By  on May 9, 2008

NEW YORK — Meatpacking District institutions The Hog Pit and Florent are closing because their leases are expiring and the owners can't afford the new rents. A Steve store will open in The Hog Pit space, a spokeswoman for Steve Madden confirmed. Ralph Lauren, which is said to have long been looking for a location in the Meatpacking District, was reportedly interested in the Florent space. A Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. spokesman said, "We're not even looking in the Meatpacking District." Brokers said Lauren wanted to find a location for a new retail concept for its furniture collection. "There are some serious fashion tenants looking in the Meatpacking District, luxury and aspirational luxury brands," said Karen Bellantoni, executive vice president of Robert K. Futterman & Associates LLC. "Bloomingdale's was looking. I don't know how actively they're looking now. Barneys New York was very close to a deal. They're now actively looking." In the last decade, the Meatpacking District has seen as many or more changes than any Manhattan area. At some point, a neighborhood can change so much that it loses the characteristics that attracted people to it in the first place. What is the tipping point of a gentrifying neighborhood? The answer depends on whom you talk to. "Florent, of course, is history," said Bellantoni. "It's like the Second Avenue Deli." But she said there are still good restaurants in the neighborhood, citing Buddakan and Del Posto. As for the popularity of the Meatpacking District, "We've just scratched the surface," she said. "Wait until the High Line opens. I don't think you're going to start to see a whole bunch of chains because they require subway service and pedestrian traffic." Felisa Dell, co-owner of The Hog Pit, has a slightly different point of view. "It started with Jeffrey New York," she said. "Jeffrey was a destination. He was really a pioneer in terms of the [collections] he had. My feeling on [Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen] is that they're basically giant advertisements. " As for Steve, which will take over The Hog Pit after it closes on Jan. 19, Dell said, "I'm actually kind of happy. Everything around here is so chi-chi."

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