Now that Chelsea and the Upper West Side have been thoroughly digested by the forces of gentrification, brokers and developers have been elbowing one another for a piece of this rent-regulated working-class stronghold. Along Eighth Avenue, residential towers are springing up like wildflowers, housing people who work in the new Times Square office district. Restaurants such as Esca and Above and new hotels have opened their doors to crowds going to The Lion King or Cabaret—and given the area’s indigenous actor population work.
TIPPING POINT: Times Square’s rebirth had the biggest overall impact, but when Kenneth Cole moved his headquarters in 1999 from Carnegie Hall Tower to 50th Street at Eleventh Avenue—an area surrounded by auto dealerships—other outsiders began giving the neighborhood a second look. The Hudson Hotel on 58th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues cranked up the heat as well. “That’s been huge,” says Evie Scocos at Citi-Habitats. “There was nothing there before.”
WHAT’S NEW: Two of the biggest residential projects have been Larry Silverstein’s massive River Place apartment tower at 42nd Street near Twelfth Avenue and the New Gotham on 43rd between Ninth and Tenth. Both capitalized on the Times Square and Broadway booms. The openings of two luxury apartment buildings, the Gershwin and Longacre House at 50th Street and Eighth Avenue (one-bedrooms start at $3,000), dramatically changed the tenor of the former Eighth Avenue porn corridor, bringing upscale restaurants like the Palm West and spacious grocery stores stocked with jicama and farmhouse cheeses (like the new gargantuan Food Emporium on Eighth Avenue).
CREATURE COMFORTS: “We got a Starbucks now! The whole neighborhood’s going to hell!” laughs Lindy Bondy, a broker for Klara Madlin Real Estate who moved here from Westchester eleven years ago. Along with better restaurants, new cineplexes (including one 25-screen behemoth), and arcades, bars like Chase and clubs like B.B. King Blues Club have multiplied entertainment options.
STREET LIFE: “The neighborhood has just changed so drastically,” says Scocos. Scocos touts the large number of actors who give the neighborhood its character, but others argue that they’re already getting priced out. “People are afraid of gentrification and of things becoming too homogeneous,” says Doug Heddings, a real-estate agent with Douglas Elliman who has sold nearly twenty apartments to bankers and attorneys in the Armory, a former military building that is still, at the moment, occupied mostly by artists, but now commands seven-figure prices. “It’s more like Heaven’s Kitchen now,” says Peter Browne, broker for Stribling.
PROGNOSIS: More of the same for years to come. With the railyards and all the industrial property, this area is ripe for both residential and commercial development. The biggest project: the proposed West Side Stadium, which the Jets would like to call home for eight games a year, and where the city would like to host a big chunk of the 2012 Summer Olympics. To the north, at Columbus Circle, construction is beginning on the AOL Time Warner world headquarters, a project that includes 198 posh pieds-à-terre.
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