BY Jason Sheftell
DAILY NEWS REAL ESTATE CORRESPONDENT
Friday, June 18th 2010, 11:18 AM
Carolina Gill and Jordan Cortez in front of the Emerald Green building, where they have been living since November.
The Rockwell Group designed this magnificent outdoor space with infinity pools, shrubs and seating at 505 West 37th Street.
Epiphane Hodge selling collectibles at 37th Street and Ninth Ave.
One of the last places with lots of undeveloped land in Manhattan, the area west of Ninth Ave. from 33rd to 42nd Sts., will undergo more radical change than any other neighborhood in the city over the next five years.
Two years ago, it was warehouses, empty plots of land, parking lots and boarded-up buildings surrounding a thoroughfare for taxis and trucks racing to and from the Lincoln Tunnel. Because recent rezoning opened the avenues, and some cross streets, to residential buildings, huge rental projects from TF Cornerstone (835 units), Glenwood (568 units), Larry Silverstein (1,200-plus units) and Related Companies (5,000 apartments) mean the biggest developers in the world will anchor the area that outside of rush hour and on weekends feels more like a half-built office park in the city’s hinterlands than an emerging corner of Manhattan.
Supermarkets, restaurants, American Apparels, GAPs and dry cleaners will undoubtedly find new homes next to the long-standing bicycle shops, Italian eateries, gas stations, meat and fish shops and liquor stores as this area booms.
“When the biggest developers in the world all come to an area like this, everyone and everything else follows,” says Khashy Eyn, president of Platinum Properties, an established Financial District real-estate brokerage that just opened a multiagent office in the area. “The big guys almost always make money. We look at things from a two- to three-year time line, and this area offers great returns.”
For now, it still has an old New York feel as eccentric locals and a spillover of tourists and colorful panhandlers from the Port Authority Bus Terminal crowd the gritty streets — recently joined by young preprofessionals paying more than $2,500 a month to live in studio apartments in the new crop of luxury rentals. Bars, some new and expensive, others decades old and mangy, are everywhere. A flea market is open at 39th St. and Ninth Ave. every weekend.
This is not a place for families, yet. Until the arrival of the 7 train extension within five years, it will take a long walk to find the area. There are few to no schools, and there is little culture geared toward small children. In fact, we saw more street characters than baby carriages. One of them, Daddy Wheelchair, rolls around (he really is in a wheelchair) the corner of 37th St. and Ninth Ave. begging for money to support a drug habit he doesn’t hide.
Two blocks up Ninth, Epiphane Hodge runs a tag sale outside a stretch of unrenovated buildings. Hodge, a hardworking superintendent in one of the buildings, calls himself a “hunter and collector,” gathering things anywhere he can. Open, weather permitting, on weekends, the sale includes vinyl records by sax men Stan Getz and Boots Randolph, wooden fashion mannequins, folk art and small pieces of metal that Hodge says artists buy to make collages.
“I want people to see what is possible for them,” says Hodge, who’s from St. Lucia. “I started with nothing. Now I sell all this. Six years ago, this neighborhood was full of crackheads. It’s nice we can do this.”
Apartments rent for around $2,000 in Hodge’s buildings. A well-lit railroad apartment across the street on the fifth floor of a walkup will rent for $1,800.
Two shoppers at Hodge’s sale, Louis Small and Marcia McBroom, have lived along this corridor for 30 years. Small is a well-known jazz pianist who has played the Greenwich Village clubs with the best of them. McBroom was the world’s first dark-skinned black model, appearing in “Jesus Christ Superstar” and on soul album covers in the 1970s. Both are from the Bronx, and both have prompted racial, cultural and political change.
“When we grew up, multiculturalism was part of our lives,” says McBroom, referring to the rapid gentrification and the homogenization of New York. “It saddens me that it is such a struggle to keep alive the New York that made us creative, committed adults. To take away the character of a neighborhood is criminal.”
Small is disenchanted but hopeful. “The humanitarian and political forces can not overwhelm the commercial forces,” he says. “We need to bring back the support system that helps artists and teachers.”
Culturally, the area is seeing revitalization. Once home to the Katherine Dunham dance company, the only
African-American, self-subsidized dance troupe in the country and popular in the 1960s, the area got a shot in the arm from Mikhail Baryshnikov’s dance troupe, which moved into the 37 Arts building off 10th Ave. His Baryshnikov Arts Center was given a two-bedroom penthouse rental at 505 W. 37th St., the TF Cornerstone two-tower project with public spaces by the Rockwell Group.
At that project, a common second-floor outdoor terrace has reflecting pools, a variety of trees, shrubs and flowers, and ample places to sit. The quiet woods and soft stone make this place an oasis for lucky renters. Apartments, geared toward young people, are spacious and modern. One-bedrooms are currently renting for $2,856.
“It’s easy to rent apartments in buildings that offer as much as this, but it’s not easy to get these rent prices,” says Jon McMillan, TF Cornerstone’s director of planning. “Sutton Place and Riverside Drive are much more dead at night. This building is two blocks from Times Square. The potential here is unlimited.”
Glenwood’s Emerald Green, a luxury LEED-certified rental between Eighth and Ninth Aves. at 38th St., draws a very sophisticated demographic with two-income families. The lobby has a courtyard with a fountain. One-bedrooms with a terrace are $4,195. Two-bedrooms two-baths start at $4,495.
Away from the luxury rentals, on a street near the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel, is Amy Cerullo, a young actress who has lived here the three years since she came from Chicago. She took the apartment to be close to midtown auditions, and because it was “cheap.”
“Rush hour is loud for a few hours, but it quiets down,” she says. “When people ask where I live, I say Hell’s Kitchen, which it really isn’t. If someone asks, ‘Where exactly?’ I say, ‘On top of the Lincoln Tunnel,’ which is more accurate, I think. The area doesn’t really have a name.”
She’s right. Real-estate agents and developers call it Midtown West. Others call it Hell’s Kitchen, extending that rugged neighborhood south. We like the actor’s choice. Not “on top of Lincoln Tunnel,” but just “the Linc,” which is what it could become — a link between up- and downtown, the West Side Highway and midtown.
That link will become more prominent when the Related Companies and Oxford Property Groups start building the 26-acre West Side Yards between 10th Ave. and the Hudson River from 30th to 33rd Sts. The community will be composed of nine residential buildings with about 5,000 apartments, three commercial structures and a retail complex — 12 million square feet in all — woven into 12 acres of open space. Two hotels are planned. Cultural facilities and a public school will add community resources to the area. There will be 440 units set aside for affordable housing, and the city will build other apartments off-site; Related is also committed to preserving units it owns elsewhere in the neighborhood.
“Think of the Time Warner Center on steroids,” says Jay Cross, president of
Related Oxford Hudson Yards, citing another Related development. “This is the fastest-growing section of Manhattan, and this will be its centerpiece.”
The first commercial building, which Related hopes will house the headquarters of a global corporation, could be completed in 2015. The entire project, built on a 3-foot-deep steel platform over the rail yard, could be done within the decade.
“Four to five years goes quickly in New York,” says Cross. “The yards are an urban blight with shoreline all around it. In a few years, it will be a regional destination.