William Cary, then the commission’s director of preservation, told The Times then that 675 Sixth “is exactly the type of building we are trying to protect with the creation of the district. These buildings are being opened up after literally being sealed up for years.’’
There were doubters. “Fifth Avenue has turned into the boutique part of the area,” a broker told The Times in 1990. “On Sixth Avenue, nothing seems to have happened. … It’s not what we’d deem a high-traffic area.” The asking rents were $25 per square foot, 20 percent higher than the average for the area. The owner of a lot across the street and one block up from 675 Sixth was more optimistic. “I am pretty certain that in the decade we’ve just entered, Sixth Avenue will be all developed between Ladies’ Mile and mid-Manhattan.”
And the rest is (fairly recent) history. Mattel signed on as the anchor tenant, and, with a team of consultants, Chelsea Green converted it to office space, keeping the exterior of the brick and concrete Beaux-Arts building, originally designed by DeLemos & Cordes, in as close to its original form as possible.
Barnes & Noble took the ground floor in 1994 and propelled big-box retail in the area, one of the few in Manhattan with floor plates large enough for such stores. Bed, Bath & Beyond, the Container Store and others have followed nearby.
The building still houses Mattel’s showroom and eastern regional offices as well as design offices for the Gap, and soon enough, it will birth New York’s fifth Trader Joe’s. The ground floor will now be multi-tenant (though Trader Joe’s had the option to take the whole thing, Mr. Alterman, the broker, says they indicated it was “a little much”). And although the rent is around $200 per square foot, the 5,000 to 6,000 shoppers that Mr. Alterman believes Trader Joe’s will bring per day should sweeten the deal. He estimates the occupancy rate for the whole building to be at about 95 percent.
A recent move by the Gap to 40 Worth, in a deal brokered by Newmark Knight Frank this September, will leave many open floors in 2012.
Still, Trader Joe’s is starting construction as soon as the first of the year, with an opening slated for as early as next spring. And, if their Union Square location is any indication, never underestimate the power of cheap hummus to move feet.