Let the Great Downtown Mall Brawl Begin

7362191524 f48a1cf1d6 z Let the Great Downtown Mall Brawl Begin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre. (MTA/Flickr)

So we already know Lower Manhattan is set to become a giant mall. No, we do not mean Canal Street, though that has been attracting big name investors, as well. This is instead Fulton Street, which will soon gain more than a million square feet of retail from (narrow) coast to coast: the World Financial Center, the World Trade Center, the Fulton Transit Center and the glittery new Pier 17 at the South Street Seaport (not to mention a vastly expanded Century 21—joy!).

The Journal wonders just who is going to fill all that retail space, particularly at a time when rents are up but the economy remains off?

Developers and brokers said there is plenty of pent-up demand since the destruction of the World Trade Center and its huge underground mall on Sept. 11, 2001. Even with a daytime population of wealthy financial workers, millions of tourists and a growing residential population, Lower Manhattan has lagged well behind other busy parts of the city in terms of shopping options.

Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of Prudential Douglas Elliman’s retail group, said it would be “difficult” to fill all of this space. But she added that it will be good for the neighborhood overall. “Downtown will finally come into its own in the next 18 months,” she said.

Lower Manhattan’s problem isn’t demand, say brokers. It is that its retail spaces traditionally haven’t been enticing, thanks in part to a warren of confusing side streets and shadowy storefronts.

Things are especially big for the MTA, which has no one to run its retail space yet—we learn an RFP is coming this week for a partner on the Fulton Transit Center, but with  the cash cow/headache that is the Grand Central Apple store, it will be especially important to get this project off to a good start.

The Fulton Center is likely to be one of the most enticing spaces because of the high amount of foot traffic, say brokers. The MTA will issue an RFP for the retail space Aug. 2, seeking a master lessee to handle leasing and operations of the nine-level structure and the attached concourse under Dey Street.

The $1.4 billion project is slated for completion in June 2014.

On a recent morning, Uday Durg, the MTA’s program executive for Lower Manhattan projects, gestured through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the Fulton Center’s third floor, pointing at the church steeple across Broadway to illustrate a point: This was no place for a modest food court.

“You’re sitting here having a drink,” Mr. Durg said, conjuring up a future restaurant space, “and you can see St. Paul’s!”

For once it appears the agency has its work cut out for it.