NEW YORK — With its soaring glass facade flanked by two 55-foot cantilevered structural steel baskets and a 45,000-square-foot glass domed pavilion, Brookfield Place is a symbol of lower Manhattan’s resurgence.
About $30 billion has been pumped into lower Manhattan, the bulk of it centered on retail and public transportation. Brookfield Place is one of three massive downtown retail projects — and the first one out of the gate, with a grand opening today. Westfield World Trade Center and the Seaport District are in various stages of development.
Brookfield Place has positioned itself since the beginning as a destination for luxury brands, attracting Saks Fifth Avenue, Hermès, Burberry, Ferragamo, Ermenegildo Zegna and now, according to sources, Gucci has signed a lease to open a store in the luxury wing.
A $250 million redevelopment of Brookfield Place has more than doubled the retail space to 375,000 square feet from 167,000 square feet, upgraded common areas with elevated materials and improved the traffic flow.
At Brookfield’s grand opening, about two dozen stores are rolling out the welcome mat, including Michael Kors, J. Crew, Bonobos, Diane von Furstenberg, Tory Burch, Omega, Theory, Paul Smith, Vince, Judith & Charles, Cos Bar and Satya.
Most are located in the two-level contemporary area. The much ballyhooed luxury brands will have staggered launches, with Burberry and Ferragamo bowing in two weeks, Hermès in July, Bottega Veneta late summer/early fall, and Saks in February 2016. No date has been set for Zegna. Edward Hogan, national director of leasing for Brookfield Properties, said that of the 80 stores in the complex, two have yet to be leased, a 2,000-square-foot space in the contemporary zone and a 10,000-square-foot space for a restaurant.
Brookfield, which owns the complex of office buildings, began thinking about the redevelopment project as far back as September 2005. “The center was 25 years old,” Hogan said. “Retail centers become dated. It was in need of an upgrade.”
Brookfield finally revealed its plans for the development in 2011. “It was not an easy project at all,” said Hogen, who was involved in the effort from the beginning. “There was 8 million square feet of office space that had to stay open” while renovations on the four buildings in the complex began. Lobbies were moved to create more retail space, obsolete lobbies and redundant corridors were eliminated.
Hogan said the complex had been “designed like a medieval town” and Brookfield had to streamline it.
The developer set the bar high from the start with its goal of signing luxury brands, although there was skepticism from the retail community. The property, formerly known as the World Financial Center, was designed by the architect Caesar Pelli and built between 1982 and 1988 on landfill used to build Battery Park City. Retailers such as Barneys New York, Gap and Ann Taylor opened at the World Financial Center and catered to brokerage firms such as Merrill Lynch and Oppenheimer, and American Express. But the retail component of the World Financial Center wasn’t a success, with retailers spread across the property with little effort at continuity.
When the idea of Brookfield Place was floated, retailers wondered whether there were enough high-income customers in the neighborhood to sustain luxury businesses.
“We felt the retail offer would be the catalyst for bringing a more diverse office population,” Hogan said. “The demographic shift in residents started after 9/11. We also consider TriBeCa, the New Jersey waterfront and some Brooklyn communities to be part of our demographic. There’s also been a rapid growth in tourism — it’s quadrupled.”
“Financial services are still important, but only make up 39 percent of our workforce,” said Jessica Lappin, president of the Alliance for Downtown. “We have 312,000 employees, but the type of worker has changed, with tech, advertising and media companies moving in. We now have around 60,000 residents. Lower Manhattan’s spending power, including residents, employees and tourists, is $5.8 billion,” Lappin said. “It’s very impressive.” The average household income for the area is $205,000 and the average salary, $122,000.
Such demographics did much to assuage retailers’ fears. Kors was the first tenant to sign on; Burberry was the first luxury tenant. “For a while, a lot of luxury brands were debating whether to go to the World Trade Center or Brookfield Place,” said Hogan who, naturally, boasted that, “Our center is better designed for luxury. [The retail is] at grade, while at the World Trade Center is below grade. We have this amazing environment on the water filled with natural sunlight.”
Hogan was referring to the Winter Garden, which offers vistas of the harbor, which can also be seen from the area where the contemporary retailers are located.
Walking past the stores, Hogan said, “Retailers took out their best designs for the center. This used to be a food court,” he said pointing. “We built a second level that didn’t exist for two levels of stores.”
