Financial District, also known as FiDi is just across the West Side Highway from Battery Park City. Unlike Battery Park City, Financial District is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Manhattan – and it’s also one of the most respectable ones (or most notorious, depending on the point of view). The economy of New York City, and the entire driving force of the city’s growth started here.
More importantly, as a real estate investor, you must know that at least 30% of the entire New York’s economy – and therefore, Manhattan’s real estate market – depends on what happens in the Financial District. Some of the most likely buyers of best residential real estate work here. (There’s a good chance that you, dear reader, have an office here as well!)
The core of the Financial District is, first and foremost, the area of Wall Street, with such other nearby streets as Broad Street, Fulton Street, William Street, and of course Broadway (which cuts through the entire Financial District).
After the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, people began to distinguish between the Financial District East and Financial District West (east and west of Broadway, correspondingly).
There’s no avoiding the subject of September 11 when we speak about Financial District. The subject defies words, but it’s had such a profound, lasting and far-reaching impact on our city that I have no choice but to write about it. I believe that every New Yorker who’s survived that day had been personally and closely affected by it. I was on my way to World Trade Center exactly at that time, and somehow, by some amazing miracle of intuition, I decided to not go. I’ve known people who perished in the catastrophe, and I several of my acquaintances has lost the loved ones who had been in the towers when the planes hit.
There can be no smooth transition between what we just talked about and any other subject. But we’ll just have to move on.
Chambers Street represents the northern border of the neighborhood. Above it begins the TriBeCa.
The Financial District is the location of AMEX, Federal Reserve Bank, World Trade Center, New York Stock Exchange, and numerous office skyscrapers and residential high-rise buildings, museums, churches and synagogues, South Street Sea Port and one of the most notable downtown landmarks: Brooklyn Bridge, which will soon celebrate its 150th anniversary.
The Financial District is notable for its unusual recent history of character transformation. It used to be a strictly office neighborhood, filled with hundreds of thousands of white-collar workers, bustling with frenetic activity during business hours on weekdays – and emptying out almost completely every evening after six or seven o’clock. On weekends, a person walking down a street in Financial District was a rare sight.
But over the course of the first decade of our millennium, the area has undergone major transformation. First, the old produce market (which used to stink up the entire neighborhood) moved from the Financial District to much more suitable area of Hunts Point in the Bronx, thanks to the efforts of the old mayor Rudy Giuliani. A large number of older office buildings in the area (many of them over a hundred years old and incapable of competing in quality with new Class A office buildings of Downtown and Midtown) had been converted into residential condominiums or apartment buildings for rent. The city government, under the leadership of the next mayor, Michael Bloomberg, stimulated that initiative by issuing special 421-G tax exemption and abatement program for conversion of old commercial buildings into residential dwellings. (In parallel, there was also a similar 421-A tax exemption program for new development).
The trend of converting old office buildings in Financial District into dwellings continues today. These condos are remarkable for their large windows, huge ceilings and the level of architectural detail not available in other neighborhoods and other types of buildings. In the entire city these classy, classical features are available only here, in this neighborhood. Condos in such buildings are easy to sell, and are in high demand among investors.
The influx of residents in the Financial District brought about the demands for resident-friendly infrastructure. Retail stores like Tiffany & Co. and Hermès opened on Wall Street (as well as Thomas Pink and even BWM salon – but these two had recently closed or moved out, after being open for many years, due to the changed situation in retail real estate). Century 21 opened on Fulton Street. Harry Cipriani opened an ultra-luxurious restaurant also serving as a concert and events venue, in the neoclassical building that formerly hosted New York Merchants Exchange, New York Stock Exchange, the United States Customs House, and the headquarters of the National City Bank. Other, more recently opened restaurants in the area include Nobu Downtown, at 195 Broadway, and Eataly Downtown at 4 World Trade Center.
Over the last decade, the Financial District became even more dynamic and well-developed. Currently it’s the only area of Manhattan in which millions of square feet of commercial and residential properties are being built simultaneously! New residential buildings feature the most amazing architecture, engineering, interior designs and amenities. Commercial buildings contain the most beautiful and technically advanced offices. As of today, residential and commercial space in the completed buildings is still being filled (approximately 25% is still available). Needless to say, these new buildings attract the best tenants – and the neighborhood continues to improve.
Don’t just take my word for it. Let’s look at a couple of examples – some of my favorite buildings in the area.
15 William, formerly known as The Beaver House – a 47-storied condominium building at – you guessed it – 15 William Street, on the corner of Beaver Street, marketed as a “vertically integrated village”. Here in the condos you’ll find Liebherr, Miele and Bosch appliances. Burmese teak flooring, rainforest showers, oversized deep-soaking bathtubs, adjustable louvered doors, stone kitchen counters, and so on. Imagine living in a place like that!
