the proposed rules, rallying around the idea that land values are subject to the “free market” and (incorrectly) deeming the rules “rent control.”
Even real estate boosters, though, acknowledge the downtrends in the market. According to REBNY, average asking rents in Manhattan this past spring fell in 14 of 17 of the borough’s top shopping strips compared with 2016 and record highs in 2014 and 2015. But the group maintains that a variety of factors set Manhattan apart from the suburbs, and grant the city a degree of immunity from experts’ dire predictions about the death of retail. In New York, REBNY says there are “strong market fundamentals,” including diverse food tenants, online retailers opening storefronts, and the eternal cache of a New York, NY address.
But to REBNY, doing well means collecting more rent. Fifth Avenue between 14th and 23rd streets (the Flatiron Fifth Avenue corridor) and Broadway between Battery Park and Chambers Street (the Lower Manhattan corridor) did the best, with ground floor rents rising by 18 percent to $456 per square foot in the Flatiron and 11 percent to $362 per square foot along the Lower Manhattan corridor. The report only looks at rents along main strips. Rents on side streets, according to the report, could diverge from the main drag; conversely, a gorgeous space on a prime corner may command greater asking rent and affect averages all along the strip.
It’s not only high rents and taxes that are driving businesses to close. Online shopping is slaying retailers big and small, in Manhattan and the suburbs and beyond. Right now, unchecked real estate speculation and limited protections for small-business owners mean that there is little protection against ultimately having a national bank and pharmacy on every corner.
Like an architect, fashion designer Thakoon Panichgul carefully balances contemporary and historical influences. His eponymous brand has won him fans from Michelle Obama to Target, but when it came time to build a brick-and-mortar store, Panichgul and New York–based SHoP faced a more complex balancing act. They wanted to carefully devise an interior that would reflect its Soho surroundings and the Thakoon aesthetic, all while grabbing the attention of passersby and setting itself apart from competitors.
“Thakoon was really interested in making [the store] of its place, of New York, bringing in the grit of the city,” said Coren Sharples, principal at SHoP. Concrete with dark aggregate covers the floors, and the architects tapped Brooklyn-based Fernando Mastrangelo Studio to cast multiple concrete walls throughout the store. Mastrangelo reproduced the subtle gradients of his furniture on an architectural scale, pouring multiple layers of gray-hued concrete in a single casting. “This was crazy, it was done on site,” said Sharples. “This was formed up and poured. Really a little scary, but [Mastrangelo] was amazing.”
Wood was also an important part of Panichgul’s vision—the designer had prepared a mood board with several wood treatments that figured prominently in other fashion brands’ aesthetics. These ranged from light treatments with vernacular ornamentation (what he called “American Traditional”) to richly grained and darkly stained (“American Glam”). SHoP and Panichgul ultimately chose an unfinished white oak (“American Cool”), a look that left the wood in its raw, natural state. White oak surfaces sinuously undulate along the showroom’s walls even as they retain a dry, coarse texture. The architects and client also worked closely with Brooklyn-based furniture maker Vonnegut/Kraft on the store’s wood furniture: Connection details, leather seating, and each edge and taper went through multiple iterations before landing on a design that features simple woven-leather straps. Vonnegut/Kraft’s pieces stand in the main showroom and hug the curves of each dressing room.
Extra seating is provided by travertine blocks that were CNC-milled in Italy to 3-D models provided by SHoP. Panichgul tapped London-based designer Michael Anastassiades for the principal lighting features: simple orbs with brass detailing. Brass is also used for the store’s clothing rods and the towering sculptural display rack that stands prominently in the main showroom.
Taken all together, the materials find ways to somehow be both angular and curved, smooth and gritty, even as their neutral tones give the clothing center stage. “We wanted it to be infused with material sensibility and warmth, but at the same time, it’s always this line you walk because you don’t want to overpower or dictate,” said Sharples.
