New York’s Euro Zone

Real Estate Weekly

Liana Grey
March 28, 2012

For the last few months, Sam DeFranceschi, a sales associate at Nest Seekers International, has been marketing a one-bedroom loft near the South Street Seaport, at 247 Water Street.

The live-work space is two blocks from Fulton Street, where tourists come to browse shops like Gap and J. Crew and have dinner overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge.

But the former copper factory may as well be in a different neighborhood – or continent. “Where Water meets Peck Slip, you’ve got a piazza. You could be in Rome, you could be in Barcelona,” said DeFranceschi. “It’s got that authentic European feel that appeals to a wide range of folks.”

Artists and young professionals alike have expressed interest in the space, which is listed for $1.39 million, and two prospective buyers have made all-cash offers.

Though prewar condos in South Street Seaport are typically priced at $1,000 per s/f – about $500 less than comparable listings in Manhattan’s most desirable enclaves, DeFranceschi said – the loft’s owner, Tami Kurtz, wasn’t satisfied with the offers.

“We’re still waiting for the right buyer,” DeFranceschi said. With a handful of neighborhood improvements underway, he expects prices in the Seaport area to begin to rise.

Sam DeFransceschi

Earlier this month, plans were announced to transform Pier 17 on Fulton Street into a modern, glass-walled mall. A little north of the Brooklyn Bridge, Pier 15, where the architect Santiago Calatrava once hoped to build a tower of stacked cubes, is now an esplanade with benches, landscaping, and space for a restaurant and museum. And one of the area’s few brand-new developments, an eight-story rental building at 254 Front Street, is nearing completion.

The building, which offers unobstructed views of the Brooklyn Bridge, has been the subject of much media attention lately. Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that rents at the building, which was developed by Magnum Real Estate Group, are expected to range from $3,000 to $20,000 a month.

“In 12 to 24 months, the place is going to be really nice,” DeFranceschi said of the surrounding area. But the neighborhood is already prized for its historic factory buildings, and cobblestone-lined streets free of cavernous skyscrapers; building height in the South Street Seaport Historic District is generally restricted to six stories.

“There are well-priced rental lofts – 2,500 s/f lofts with three or four bedrooms built in – for significantly less than in the Lower East Side or SoHo,” DeFranceschi said. “Rentals are strong and sales are picking up.”

Bridget Schuy, an agent at Bond New York, is based out of the firm’s TriBeCa office, but often brings clients across town to check out apartments at prewar condo buildings like 117 Beekman Street, which has a doorman, elevator, and listings priced below $800 per s/f.

“There are people that specifically want the Seaport,” she said. “They like the low buildings. It’s open and there tends to be a bit more sunlight.”

A native New Yorker, Schuy occasionally visited the Seaport as a child, when the piers catered less to tourists than local athletes and sailors. Tennis courts and boats lined the waterfront, she recalled, and some ships even doubled as homes.

Schuy purchased an apartment in the neighborhood in 1994, and watched the population rise over the last fifteen years, following the September 11 attacks and the closing of the Fulton Street Fish Market in 2005.

“There were a lot of incentives after 9/11 and people flocked [to the Financial District.] That includes the Seaport,” she said. “A lot of families want to move in. It’s a lot less expensive than TriBeCa, but has proximity to good schools.”

The Blue Man Group’s private academy, Blue School, is taking over the Seamens Church Institute on Water Street, and a new public school is under construction at a former Post Office building on Peck Slip.

A particularly desirable option is the Spruce School, a public elementary school that occupies two floors of 8 Spruce Street, the Frank Gehry-designed rental tower that further put the Seaport on the map for affluent apartment hunters.

To accommodate the influx of residents, a Key Foods supermarket is leasing a former Footlocker storefront at 77 Fulton Street.

“The owner tried to lure Whole foods and Trader Joe’s, but they didn’t believe the residential population wanted [gourmet markets],” said Schuy.

It’s a decision she thinks Whole Foods will regret down the road; a handful of upscale franchises have begun leasing space on Fulton, displacing the small discount businesses that once dominated the block. “Some folks want to see the area become completely gentrified,” said DeFranceschi of Nest Seekers. “Others want to see mom and pop shops. It’s important to find that balance.”

Though Fulton is the Seaport’s primary retail corridor, and home to a recently renovated transportation hub with eight subway lines, the cobblestone blocks surrounding Peck Slip have transformed into a restaurant row, with upscale Italian, Japanese and seafood restaurants such as Stella, Acqua at Peck Slip, and Salud. “It’s a great spot for a date,” said DeFranceschi.

Though Schuy, too, makes sure to point out trendy dining establishments to clients, her favorites include standbys like Meade’s Restaurant and Bridge Café, one of the oldest continually-operating restaurants in the city.

In the relatively quiet blocks outside Pier 17, residents tend to stick together, whether new arrivals or old-timers.

“It is really a close knit community,” said Schuy. “Everyone with kids knows everyone. If I don’t know people from the gym, I know them from the school.”

Kurtz, the owner of 247 Water Street, said despite growth throughout the 14 years she’s lived in the Seaport area, the neighborhood has retained its neighborly charm.

“We’ve enjoyed annual Halloween parades, neighborhood community garden involvement and neighborhood activism,” she said, referring to the role she played in preserving the low-rise character of the Seaport’s historic district.

On top of slightly lower prices than elsewhere in the Financial District, the presence of the city’s only Little League, which holds games in Battery Park City, is a bonus for parents.

“Being in real estate, I’ve been in $30 million apartments and saw trophies from Downtown Little League,” said Schuy.

The Loft at Coppersmith Landing - Seaport Live / Work The Loft at Coppersmith Landing - Seaport Live / Work
Samuel DeFranceschi Samuel DeFranceschi
Associate Real Estate Broker