Manifest Density

“We’re talking to people—we’ve made presentations to all the major brokerage houses and we’ve talked to some tenants in particular,” he said, declining to name names. “No one’s making major growth decisions.”

In headier times, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., Si Newhouse’s Condé Nast and the pre-recession Morgan Stanley each agreed to move their headquarters to the rail yards before separately pulling out. Now, just who would eventually trek out there is anyone’s guess, as no one is talking about 2015 right now (though Condé was still pondering the move as of earlier this year). But, if the economy stabilized, it seems reasonable to think that a diversified media concern like News Corp. could again be interested in anchoring a re-imagined West Side.

Also, a number of large law firms have lease expirations six or seven years out—Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, for one—and perhaps financial firms, if they ever grow again, would want the prestige of a large headquarters.
On the department store side, Nordstrom’s, currently with no New York presence, has for years been on the lips of landlords with big chunks of retail space (Related, of all landlords, just landed a Nordstrom’s Rack in its building on Union Square).

More than anything else, the battle Related faces is to convince any of these businesses to take the first dive in the cold water of an untested district that is in many ways still the wild west of Manhattan (it’s deserted at night and prone to Dust Bowl–strength winds). All this at a time when the local economy and workforce continue to shrink.

Such a task spawns pessimism.

“If they do build the 7 line, it’ll provide some transportation and eventually the area will get developed,” said a major New York landlord. “I wouldn’t want to bet any money that Related will do it.”

“No one believes this will happen,” said Joe Restuccia, a member of the local community board, which this week issued its official recommendations on the plan (more infrastructure investment, more affordable housing and less density, among other concerns). Large-scale development in New York is far more gradual than the current project calls for, he added. “Long-term, is this going to work? In some version, yes,” he said.

LESSONS FOR RELATED CAN be divined from the history of another large chunk of prime Manhattan real estate once owned by the M.T.A.