Hoylman takes aim at ‘high rent blight’

Various empty storefronts in State Senator Brad Hoylman’s District, the subject of his recent study, “Bleaker on Bleecker” (Photo collage courtesy of Brad Hoylman)

By Sabina Mollot

State Senator Brad Hoylman, whose district includes Stuyvesant Town, Gramercy, Chelsea and Greenwich Village, recently conducted a study that found a high percentage of vacant storefronts in the district, with some retail corridors about 10 percent vacant and on Bleecker Street, a vacancy rate of 18.4 percent.

This is no breaking news to area residents of course; but the senator’s study “Bleaker on Bleecker,” which focuses on what’s been dubbed “high rent blight,” has led to his offering a few proposals to combat the problem.

In particular, the phenomenon of landlords of choosing to keep a space vacant “suggests waiting for Marc Jacobs instead of renting to Jane Jacobs,” the study quotes economist Tim Wu as saying.

The study also mentions the closure last year of the Chelsea Associated Supermarket, which had seen its $32,000 rent jump by $100,000. The now-shuttered store had the same owners as the Associated in Stuyvesant Town, the future of which is still murky.

Some stats from the study include: a 9.8 percent overall vacancy rate along First Avenue from 10th to 23rd Streets, Second Avenue from 3rd to 14th Streets, Eighth Avenue from 15th to 22nd Streets, and Bleecker Street from 6th to 8th Avenues, as well as an 18.4 percent vacancy rate along Bleecker Street from 6th to 8th Avenues.

To deal with the problem of vacant spaces as well as mom-and-pops replacing chains, Hoylman is planning legislation that includes the following proposals:

One is to eliminate the Commercial Rent Tax for small businesses, as Council Member Dan Garodnick has proposed for businesses in Manhattan that pay under $500,000 a year in rent.

“It’s piggybacking on Dan Garodnick’s proposal at the state level,” said Hoylman.

The senator also calls for removing any incentive for keeping a space vacant by making landlords whose storefronts are vacant for over a year ineligible for any loss deductions they might be entitled to for depreciation of property and operating vacancies.

While Hoylman said there is no evidence showing that landlords are intentionally trying to game the system, he believes the proposal will help end the practice of an owner holding out for the perfect, high-rent paying tenant. Or, more specifically, “a bank or a pharmacy.”

He’s also calling for limits on “formula retail” or chains via the creation of zoning restrictions. Hoylman said the legislation he’s working on would leave it up to individual municipalities to decide on specific thresholds.

He’s also calling for the creation of a state registry for businesses in the city that have been in operation for 30 years or longer. This would help recognize important businesses for potential tax credits or other benefits.

“Small businesses are historic treasures and we need to protect them, whether it’s the diner down the block or the bookstore that’s been there 50 years,” said Hoylman.

As for what the average vacancy rate is in Manhattan, the senator said that information isn’t readily available, which is why his study included a survey of the district. This is also what inspired a recent Manhattan-wide storefront study that was just conducted by Borough President Gale Brewer.

“The market,” added Hoylman, “has no morals. It’s up to government to set standards to protect independent businesses and entities that the community cherishes.”

4 thoughts on “Hoylman takes aim at ‘high rent blight’

  1. A few bribes and this whole thing goes away. Hoylman, Brewer, deBlasio Garodnick Cuomo, et al are all corrupt!

  2. This is a snipping from DNA. Note the broker said people would take rotten apartments to be near the big box stores.

    “We’re concerned about those big box stores as well as the tech hub, especially that combination of things coming to the neighborhood, especially sort of all at the same time,” said Carol Crump. “It makes it really hard to keep the things that are unique and that people love about the East Village, especially for the mom-and-pop stores — it most likely obliterates so many of them.”

    Those dealing in the area’s real estate say the arrival of those stores will likely change the character of the retail landscape, with one benefit being that it could make the neighborhood more desirable and drive up prices to live near those amenities, said a real estate agent who hawks East Village properties.

    “As they build out these big box stores it’s going to set a price floor — nothing will be cheaper than X because you have these amenities,” said Alex Prose of Modern Residential. “Even if the apartment is terrible people are still going to be willing to live in it because of the way the neighborhood is fabricated…As the retail comes, the demand for housing in that neighborhood will stay steady but also you’ll see prices rise because those amenities will be attractive to tenants.”

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