NEW YORK — Showing your age may not be in vogue in some circles, but when it comes to real estate landmark properties and landmark districts, old is a good thing as retailers increasingly seek unique sites for their stores.
Historic buildings, however, can present a number of obstacles to the builders of the retail space, including: inaccurate architectural records, smaller structures and a host of restrictions on how the property is adapted for commercial use.
But it is the hoops that architects and construction managers have to jump through with the local building departments and landmarks commissions that are the toughest challenge.
“It’s a nightmare,” said Andy Frankl, president of IBEX Construction in New York. “It can take months to get the right approvals for the space and meet the requirements for both the retailer and the different commissions that oversee the building.”
There are two primary kinds of landmarks. A landmark district designates an entire street or neighborhood, and therefore affects the facades of specific buildings. In New York, areas such as the Ladies Mile in Chelsea or the Flatiron district are landmarked, often requiring that retailers subdue their signage and window displays and use only specific color palettes on the exterior of their shops so the buildings retain the character of the neighborhood.
Though challenging, this is usually manageable for even the most demanding of users. For Manhattan’s first Home Depot on 23rd Street, the big-box retailer did not alter any facades on the building and kept historical details intact in order to meet the needs of the landmark district.
Landmarked buildings, however, can be more troublesome. In these, neither the exterior nor any of the interior details of the structure can be altered in a significant way, whether from ornate wall decorations and doorways to the location of HVAC systems and loading docks.
“There are inherent conflicts when working in a building that’s landmarked,” said Navid Maqami, principal at architectural firm Greenberg Farrow. “Compromises have to be made from the department of buildings, the landmarks commission and the retailer in order to make the space work.”
Retailers also often have to pay higher construction costs to make the space work.
“Typically, working in a landmark does get to be more expensive,” said Maqami. “You’re limited with what you can do with the mechanical systems, and it requires more specialized construction and design.”
Still, said Frankl, “most retailers can understand the value and beauty of being in a landmark building.”
Some notable retail stores in landmark properties include Urban Outfitters in suburban Cincinnati and Sephora on Fifth Avenue in New York. And others aren’t deterred by the possible challenges or costs: retailers continue to hover around the Plaza Hotel, which is landmarked inside and out. A luxury spa provider and a high-end, European food operator are both rumored to have signed a deal in the location, though the Plaza’s real estate marketer, Robert Futterman, remains mum on any tenants.
“There’s lots of activity, but nothing released yet,” demurred Futterman, chairman of brokerage Robert K. Futterman & Associates. “But the landmark status doesn’t affect the leasing. Landmarks are a way of life in New York, and tenants have figured out how to work with them. The only people who don’t need to adapt are those who wouldn’t benefit from high ceilings and architectural details, but most retailers are looking for those elements.”