New York PostBy Andy Wang
Aug. 29, 2013
Meatpacking District is a place where not just people in New York but people from all over the world want to be,” says Eugene Remm, co-founder of EMM Group, which has scheduled Fashion Week events with Elie Tahari and Next Management at its new La Cenita restaurant (in its former Abe & Arthur’s space). “The opportunity to create a new brand in the heart of the Meatpacking District was one we couldn’t lose.”
Yes, next week, when fashion-related events take over the social calendars of so many well-heeled New Yorkers, the Meatpacking District will buzz even more than usual. At no other time in no other place in the world will this much stiletto meet this much cobblestone, with both A-listers and would-be party crashers balancing precariously as they make their way to private bashes at the newest hot spots. They will jockey for space outside as grim gatekeepers make one thing clear: If you’re not on the list, you’re not getting in.
But you know what’s even more exclusive than a Meatpacking District event during Fashion Week? Living on the edge of this party-never-stops area.
One big reason the Meatpacking District has been such a nightlife and restaurant destination, steps from the West Village and Chelsea, is that the blocks where all the meat was once packed aren’t zoned for residential use.
“Other parts of the city have all turned into mixed-use,” says David Rabin, the pioneering nightlife/restaurant operator who once ran Lotus (in what’s now La Cenita and SL) and founded the Meatpacking District Initiative. “This is a unique situation where you still have a five-block cluster with no residential.”
Obviously, it’s easier to have a booming club when there aren’t neighbors upstairs complaining. But, as it turns out, paying to live near the din and the throngs isn’t cheap.
Earlier this summer, the 345Meatpacking building at 345 W. 14th St., less than half a block from Ninth Avenue, sold the last of its 37 pricey condos. The building, on a site that a group including Jay-Z and André Balazs defaulted on after abandoning plans for a hotel, sold out in only nine months at prices averaging about $2,300 per square foot and topping at around $3,500 per square foot. Even more impressive, the building actually sold all its condos except for two penthouses, which went into contract this summer, in three months. After seeing the demand, developer DDG opted to hold onto the final units until the building was closer to completion.
“We’re a big believer in the quality of the finished product,” DDG CEO Joe McMillan says, noting that the internationally sourced finishes include Austrian flooring, Italian bronze windows and Danish brick.
With no comparable units in the Meatpacking District, DDG looked at pricing for high-end buildings all over downtown — and ended up at numbers that rival the toniest parts of the West Village and TriBeCa.
“The Meatpacking District is such a tiny little pocket, mainly commercial and retail spaces. Any residential opportunity is very rare,” says broker Jessica Campbell of Nest Seekers International, who is listing a $25,000-a-month furnished three-bedroom in the Porter House condo building at 66 Ninth Ave., on the edge of the area. “There’s nothing else available in prime Meatpacking. We are literally the only one on the market.”
And for restaurant and nightlife operators, finding a deal that makes sense is just as rare in an area where office space is also becoming a viable option for landlords. Many eateries and clubs have flamed out here over the years. Keeping track of what opens and closes on Gansevoort Street alone is a game best left for the professionals. (Remember Marcus Samuelsson at Merkato 55? All the restaurants at the Gansevoort Hotel space where Paige Hospitality is now opening the Chester with chef Sam Hazen? Gansevoort 69 in the old Florent space? MPD? Villa Pacri?)
“The barrier to entry is almost impossible,” says Shane Davis of SKH Realty, who has worked on recent deals including the sale of the Double Seven space on Gansevoort. “You’re seeing the re-transitioning and the re-conceptualizing of many spaces.”
And with some landlords pricing retail space at $500-plus per square foot annually, prime Meatpacking District spots are reaching the same stratosphere as areas where few businesses beyond flagship stores can make the numbers work.
“I think it might turn into SoHo, where it simply becomes impossible to afford the rents,” says Remm, who, with partners Mark Birnbaum and Michael Hirtenstein, also operates the SL club below La Cenita and the ultra-popular Catch restaurant/lounge above Sephora in the Meatpacking District. “You’re competing with everyone from Kiehl’s to Levi’s. There’s no more up-and-coming. The Meatpacking District is at a premium. It’s only for operators like a Keith McNally or an André Balazs or a Steve Hanson or a Jean-Georges or an us.”
At La Cenita, a “modern Mexican” restaurant with food from former La Esquina chef Akhtar Nawab, Remm is looking to create a concept that he hopes to roll out in other cities. The entire space has been renovated, with the downstairs bar opened up to create a flowing area from the entrance to the main dining room — and a DJ booth where the host stand used to be. Walls have been ripped off to expose brick, and the second-floor bar has made way for a ceviche bar.
“The way we see it is that it would cost $400,000 to renovate and $4 million to open a new restaurant in another location,” Remm says.
Expect plates meant for sharing and dishes including “luxury versions” of tacos, ceviches and even gluten-free options.
“It’s a fresh take on Mexican,” Remm says. “I don’t want people to think there will be tons of beans and rice and cheese.”
Other notable newcomers in the area include an outpost of VIP Room, known for its power-player party spots in Paris, St. Tropez, Cannes and Dubai. That’s opening on West 13th Street — directly behind Beaumarchais, which has plans to renovate. Owners Jean-Roch, Ryan Tarantino and Shawn Kolodny’s VIP Room, built for dancing, will include a hundred feet of LED-video wall space along with its tricked-out sound system.
“You can really spend 36 hours in the Meatpacking District without leaving and have everything,” says Rabin, who saw the area’s potential when he opened Lotus in 2000. “And the opening of the Whitney [in 2015] will only bring a different type of domestic and international tourist who will come to see art, stay in the neighborhood, shop and get something to eat.”
That crowd, Rabin notes, will also no doubt go for a walk on the High Line. And new restaurants from both Danny Meyer and the team behind Torrisi Italian Specialties and Carbone will be ready to feed them when they get hungry.
In the meantime, Rabin, Jimmy Haber and other partners are transforming the Double Seven lounge on Gansevoort into a new cocktail concept in time for Fashion Week. And eventually, Rabin says, “We hope the community will allow us to have outdoor seating.”
Like Remm, Rabin also hopes that high rents don’t turn the Meatpacking District into SoHo, where many streets are sleepy at night. But with the High Line and Whitney, and prime hospitality groups putting stakes down, Rabin sees a bright future.
“People have tried to count the Meatpacking District out so many times in the last 13 years,” Rabin says. “The two-year delay of the High Line was devastating for Gansevoort Street. It’s been a gradual process with fits and starts, but the best days are probably in the near future.”
The area, McMillan says, has gone through the “classic evolution” of a NYC neighborhood.
“Five years ago, the Meatpacking District was all one thing,” he says. “Now it’s very diverse. You have the Whitney, the High Line, Google, the Standard Hotel.”
And things will continue to evolve quickly.
“It’s going to be a really unique neighborhood,” Davis says. “Almost like a classy Times Square.”
|The Porter House at 66 Ninth Avenue Chic Perfection in the Heart of Meat Packing Designer Furnished 3 Bedroom Rental|
|Jessica C. Campbell
Licensed Real Estate Salesperson