New York by Gehry, at 8 Spruce Street, a spectacular 76-story apartment building, designed by superstar architect Frank Gehry. The development of this building had been spearheaded by Bruce Ratner, the founder of Forest City Ratner development firm, and the former city commissioner of consumer affairs famous for his fight against corruption in local commerce. The development of that building became possible because Bruce Ratner’s organization became one of the recipients of the federal Liberty Bonds, allocated to the city to help rebuild and reinvigorate Downtown after September 11 attacks. Even with this “cheap money”, and armed with one of the best designs ever created by the great Frank Gehry, the developer ran out of funds by the time the building rose only 40 floors high – and publicly announced the end of construction. Within the next year and a half, new investors delivered additional funds, the Federal Government “splurged” some more (the variance became possible because the first five floors of the building, decorated with dark-beige brick, were pledged to a public school) – and the building was successfully completed. It became one of the tallest residential buildings in the world and a true gem among many of New York’s most gorgeous buildings. Above the public school, the remaining 71 floors are clad in stainless steel and contain over 900 rental apartments. The building was met with universal acclaim from architectural critics, and is often compared in its beauty with such icons of Manhattan architecture as Woolworth Building and CBS Building.
Last year saw the opening of The Oculus – an architectural complex that combines the train station, the plaza and the largest city shopping mall in America. That mall – Westfield World Trade Center – provides retail spaces to approximately 160 stores and restaurants (the list of these commercial tenants is pretty much the “Who is Who” of the most famous contemporary luxury retail brands).
The train station (officially known as The World Trade Center Transportation Hub) deserves a special mention. For over a century (ever since the Grand Central Terminal was built on East 42nd Street in 1903) Manhattan’s Downtown suffered from insufficient public transportation, and even remotely couldn’t compete in that respect with the Midtown… until in the new millennium the Federal government decided to do something about it, and set aside the budget of two billion dollars, specifically to construct a train station in the Downtown, superior in size and capacity to the old Grand Central. Under the power of eminent domain, also known in New York simply as “appropriation” (the right of the government to take private property for public use, on the condition of fair compensation), the Federal Government bought out a number of buildings on Fulton Street and Broadway from their owners, and razed them to free the land for the transportation hub that would connect Manhattan with Kennedy Airport, New Jersey and Staten Island. One of the world’s most celebrated contemporary architects, Santiago Calatrava, designed the metal-and-glass building that looks as if it’s hovering over the area on its huge wide wings. The innovative design allowed the passengers waiting for the train to arrive to the underground platform to see the sky and sunlight streaming through the glass cupola. The project ended up costing twice the planned budget – four billion dollars! – making it the most expensive train station in our planet’s history, and more expensive than the adjacent Freedom Tower ($3.8 billion). But it’s probably worth every penny, because the hub has achieved the goal of galvanizing Downtown and the Financial District.
There’s more. Nobody would expect the Financial District to transform into the world’s fashion mecca – but that’s exactly what happened, thanks to the intelligent decision jointly made by the Hurst publishing house, the Port Authority Of New York and New Jersey (the developer of Freedom Tower) and The Durst Organization (the property management company). They decided to allow Vogue and several other fashion magazines to rent a million square feet – that’s twenty floors! – in Freedom Tower. As a result, many of the world’s most prominent and influential fashion writers and editors are all now working in Financial District. Needless to say, this made every fashion-minded person on the planet look at the neighborhood and take notice. These days, during the biannual New York Fashion Week (sponsored by Mercedes Benz, the maker of my treasured white SUV) the Financial District is flooded with some of the most spectacularly attractive fashion models from all over the world. Even away from the runway, these models are a treat for the eye in their best-fitting, brightly colored clothes of the most glorious brands – and a treat for the nostrils, with just the right amount of subtle and most sophisticated perfume… if they let you step close enough. (And that’s just the male models. The female ones look, dress and smell even better.)
A huge difference from the days of the stinky produce market!
Speaking of Freedom Tower, the observation deck on the rooftop of this tallest building in the Western hemisphere has opened for business in 2015 and drew 2.3 million visitors in its first year, earning the estimated $73.6 million.
Freedom Tower is the most prominent building in the World Trade Center architectural complex, but of course not the only one. 3 WTC, 4 WTC and 7 WTC buildings had been completed. Of the time of this writing, such buildings 2WTC and 5WTC have yet to be built.
Next to the Freedom Tower is the monument to the tragedy that befell New York and America: The National September 11 Memorial & Museum. The museum collection includes more than 40,000 images, 14,000 artifacts, over 3,500 audio recordings, and over 500 hours of video. Over 37 million people had visited the memorial to since it opened in 2011, and more than 6.8 of them in 2017. The Memorial, with its somber tone, austere minimalist design and purpose of commemorating a terrifying catastrophe, differs from most of the others, usually cheerful, tourist destinations in the city. But from a certain philosophical point of view, this historical monument can be seen as no less life-affirming than such attractions as, for example, Rockefeller Center’s skating rink. It is here, looking at the former location of the Twin Towers, replaced today with two square pools as if filled with tears of grief, we can reflect on our tragic impermanence in the world, and embrace life in all its terrible and wonderful glory.
