What was once a Dunkin’ Donuts at 220 Park Avenue South is now Gavin Citron’s très fabu Aleutia, where birchwood-smoked venison loin with pistachio ragout is served up for $32 a plate. That’s the way things have gone everywhere around Gramercy Park and Union Square in recent years. From the soaring One Union Square South—with its impossible-to-read steaming clock, its Virgin Megastore, and its pricey rentals, to Gramercy Park, where Richard Tyler’s house recently sold for $16.5 million, this once-forgotten area perfectly situated between downtown and uptown has been remembered in a big way.
STREET LIFE: Community Board 5 chairman Kyle Merker warns that some of the charm that helped attract interest in the Union Square area has been paved over. “Mom’s Cigars is gone. Eureka Joe’s Coffee is gone,” Merker says. “The rents have gone out of control. Landlords are not renewing leases, with the hopes of getting those higher rents.”
CREATURE COMFORTS: The opening of Barnes & Noble on East 17th Street in November 1995 signaled the start of a major retail-improvement boom. The apparently endless renovation of the subway station and Union Square Park is almost complete. And the farmer’s market has flourished, bringing huge, crisp apples, fresh greens, and all sorts of other produce to grateful hordes. Bid farewell to the old 14th Street—Bradlees, the bankrupt discount chain, is vacating its prime Union Square South roost. One rumored replacement tenant is H&M.
TIPPING POINT: Locals say the crowning moment of the area’s revival was the opening in November 2000 of the W New York hotel at 541 Lexington Avenue. “The area was underserved in terms of high-end hotel rooms, and they absolutely bring a lot of class to the area,” says resident and real-estate broker Emily Tannen of AJ Clarke.
WHAT’S NEW: At 136 East 19th Street (on the stretch off the park called “Block Beautiful”), a brownstone was converted to six high-end condos, a small but typical project. On a grander scale, One Union Square South brought 154 prime rental units, and fourteen stadium-seating movie screens, to the ’hood. An infamous 1989 ConEdison explosion outside 32 Gramercy Park South was a low point for the area, but in the past five years, there have been 35 sales in the building, says Corcoran broker Chris Leavitt. On 14th Street, NYU has built new dormitory towers where the Palladium disco once was, bringing thousands of college kids.
PROGNOSIS: It’s hard to imagine how any neighborhood can support what seems like three new sushi restaurants a block, but places with unique raw-fish stylings like Sushi Samba are busy. The only direction possible for residential growth is east along 14th Street and a few pockets between First and Second Avenues. Expect it. And say farewell to the funky downmarket stores on Park Avenue South. Like Dunkin’ Donuts, they’ll vanish as their leases expire.
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