February 28, 2013 at 12:38 PM EST
All's well again, insist downtown leaders
Four months after Superstorm Sandy sent a surge of sea water barreling through the streets of Lower Manhattan, business has rebounded, office space has re-opened, and retailers, while still struggling to recover, are almost all back online, according to a new report released on Thursday. On the down side, the South Street Seaport remains a ghost town, and the PATH train is only now resuming weekend service between New Jersey and Lower Manhattan. But local business and real estate groups are eager to dispel the perception that Lower Manhattan is still struggling to come back from the devastating impact of the storm. And on Thursday, at an event held at 100 Wall St.—which itself experienced significant flooding—they presented a rosy picture of the area's recovery. Nearly 100% of commercial office space and residential inventory below Chambers Street has re-opened, according to the report by the Downtown Alliance and the Real Estate Board of New York. Similarly, the groups said that 96% of downtown hotels are back online, and 90% of lower Manhattan's stores and businesses are open as well. Considering the amount of damage that was sustained in the immediate aftermath of the storm—power outages, widespread flooding, shuttered businesses and residences—the comeback is nothing short of "dramatic," said Downtown Alliance President Elizabeth Berger. Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the Democratic frontrunner in the mayor's race and an ally of the real estate community, said she was concerned that many erroneously believe lower Manhattan has not fully bounced back. "I am worried—I'll be honest—that there is a perception out there that lower Manhattan is not open, that businesses are not back in their headquarters, that a significant portion of people and companies are still displaced," she said. "We need to leave here today with a lot of things on our to-do list, but spreading the message of how solidly we are [doing] right now" is most important, she said. Challenges remain, however. After the storm, some 30% of the 1,082 shops, restaurants and storefronts were closed for more than a week, and all 111 retailers at South Street Seaport were shuttered. And while 90% have since re-opened, complications persist for many business owners. Loss of inventory, telecom outages and reduced foot traffic are just some of the problems still being felt by merchants in lower Manhattan. The seaport continues to struggle with its recovery. The mall at Pier 17, though reopened a month after Sandy, is slated to close in June for renovations. But little time was spent discussing the travails of South Street Seaport. The message from those in attendance was bullish and overwhelmingly positive. After the storm, data presented by the Downtown Alliance revealed that 5,950 apartments, or about 20% of the district's residential inventory, were inaccessible. By mid-November, 3,400 of those were back online and by the end of the year, 4,914 were reopened. Today, less than 1% of apartments remain dark. Data from Citi Habitats from the fourth quarter of 2012 shows a tight rental market in the area with a vacancy rate of just 1.21%, down slightly from 1.37% in the fourth quarter of the previous year. The advocacy groups convened a panel of brokers, investors and landlords to back up the optimistic outlook presented in the report. Peter Poulakakos, whose family's restaurant group owns the Financier coffee shops and downtown's Harry's Café, said his businesses were stable, despite significant flooding and a steep drop in foot traffic. "We take on a lot more leases," Mr. Poulakakos said, noting the recent opening of his latest venture, The Dead Rabbit located at 30 Water St. Bruce Surry, executive vice president at CBRE Group, noted his group has seen an "unabated interest" by large tenants in leasing space in lower Manhattan, as well as current tenants being retained. Beyer Blinder Belle, an architecture firm that was located in midtown south, was in the process of negotiating a new lease at 120 Broadway before Sandy hit, and closed the deal after the storm, Mr. Surry said. "Those [deals] will reinforce the resilience in the future and the value that downtown brings," he said.
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