City: Don’t just blame high rent

Study reveals variety of reasons for retail vacancies

The city described vacancy rates as “volatile,” varying widely from neighborhood to neighborhood. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

While too-high rents and competition from Amazon are often blamed for the state of the city’s struggling retail sector, when there’s a high vacancy rate in a particular neighborhood, it can’t necessarily be pinned down to one specific obstacle.

At least, that’s the conclusion drawn by the Department of City Planning (DCP), which has released a study of the city’s retail storefronts to determine vacancy rates and the possible reasons for them.

The report was done after assessing 10,000 storefronts in 24 retail corridors around the boroughs using data from a tech platform put out by the company Live XYZ as well as on the ground surveys. Looking at trends from late 2017 through Fall 2018, the study also used demographic, land use and real estate data, and input from local business associations. The survey defined a vacant space as vacant and available. Those not included in stats were vacant spaces with active construction or known redevelopment plans as well as empty stores with signage announcing a future tenant. Occupied stores with a “for lease” sign were also excluded from the vacancy figures.

Overall the study found, when comparing similar data from a decade ago, vacancy has increased from 7.6-9 percent over the studied neighborhoods.

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Preservationists blast tech hub plan

Site of the future Tech Hub on East 14th Street at Irving Place (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Neighborhood preservationists were disappointed that City Council’s approval for the proposed Tech Hub on East 14th Street at Irving Place last Thursday didn’t include specific rezoning to protect the area south of the new center, while Council Member Carlina Rivera celebrated the unanimous vote for the plan, claiming that the city is working on putting neighborhood protections in place. The City Council’s Committee on Land Use approved the project at the beginning of the month and the full Council approved the measure last Thursday.

Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation executive director Andrew Berman criticized Rivera, who represents the area on East 14th where the new tech center will be built as well as the neighborhood to the south, for voting yes on the plan, noting that she campaigned on the issue and promised she would only vote for it with specific protections for the surrounding neighborhood.

“The City Council’s deal approves the mayor’s Tech Hub with just a fraction of a fraction of the protections the surrounding neighborhood needs and called for, and which Rivera promised to condition her vote upon,” Berman said. “The approval of the Tech Hub will accelerate the transformation of the adjacent Greenwich Village and East Village neighborhoods into an extension of ‘Midtown South’ and ‘Silicon Alley,’ which many developers and real estate interests have already begun to call them. We are seeing 300-foot tall office and condo towers going up in this area and 300-room hotels being built, which are completely out of character for these neighborhoods, with many more to come.”

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Pols ask Blackstone’s intentions on ST air rights

Comptroller Scott Stringer Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Comptroller Scott Stringer (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Local elected officials, while generally enthusiastic about the deal that the city has struck with Blackstone for Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, still have some concerns about the details of the agreement, specifically regarding air rights.

Those four officials — Comptroller Scott Stringer, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney — addressed some of these issues in a letter to Jonathan Gray, the global head of real estate for the company, on Monday.

According to the Department of City Planning, “air rights” refers to the difference between the maximum amount of floor area that is allowed on a zoning lot and the actual built floor area. A transfer of air rights, sometimes known as unused development rights, allows that space to be transferred from one zoning lot to another, usually used to preserve historic buildings or open space. Air rights can usually be shifted from one adjacent lot to another but in the cases where historic buildings or open spaces are at stake, a transfer to a different location farther away is sometimes permitted.

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