Lobbies for the four office buildings were moved to the second floor, giving retailers a captive audience of 50,000 employees daily.
“Downtown Manhattan is an increasingly attractive global destination, one of the most important and prestigious ports in the world,” said Vincent Ottomanelli, ceo and regional director of Ferragamo USA. “As a hub for multinational creativity and business, the local community is familiar with and accustomed to the level of innovative design and Made in Italy precision of quality for which Salvatore Ferragamo is known.”
Andrew Rosen, chief executive officer of Theory, made an impromptu visit to the company’s Brookfield Place store, and liked what he saw. “It’s an exciting project in a new part of the city that’s going to be a great place to expand our footprint,” he said. “I’m amazed. I’m really glad we opened here.
“Lower Manhattan is rewriting its history,” Rosen added. “As a native New Yorker, I am proud our company is a part of Brookfield Place, igniting commerce in a neighborhood that is in the midst of major transformation. Theory has always been a trailblazer; we are thrilled to be leading the retail evolution of lower Manhattan.”
“I actually love Brookfield Place and I love where my store is,” said Diane von Furstenberg, who made her own visit on Tuesday. “It’s right next to American Express, Time Warner, Condé Nast….Young executives are my customers. They no longer wear boring suits, they wear effortless, sexy dresses that empower them.”
“We believe the re-development of downtown Manhattan is genuinely exciting and much more than retail openings,” said Ashley Long, managing director of Paul Smith Ltd. “The area will become a new hub of retail, residential and leisure. Brookfield Place will allow us to introduce ourselves to a customer that may not have had exposure to Paul Smith before.”
Ron Thurston, director of retail at Bonobos, said the company’s 16th Guideshop features a new wood storefront design and elevated materials, from furniture to carpets. “We can get him fitted and place the order with free next-day shipping in New York,” he said. “What’s most exciting is that he’s coming on his lunch break and has his purchase shipped to his home so he doesn’t have to carry a shopping bag into the office. We take him through every part of his wardrobe. It’s a real one-to-one experience.
Thurston called signing the lease at Brookfield Place “a real no brainer.”
Hogan said Brookfield Place is an “ecosystem and an entire community with an incredible Equinox and incredible food. It’s the creation of this vibrant community.”
Hudson Eats, a 25,000-square-foot upscale dining concept from 14 chef-driven eateries, has been open since June. LeDistrict, a 30,000-square-foot French market with two restaurants — Beaubourg, a brasserie, and L’Appart, a formal 30-seat restaurant — opens today. There’s also a butcher shop, fromagerie, flower shop, open kitchen featuring bakers and fish monger.
“What’s wonderful about this particular project is that it’s really generated a lot of buzz and that’s good for the whole neighborhood,” Lappin said. “For sure, there are bold-faced names from the retail world — Diane von Furstenberg was personally walking by and checking out her new shop the other day. It’s bringing a level of retail to the neighborhood that we’ve never had before. The look and feel of the place is completely new. It’s light and airy. They reimagined the space into something completely different. It’s also so much more accessible.”
With a new east-west passageway linking Brookfield Place to the World Trade Center, and a transit pavilion extention to the Winter Garden building, the center is easy to navigate and accessible by car, public transportation or by foot. “When the city and the MTA made the decision to change the whole transportation network, downtown became an easy place to get to,” Hogan said. “West Street was totally regraded.”
Brookfield Place plans to make the most of its natural resources: the lawn leading to the waterfront will be used for live concerts, theater, dance and film screenings. Art is being used to invigorate the interior spaces, initially “Soft Spin: A Sound and Sculptural Installation” by Heather Nicol, which features large scale fabric forms swirling overhead in the Winter Garden. The forms, which look like upside down, fluid tulips, emanate music.
The opening of Brookfield starts a retail battle that downtown Manhattan has rarely seen.
Westfield World Trade Center, which released a partial tenant roster, has attracted some luxury players, too, including Hugo Boss and Turnbull & Asser. Some of the other tenants at Westfield, which is scheduled to open in the fall, are MAC, Reiss, Desigual, Kiehl’s and Vince Camuto. Kors is opening stores both at Brookfield Place and Westfield.
Brands such as Giorgio Armani, Tom Ford and Cartier, which were said to be leaning toward Westfield, haven’t materialized, but a Westfield executive in November said that Tiffany and Apple “are still very relevant.”