Brooklyn lighting company Roll & Hill is opening its first-ever showroom in Manhattan’s Soho district May 14. Together with architecture firm Husband Wife, with which the company previously partnered for its Euroluce stand in Milan, and designer Jason Miller, Roll & Hill created a space that reflected its boutique offerings. Founder Jason Miller established the company in 2010 to offer high-quality local craftsmanship (the factory is located in Sunset Park) to a mass audience—working with independent designers such as Lindsey Adelman, Fort Standard, Philippe Malouin, and Formafantasma. The showroom is meant to be a reflection of its luxury wares: “I think lighting often acts as a counterpoint to architecture. I have heard it described as ‘jewelry for the home,’ and I wanted to create an environment that would allow the lights to do just that,” said Miller.
To achieve this effect, the building was completely gutted and elegantly redone in white open spaces punctuated by simple fluted columns, oblong archways, delicate staircases, and gently curving walls. The 4,000-square-foot, four-story showroom opens with a first floor that functions like a traditional gallery (“Without the stuffiness,” Miller clarified), while the second floor is viewed as the “library floor” and the third floor “has a sexy ’70s vibe,” both with plush carpets and wood paneling, accompanied by exclusively designed furniture by Miller, Malouin, and Finn Juhl. “I was looking for a place…that felt intimate. I think it does exactly what I was hoping.”
“We’re always interested in the intersection between old-fashioned hand craft, and modern machined factory production.”Located in the Soho Cast Iron Historic district, XOCO325 (pronounced sho/co) is a 9-story, 24-unit condo development. Named after the Catalan word for chocolate, the project involves the renovation of a former Tootsie chocolate factory, and a new structure cloaked in a custom cast aluminum screen. The condos range in size from just over 1,000 sq. ft. to nearly 5,000 sq. ft. and are connected by a central courtyard. The design, development, and construction of the project has all been coordinated by New York-based office DDG who specializes in inclusive project delivery. Peter Guthrie, Chief Creative Officer and Head of Design & Construction of DDG, says from very early on, this “one-stop-shop” approach to development was rooted in the idea of embracing unique material qualities in construction. “At 41 Bond Street – one of our first projects – we were hand carving bluestone pieces on site. One of the ideas we had early on was that by doing this ourselves in house, and controlling everything throughout the process, we could bring back an element of craft that other companies couldn’t afford to do.” The most prominent feature of XOCO325 is a custom cast aluminum screen, carefully developed through an extensive survey of the cast iron district, where roughly 250 cast iron buildings reside. Through this study, the project team began to understand the cast iron facade as an industrialized “kit of parts” approach to architecture where design and construction rely heavily on series of componentry made available through pattern books. Inspiration also came from contemporary catalogs such as McMaster-Carr’s online website, which Guthrie labels as a “bible of industrial parts.” The catalog includes everything from bolts and screws to street lamp posts and furniture. DDG adopted this attitude of mass-produced componentry in their digitally developed forms, arriving at a proportioning system and bay spacing reminiscent of historical buildings in the area. “We’re always interested in the intersection between old-fashioned hand craft, and modern machined factory production,” says Guthrie. “There was an angle here we wanted to explore. Aluminum was light and, in the end, more affordable than replicating cast iron.” The project team developed a repetitive spandrel and column shape, working with a foundry to develop reusable composite forms with a weathered burlap texture. When prototyping versions of the system, the project team prioritized formal adjustments to the massing such as curvature and shadow lines to emphasize a sense of depth found on facades of historic buildings in the district. By “delaminating” the building enclosure system from the cast aluminum screen, a two-foot gap was established allowing the residential units to have a full span curtain wall glazing, while still maintaining some level of security and privacy. “That was our way of getting both: making a modern building without compromising on psychological stability and privacy.” This configuration is celebrated by the project team as having a “robust stability.” Within this space, balconies occupy the courtyard facing units, while a custom planter system comprised of pockets cast into the screen and a series of cables, is incorporated onto the primary street facade. The project is beginning sales, with an anticipated completion in 2016.