Since 1995, the number of people actually living in the area where Manhattan was originally settled has swelled by over 60 percent, with 8,000 new apartments to house them in. Back when office rents were lagging downtown, the financial district was hyped as the next hot neighborhood, and empty office buildings were proffered as quirky and semi-affordable new places to live. Five years later, the first residential conversion in the financial district, at 45 Wall Street, is being torn down to make room for the new New York Stock Exchange building. And for those who actually moved to the area, it’s still next to impossible to rent a video. The South Street Seaport area is at least near the Fulton Street shopping district, even if it’s mostly geared to the Wall Street workers’ daytime needs. But things are perfectly friendly in the fussy, surburbanish archipelago of Battery Park City.
WHAT’S NEW: Rentals. The Renaissance at 100 John Street was “the first really nicely done building in the financial district,” says Bob Scaglion of Citi-Habitats. “For the first time, people started coming down and saying, ‘Wow, I can get a beautiful apartment here for a lot less than I would uptown.’” It inspired a slew of imitators, spurred by aggressive tax incentives for residential conversions offered under Mayor Giuliani’s revitalization program. Le Revage at 21 West Street, a 1932 Art Deco building converted into 293 units, is classy; the Ocean, at 1 West Street, is flashy, with a lobby ceiling copied from the Bellagio in Vegas. Unusually for the area, 200 Water Street, which is near the Seaport, was built new.
STREET LIFE: “There’s no crime!,” says Scaglion. “I hate to say there’s no poverty, but there just isn’t. There’s no public housing, nothing like that.” Crime statistics place Lower Manhattan at the bottom of the blotter citywide. The Downtown Alliance has 120 red-suited “good- will ambassadors” who clean and patrol the area. The financial district has never been an easy place to buy toilet paper and other essentials, but you can now find farm-fresh arugula at the Amish Market on Washington Street. Battery Park City now has three competing supermarkets and a sixteen-screen movie theater.
MIGRATIONS: The last influx of new arrivals below Chambers Street spoke Dutch. Today, it’s populated mostly by affluent workaholic singles and couples who want to live as close as possible to their jobs. According to a survey by the Downtown Alliance, 88 percent are under 45, with 76 percent making over $90,000 a year. One in four households rakes in over $210,000, but less than 10 percent have children under 18.
PROGNOSIS:During the boom, Lower Manhattan lost its 20 percent discount. Prices hit near–Upper West Side levels before slipping this winter. Over 2,500 units are coming soon, and Battery Park City is nearing completion. Whether that means “critical mass” or “glut” remains to be seen.
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