Architects drafting a better office space in Garment District.
Once a thriving manufacturing area where an immigrant influx spurred the growth of the apparel industry, the Garment District, bounded roughly by Fifth and Ninth avenues and 34th and 42nd streets, by the 1990s had become one of the most depressed parts of Midtown Manhattan with the gradual loss of clothing factories, suppliers and wholesalers due to pressure from cheaper clothing imports.
But it seems that at least one industry has quietly taken over the area over the past few years: architecture, along with its counterpart, engineering.
"Maybe 10 or 15 years ago, there was a whole thing where architects had to be in Tribeca; it was cool or something," said Macrae-Gibson, whose firm, Macrae-Gibson Architects, has offices at 450 Seventh Avenue between 34th and 35th streets.
"But I think after Sept. 11, a lot of architects moved from Downtown to affordable areas of Midtown. The Garment Center benefited from that influx, so we were a bit ahead of the curve there."
Tom Oprea, the president of Oprea Design Group, also located at 450 Seventh Avenue, said he has been in his current location about four years. "I know of quite a few other architects in the neighborhood," Oprea said. "And I think the size of the space for the rent is pretty good. And it's convenient to other parts of the city."
According to statistics compiled by commercial brokerage Cushman & Wakefield, the Penn Plaza/Garment District neighborhood has more space occupied by architects and engineers than any other neighborhood in Manhattan. About 906,525 square feet of space is used by the trades, which is 30 percent of the 3.03 million square feet of office space leased by architects and engineers throughout Manhattan.
The Gramercy Park neighborhood has the second largest concentration of architects and engineers. In that neighborhood, they occupy 507,831 square feet of space. Chelsea comes in third, with 309,155 square feet utilized by the trades.
David Levy, a principal at Adams & Co. Real Estate, said he first noticed a trend of architects moving to the Garment District about three years ago. Currently, in the 10018 zip code, which encompasses the Garment District, there are about 143 architecture firms.
"We have a building at 48 West 37th Street with five floors, where I have five different architectural firms, and I thought it was unique to that building," Levy said. "But then, as I started looking at it more closely, I realized it's happening all over that area."
Architects are attracted to the open, raw manufacturing spaces with affordable prices found in the Garment District, Levy said. Rents typically range from the low $30s to about $35 a square foot, he said.
"The space is well priced, well lighted, lots of windows, interesting, with high ceilings, and creative," he said. "A lot of these buildings were used as apparel space, and apparel people are also creative, and as that business has contracted in size, it's left these open spaces with high ceilings that architects crave."
Abraham Hidary, the president of Hidrock Realty, a developer and landlord with three buildings in the Garment District on West 36th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues, said he recently signed two architectural firms in the area: WBTL Architects and China Construction Design International. Over the course of several weeks this spring, another seven architecture firms also looked at space in Hidrock's buildings, where rents range from $40 to $45 a square foot. Companies were looking for spaces ranging in size from 2,000 to 6,500 square feet, he said.
"What our buildings have that's probably a benefit is a very lofty feel," Hidary said. "There are open ceilings, the concrete floor look, very large windows that are not cut by a drop ceiling, exposed ductwork. It's a raw look.
"There are also buildings further down that have that in Soho and Union Square, but we're in a better transit area, right between Penn Station and Grand Central and the Port Authority."
Barbara Raskob, the director of leasing at the Kaufman Organization and a commercial real estate owner and manager, said that at one point Chelsea was highly fashionable for architects, but that she has seen the Garment District grow in popularity. Though architects no longer need ample open spaces for their large drawing tables, since they use computers now, they still appreciate the loft concept, she said.
"They still look for the wide open spaces that allow them to do mock-ups and displays, and to show whatever they're doing more readily," Raskob said. "It's not your traditional office layout."
Perhaps even more important, many architects are finding clients among the fashion tenants of the Garment District, she said.
"Tenants in the Garment Center have historically had wonderful showrooms, and they update them every couple of years, almost as frequently as they change their fashion lines, to stay in touch with and present a new image to their buyers," Raskob said. "So they need the use of architects perhaps more than the traditional office tenant, who will leave an office exactly the same for 15 years."
Oprea, whose offices are at 450 Seventh Avenue, where the Kaufman Organization has about four other architecture firms, agreed that architects can find clients in the Garment District neighborhood. "I moved into this building because I have lots of clients in the neighborhood," he said.
Macrae-Gibson, also in that building, agreed: "We've ended up doing a lot of work in the Garment District for a lot of owners. We've done a lot of building lobbies, facades, tenant spaces, retail, all kinds of things.
"The Garment District itself is one of these districts that are in the process of changing, and change is good for architects."
However, one change that may not be taking place any time soon is a proposed rezoning of the side streets between Sixth and Eighth avenues from 35th to 40th streets to allow office uses in those manufacturing zones, said Steven Kaufman, the senior managing director of the Kaufman Organization and a founding member of the Fashion Center Business Improvement District.
The rezoning had been opposed by many businesses in the apparel industry, and Kaufman said the idea has died: "There's nothing happening with that right now. It's dead."
However, city officials have not given up on the proposed Garment Center rezoning, said a spokesperson for the Department of City Planning. "A successful rezoning plan will balance the needs of the garment industry, the property owners and other developing businesses, and as soon as we achieve a consensus on what the right balance is, we will take a proposal forward into public review," said a statement released by the city.
Kaufman said that if the rezoning does eventually pass, it would not really affect architects. It would not convert manufacturing areas to more offices for companies like architecture firms, but would essentially legitimize office uses that are already taking place, Kaufman said.
"It [would legalize] what is already existing," he said, referring to the fact that there is currently little enforcement of zoning regulations restricting the use of manufacturing space for offices.
Go to chart: Garment District leads Manhattan neighborhoods in attracting architecture, engineering firms
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||The Real Deal|
|Date:||Jun 27, 2008|
|Previous Article:||No quick fix for bad credit.|
|Next Article:||International Briefs.|