By  on September 5, 2008

NEW YORK — After years of rumors of done deals that were never quite completed or somehow came undone, Barneys New York has finally found a location for a store in the Meatpacking District.

The retailer, which never denied its interest in the neighborhood, will lease two adjacent buildings that will be combined to create a downtown flagship. Both spaces, 832 Washington Street, on the northwest corner of Washington Street, and 439 West 13th Street, are owned by the same landlord.

If the store gets built — and retail experts said there are zoning hurdles and technical issues to overcome — it will be Barneys’ largest unit in Manhattan after the Madison Avenue flagship. The store will also represent a return to the West Side and downtown for Barneys, which was born at Seventh Avenue and 17th Street. That store closed in 1996 after the company filed for bankruptcy protection. Co-op stores are located in Chelsea, SoHo and the Upper West Side.

“Not confirming or denying anything,” said a Barneys spokesman. “Nothing is official. We haven’t gone public with it.”

“We’re working on it,” Steve Bartha, Barneys’ exclusive real estate agent, said of a deal on West 13th Street. The retailer may be close to reaching an agreement, “but nothing is signed. The building is not even built. It’s still under negotiation.”

The two buildings are owned by the Romanoff family, a landlord with many properties in the area. Darryl Romanoff said he would not comment on the deal.

The New York Post first reported Thursday that Barneys was close to a deal in the Meatpacking District.

Retail brokers familiar with the city’s permit approvals process said any Barneys store could be a long way down the road. “The deal will be subject to approval,” said one broker. “I would imagine the city would acquiesce to Barneys going there. The city is very pro-business. Obviously, the business issues involved are enormous. Barneys would have to put up a lot of money to design a building and get it approved. The best use of the property would be a total knockdown and rebuild.”

Rents have risen sharply in the Meatpacking District in the last decade or so since pioneers such as Jeffrey New York signed leases for $30 a square foot. “Ground-floor rents on West 14th Street are going for $400 a square foot,” said Jeffrey Paisner, executive vice president at Ripco. A flagship with multiple levels would use a blended rent. “Renzo Piano is going to do something amazing with the [proposed] Whitney Museum. It will be some iconic waterfront building that will attract New Yorkers as Europeans.

“Of course, Barneys can do well there. But the rent is a lot to pay, especially for large spaces.”

Florist and event planner Robert Isabell, a longtime denizen of the Meatpacking District has been buying up properties for two decades, amassing, among other addresses, 408-414 West 13th Street with 76,000 square feet and, most recently, 837 Washington Street, a building he described as “catty-corner to the Barneys site. I’ve seen so much momentum in the Meatpacking District. Barneys would be nice. There seems to be a groundswell of interest.”

Another neighbor, Diane von Furstenberg, who in May 2007 opened a flagship and world headquarters for her brand at 874 Washington Street on the corner of West 14th Street, said, “Oh, yes, Barneys is opening next to me. I’m looking forward to having them as a neighbor. I may rent space in their building. I may have a floor that is linked to my building.”

The Barneys chain consists of flagships in New York City, Beverly Hills, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Las Vegas, Dallas and Seattle. The average size of a flagship is 94,853 square feet with stores in Manhattan and Beverly Hills measuring larger, 240,000 square feet and 120,000 square feet, respectively. The Madison Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard stores are believed to be healthy and profitable. However, some of the other flagships, including Dallas and Las Vegas, are having a harder time, especially given the economic downturn.

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