Three years ago, Nora Ephron gave this neighborhood a huge, wet kiss with You’ve Got Mail. While immortalizing immortal Zabar’s, Gray’s Papaya, and the small neighborhood bookstore, Ephron also turned her lens on newer arrivals like the Sony Lincoln Square cineplex and Starbucks. The moral? Learn to love the upscale chains. In the past five years, Zabar’s and Citarella have improved and expanded, there are more destination restaurants (Jean Georges, Picholine, Ruby Foo’s), and, yes, the megastores have arrived: Pottery Barn (1996), Staples (1998), Gracious Home (1999), Victoria’s Secret (2000), and, most recently, Balducci’s. Donald Trump is capitalizing on all this expansion with more towering skyscrapers. But hey, it all worked out in the movie.
GROWING PAINS: The biggest catalyst for change has been the transformation of Lincoln Square. Between 1994 and 1997, with the addition of Millennium Towers and the Reebok Club, and the retail boom (including another monster Barnes & Noble), a quiet residential area became clogged. “Put yourself down anywhere in the upper Sixties on the West Side and you could be on the East Side,” says Warren Pearl, a broker at Prudential MLB Kaye and a longtime West Side resident. “I much prefer north of 72nd Street, where we have fewer high-rises and you can actually see the sky.”
STREET LIFE: Even the subway has been gentrified, with vastly improved access at Lincoln Center, whimsical mosaics installed at the 81st Street museum stop, and the $53 million renovation of the 72nd Street station. With new health clubs, more retail, improvements to Riverside Park, and the spectacular new planetarium, the dog- and kid-friendly West Side continues to draw families.
MIGRATIONS: Families who have long embraced the Upper West Side’s good schools (public and private) and park access have been shunted north as the economic ripple effect from Lincoln Square has pushed home prices up and availability down in the Sixties and Seventies, sending “families who want quiet, tree-lined streets” higher than they would have considered only five years ago, says Halstead’s Deanna Kory.
WHAT’S NEW: The Trumping of the West Side: Trump Place—a sixteen-tower residential development with 5,700 new apartments—is well under way, with three towers finished. Stretching from 59th to 72nd Streets, the project has been plagued by protests, but is actually starting to win people over with its newly opened public space and pier at West 70th Street.
PROGNOSIS: How much more development can the Upper West Side withstand? They haven’t even gotten warmed up. The $1.5 billion retooling of Lincoln Center could take nearly a decade to complete, and may include a second opera house or a commercial high-rise. Expect the nesting trend to become even more pronounced as once chopped-up apartments are restored to their original, family-size proportions.
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