By  on June 27, 2012

NEW YORK — To try to attract more stores to what it now refers to as the fashion district, the Fashion Center Business Improvement District talked up the neighborhood at a cocktail party Monday night for 55 retail real estate brokers.

Eager to upgrade the neighborhood’s image, FCBID executive director Barbara Randall was quick to note that more than 50 percent of the current tenants are nonfashion companies. That shift has seen an influx of general office tenants, creative service firms, hotels, restaurants and retailers, Randall said. In total, the neighborhood has 6,289 companies with 77,416 employees.

With more than 2 million square feet of retail space and retail sales of $800 million-plus, there is retail potential of $2.4 billion, according to a new FCBID report.

While Randall noted that many of the available retail spaces on the side streets are narrow and deep, those types of configurations suit smaller and artisanal-type businesses. The fashion district now houses 550 stores, 60 restaurants and 150 coffee bars and casual specialty food stores, including newcomers Kee’s Chocolate and Beer Authority. Evening and weekend foot traffic has improved partially due to the area’s 24 hotels. Five more are set to open this year and five others are in development. There will be 5,363 hotel visitors in the neighborhood at any given time once the total build-out is complete, according to the FCBID. The neighborhood also has 7,710 residents with a median age of 32.4 and an average median income of $80,974.

Two brokers who attended the event, Andy Udis and Jay Caseley, executive managing directors at ABS Partners Real Estate, have a dilemma that seems to exemplify the neighborhood’s changing makeup. They have been trying to find fashion manufacturing or production companies for vacancies in the Bricken Arcade Building, which has entrances at 230 West 38th Street and 225 West 37th Street. One has been vacant for a few months and two floors have been empty for two years.

“A lot of buildings have been converted into office space. It’s become tougher to find this kind of space,” Caseley said. “We are looking to accommodate those who have been outpaced by the buildings on the avenues, and who want to have a showroom, a design studio, sample-making or production.”

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