At the intersection of Warren and Church streets, a liminal area at the southeastern edge of Tribeca just four short blocks north of where the World Trade Center once stood, Kenneth Horn was building condos on Columbus Day.
It isn’t easy. “I go down to our building, and there’s no commerce below Chambers Street,” said Mr. Horn, the president of Alchemy Properties, which is developing the Keystone Building, 24 condominiums at 38 Warren Street. “And it’s odd-and it’s more sad than anything.”
Since Sept. 11, when several of the 40 workers at the site stood on the roof of Mr. Horn’s building and watched in horror as planes slammed into the Twin Towers, the area has been cut off to traffic. It took his construction manager three and a half weeks-paid weeks for the whole crew-to get back to work. The manager had to wait in line at police headquarters for special passes, only to learn that the checkpoint requirements changed daily. Air quality was still being tested, as was the structural soundness of the nearby buildings. The streets had become an impromptu impound lot for cars being combed over for evidence. And it was not immediately obvious whether real-estate developers in the frozen zone, like Mr. Horn, qualified for government aid to cover their costs from being locked out of their project sites. Once his workers could get to the site, they’d reported only minor hurdles: having to meet suppliers at checkpoints, sometimes with police escorts, and searches of trucks.
Mr. Horn is back in business, but that business is more uncertain than ever. He and his partner, Joel Breitkopf, cobbled this property together in 1999, encouraged by the wave of developers putting up residential housing in this once-dormant area of outdated office buildings and manufacturinghouses.They bought four old brownstone buildings-the former home of Odd Job Lot Trading Company-and decided to combine them and add a four-story tower. The goal was large residential spaces with high-end finishes priced a little below those in more central parts of Tribeca, which were getting up to $1,000 per square foot.
Half of the 24 condominiums, which are priced between $696,000 and $1.895 million, went into contract before the terrorist attacks, including two tower apartments, which each have more than 1,000 square feet of outdoor space, 400-square-foot master bedrooms and views of lower Manhattan and both rivers. According to Mr. Horn, who has contacted all but one of his buyers since Sept. 11, no one plans to renege on their deal.
But how to sell the rest? The marketing of the building was based on a promise of continued urban-renewal efforts in the area. “Our buyer profile is people getting large space for 25 percent less,” he explained, “knowing that when the gentrification and the services come in, they’re gonna be smack in the middle of it.”
This had been the premise of a broad effort over the last decade: Residential development will turn lower Manhattan into a 24-hour community. “There’s been considerable success since the early 90’s in beginning to reshape lower Manhattan as much more of a diversified community in its uses, in residential, retail and commercial space and cultural institutions,” explained Hugh O’Neil, a consultant on development projects for major institutions, including the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, owners of the World Trade Center land. “More diversified in terms of the economic base of the area, more small businesses that are successful-restaurants, high-end service industry, retail, etc.”
According to Carl Weisbrod, president of the Alliance for Downtown New York, “It truly is a symbiotic relationship between the residential population and retail growth.” Before the attack, “a pioneering spirit did prevail. [Residential] development has preceded the growing number of restaurants and shops and bars in the area as it is.”
But the habitability of the neighborhood was dealt a major blow last month. Right now, stores are shuttered; only the few people who live in the area and have chosen to remain throughout the arduous cleanup process at ground zero can get past the checkpoint a block up at Chambers Street.
Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York and a party to discussions about how to rebuild lower Manhattan, said, “There may be an impact, short-term, on the desire to stay in Manhattan. But I think, long-term, with the rebuilding of lower Manhattan and the reestablishment of lower Manhattan as the world’s financial hub, we’ll bring back those tenants or keep those tenants.”
Looking forward, Mr. Weisbrod said that “it’s a major independent goal” of his organization “to nurture this population.”
That’s at least a little encouragement for Mr. Horn and other builders with construction sites in the area, who have resumed work without altering the plans for their buildings and are hoping for the best. World-Wide Group, the developer of a $50 million residential conversion of a 1920’s office tower at 53 Park Place in Manhattan’s financial district that began leasing in January, has returned crews to its latest development, a 17-story building at 110 Church Street, and its 23-story neighbor at 120 Church Street-two International-style towers formerly occupied by the Internal Revenue Service. (The address of those buildings will be 50 Murray Street.) More than 400 high-end rental units are to be built there. And just across the street, residents have resumed moving into the brand-new condo-loft conversion at 45 Warren Street.
No developer would stop work that’s already begun, Mr. Horn said. But neither does he have plans to change the prices on the remaining units. He expects work to be finished in April, about a month behind schedule.
Mr. Spinola guessed that Mr. Horn could afford a little negotiation in order to sell the apartments. “Eight months ago, the prices for residential units in this area were at an all-time high,” he said. “That means there was some room for those numbers to go down and the buildings to still be profitable.”
But Mr. Horn’s confidence doesn’t appear to be just bluster. Since Sept. 11, he said, he’s received some 25 calls from interested buyers who want to look at floor plans for the building and are asking whether the project will still be completed in the spring. Sounding a lot like other survivors, he said, “It was really heartening to get those calls.”
UPPER EAST SIDE
12 East 64th Street Three-bedroom, three-bath, 2,500-square-foot co-op. Asking: $2.695 million. Selling: $2.1 million. Charges: $5,095; 65 percent tax-deductible. Time on the market: three months.
A HARD SELL Even if both your kids are in college and this three-bedroom duplex on the parlor and third floors of a small townhouse co-op right next to Ivana Trump’s place started to feel too big, it still might be hard to give it up. The parlor floor has a hallway with arched ceiling,alibrary–guest room with built-in bookshelves, a full marble bath with domed ceilings, and a living room with a gas fireplace and bay window that overlooks a garden. The third floor has north-facing and south-facing bedrooms, both with gas fireplaces, one with a full marble bath and the other with a dressing room and a planted terrace. But despite all this, the couple living here (now sans kids) decided to sell the place through Roger Erickson of William B. May Company Real Estate. The good news was that, considering events, the buyers didn’t try to renegotiate the price before the sale was final on Oct. 2.
130 East 19th Street Two-bed, one-and-a-half-bath, 1,200-square-foot co-op. Asking: $875,000. Selling: $825,000. Maintenance: $1,189; 28 percent tax-deductible. Time on the market: eight weeks.
THELONGWAYTO WESTCHESTER Watching the market tremble was difficult for the couple who sold this full-floorco-opinatownhouse-so much so that they rushed to make a deal in the summer, even though the house they were building in Westchester wasn’t yet done. This apartment, with a gourmet kitchen, two wood-burningfireplaces andfourexposuresfrom large windows, attracted a semi-retired couple who’d been using a small co-op nearby, where their daughter had lived during college, as a pied-à-terre . When they realizedhowmuchtime they spent in the city, they decided it was time to graduate themselves and bought the younger couple’s place, making that pair homeless. On Sept. 1, the young folks moved into a rental apartment in Tribeca. Ten days later, they were shut out of their temporary home in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack. The exclusive broker on the deal, Eleanor Ellix of the Corcoran Group, said they are back in their apartment now, hanging on until they can move out of the city.