Among other museums that draw tourists to the Financial District are such institution as Museum of American Finance; Fraunces Tavern (museum and a tavern in Manhattan’s oldest building, located at 54 Pearl Street – it is from here George Washington bid farewell to his troops during American Civil War); National Museum of the American Indian; New York Police Museum; Barnum’s American Museum and the South Street Seaport Museum.
That particular area (one of my favorite places to hang out in New York City – wish I had more time to enjoy it!) with its old cobblestone streets, numerous tiny coffee shops, bakeries and cozy little restaurants – makes me think of the historic romanticism of the old Europe. That’s not a coincidence, because the variety of the historic architecture of Manhattan is rooted in the Old World, and many of the older houses look as though they, just like their former tenants, sailed one day to America over the Atlantic from England, France or Spain where they used to stand for centuries. This may be a reason why tourists from those countries frequent this area – they’re drawn to something that here, in New York, reminds them of their home countries. Thousands of apartments had been rented out in this area over the last few years.
Downtown is also the center of Manhattan’s politics and the location of New York’s City Hall and many municipal buildings. Located mostly along Broadway in the vicinity of Center Street and Chambers Street, these buildings are remarkable for their uniquely beautiful architecture, and attract tourists.
I realize that over the previous dozen paragraphs I used the word “tourist” quite a few times. Why do I keep talking about them, and what do they have to do with Manhattan real estate?
Quite a lot actually.
Well, first of all, you’d be surprised just how many people from outside of the United States own real estate in Manhattan. Many of them came to the country as tourists first – and now they are locals, thanks to their trust in the value of New York real estate. A lot of out-of-towners come here to visit their family members currently living in Manhattan – and as we know, the number of Financial District residents had greatly increased of late. But even guests of our city who have no plans to buy a place in the city or have no relatives here, are important to us as real estate professionals. While they’re in New York, they have to stay somewhere, right? And hotels are real estate.
In fact, it’s one of the hottest (possibly the hottest) types of real estate in Manhattan to invest into right now. New York City is undergoing the largest hotel boom in its history. Over 18,000 of new hotel rooms had been created here since 2010, and 36,000 rooms are to be built in the nearest future! Approximately one third of these, over 6,000 hotel rooms had been added in Lower Manhattan (mostly in Financial District) and 10,700 more are in the pipeline in the area.
One of the most luxurious new hotels in Financial District is located in one of the most historically prominent buildings in the entire New York City. It’s “The Beekman” – a Thompson Hotel, at 123 Nassau Street. This address is marked by the New York’s first public performance of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet in 1761 (yes, this theatrical masterpiece, likely completed by the Bard in 1602 had not been performed in Manhattan until nearly 150 years later). In 1883, the current, very beautiful building had been completed. Back then, it was known as Temple Court, and it was one of Manhattan’s very first “archaic” skyscrapers. The building had remained in excellent structural shape for over 130 years, until The Beekman opened here in 2016. If you want to be shocked by luxury – stop by The Beekman and take a peek inside. I promise you, you’ll set new goals of prosperity in your life after you spend a few minutes there. And if you want absorb it deeper, why not rent a penthouse for a night. It’s only sixty five hundred bucks.
An interesting blend of hotel and rental apartment building in Financial District is an “extended stay hotel” called AKA Wall Street (located, paradoxically, not on Wall Street, but three and a half blocks away from it, at 84 William Street – but city blocks are so small enough here for this tiny detail to make no difference). The project is a partnership between Korman Communities, Shorewood Real Estate Group and Prodigy Network. It’s a very beautiful neoclassical building in a great location featuring 132 luxury apartments which you can book like a hotel room, stay in it indefinitely without a lease agreement, enjoy hospitality services like in a hotel, and leave at any moment! How’s that for civilization? Forget the fabled “Southern hospitality” – New York is not only the of money or art, today it’s the capital of hospitality, too. We love our guests and want them to stay!
Perhaps more importantly than tourists, office workers, politicians, or fashion models, among the most common sights in Financial District today are couples with baby strollers. Life truly prevails and triumphs in Manhattan’s Downtown!
I feel special pride for the Financial District. It is here I opened my first office – a small real estate bureau that included only four agents. It was located at the 8th floor of Manhattan’s first skyscraper – 198 Broadway. (That building since then had been acquired for a very large chunk of money by Federal Government on the basis of the above mentioned right of eminent domain, and today it’s former location hosts the steel-and-glass entrance to the Transportation Hub). My current office is also here – just a couple of blocks down the street, at 150 Broadway. It is here that I closed most of my deals – for myself and my clients. I love this neighborhood so much and know it so well, I could tell you in detail about every building here, and about people who own them.
A fun fact: two shortest streets of New York City are in Financial District: Edgar Street (63 feet long) and Mill Lane, known until 1664 as Elliot’s Alley (a much better name in my opinion, why did they have to change it?!)