The original Manhattan is surging back to life ten years after the terror attacks of 9/11, and trends are showing the square-mile tip of the island south of Chambers Street is quickly surpassing its past glory.
Flags fly outside 85 Broad St., the Goldman Sachs headquarters in New York's financial district.
The communities of the Financial District, Battery Park City and lower TriBeCa were dealt a crushing blow, when the World Trade Center was destroyed ten years ago, but lower Manhattan has taken advantage of the upheaval to remake its image and attract a whole new contingent of people.
The topic of lower Manhattan's resurgence was the focus of a panel discussion Tuesday afternoon in a penthouse at 20 Pine The Collection, one of many area commercial or office buildings to be converted to residential use in recent years. In total, 15 million square feet of office space have been converted to residential in the past 15 years, according to the Alliance for Downtown New York. The 20 Pine building, located a stone's throw from the New York Stock Exchange and Federal Hall, was itself previously the Chase Manhattan Bank Headquarters.
Stephanie Jennings, assistant vice president for economic development at the Alliance for Downtown New York, highlighted the changing face of the district while pointing out the ongoing improvements to the area, which was the first part of Manhattan settled by Europeans in the 1600s.
Not only has lower Manhattan seen the return of its strong business community, but a hot new residential enclave has also been established there, drawing families and young professionals seeking space and convenience in an up-and-coming neighborhood.
"In lower Manhattan we've certainly seen a lot happen over the last 10 years," Jennings told those who attended the Tuesday meeting. "We estimate we have about 56,000 people south of Chambers Street right now, and we expect that number to go up to 60,000 by 2013. That makes lower Manhattan one of the fastest-growing residential neighborhoods in New York City."
There are currently 28,000 residential units with 56,000 residents in lower Manhattan, with a vacancy rate of only 1 percent, and ten buildings with 2,500 residential units are scheduled to open by 2014. The largest residential building in the Americas, the New York by Ghery building, located at 8 Spruce St., will not be completed until 2012, but 380 of its 903 units have already been leased and 30 percent are occupied, according to the Alliance.
Beyond the sheer numbers of people moving downtown, the profile of its average resident is changing as well, and the shift is decidedly away from single professionals and toward couples and especially families with children. The average household size is 2.2 people and 25 percent of households have children, with 40 percent of childless households hoping to have children within three years, according to the Alliance. The median household income, at $143,000, is three times the citywide median and double the Manhattan median, and 85 percent of residents there have at least an undergraduate degree.
"It's a classic revival story. It's that strange irony of disaster leading to rebirth. A crisis of such magnitude has actually created a stronger, more cohesive community," said Jennifer Jones, a Battery Park City resident who says lower Manhattan's renaissance has been great for her family. "I'm a mother of a three-year-old so I'm very involved in the parent community and issues related to children. I really believe passionately that families are what have made this area a more fertile environment for children. I think it's fortuitous that Wall Street has become stroller street."
Beyond the changing face of the residential boomtown that is lower Manhattan, there has been a major influx of shops, restaurants, bars, parks and entertainment options, something which residents say attracted them to the area.
Lower Manhattan is the fourth-largest central business district in America, but for many years there has been a lack of grocery stores, retail outlets and other necessities for a residential population. That has all changed in recent years, and the neighborhood is now home to a total of 1,076 stores and restaurants, including 38 Zagat-rated restaurants, and 48 new retailers arrived there in the first half of 2011 alone, the Alliance said.
And that all makes for a great neighborhood in which to live and work, say many of its residents and proponents, including Jordan Gruzen, a principal at Gruzen Samton, the architecture firm that designed 20 Pine.
"I used to live on the upper West Side for 23 years, but now I wouldn't live anywhere but Lower Manhattan. It's great. You go home, you take out your bike and you never go above Canal Street anymore," Gruzen, a Battery Park City resident, said. "I just love it here. I'm literally living in a park on the water like in a hotel. I almost never have to cross a streetlight. I can go all the way to my office on 13th Street and only cross two streetlights."
Tourism has also been rising in the area from a little more than 4 million visitors in 2002 to nearly ten million in 2010, with even higher numbers expected in coming years as the World Trade Center is completed and people stream into the National September 11 Memorial, which opened Sept. 12.
And in several years, when the 104-story 1 World Trade Center and the other WTC buildings as well as the new Goldman Sachs headquarters are completed, a total of 10.9 million square feet of new office space will have gone online in those buildings alone, bringing another influx of tourists and workers to downtown Manhattan.
In the end, all the activity in lower Manhattan over the past decade has remade what was once seen as home to Wall Street and little more into a buzzing, well-rounded community, according to Lori Ordover, a consultant for Africa Israel Investments, the developer and owner of 20 Pine.
"This neighborhood is very vibrant, lots of new families, and they bring with them the energy of the kids," Ordover said. "I find that there are lots of interesting, new businesses opening up. They feel like this is the place to be."
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