“Alexander Hamilton must be turning in his grave, ” commented a local shopkeeper, referring to the father of American banking as a series of landmark buildings in New York are converted into luxury apartments. But would he? It’s more likely that the visionary statesman – whose colourful life is celebrated in the rap musical Hamilton – would have appreciated the economics behind this revolution.
Hamilton is buried in the cemetery of Trinity Church, directly opposite One Wall Street – the biggest conversion to residential in New York’s history. The original Art Deco tower, to which a 30 storey annex was added in the 1960s, is to become 566 apartments with the first residents expected to move in next year. Built for the Irving Trust in the 1920s, it is one of many former banks being snapped up by developers in what was once the world’s most famous financial district where tech and media giants are taking over from traditional New York businesses.
Hot on the heels of the announcement that Amazon had chosen Long Island for one of its second HQs, Google said it was gearing up to expand its New York office. Names more associated with the West Coast – not only the giants but many offshoot techs and start ups – are packing into lower Manhattan where rents are lower than in Midtown. Spotify was lured to World Trade Center 4 by the unusual tactic of commissioning graffiti artists to cover the walls and windows of one floor with artworks. “Spotify was concerned the building had so much of a corporate image that it wouldn’t be suitable for the techies who work for them,” said Larry Silverstein, the Brooklyn billionaire who signed a lease for the World Trade Centre in July 2001.
The potential flood of highly paid new tech jobs will be music to the ears of estate agents, who have already seen the population of lower Manhattan triple since 2001.
Much of the increase has been driven by millennials with a median age of just 32 which accounts in part for the noticeably hipster elements creeping into the back streets and byways, like vegan restaurants, ethical shops and offbeat cafes. When it comes to food, this neighbourhood adds new names every month: in November alone it was The Woo, Kopitia and Manhatta.
Improvements to the public realm include new plantings and plazas while the roads are remarkably pedestrian friendly. And it’s all becoming more colourful. Trees glow with thousands of lights. Street art is no longer a crime but often a commission. Bronze, glass and mirrored sculptures sprout from pavements – like the Rose at Zuccotti Park – adding to the well known attractions such as Charging Bull (originally a guerilla work) and Fearless Girl, a bronze statue commissioned to advertise gender equality.
It’s easy to assume -seeing all the scaffolding and shiny towers – that all this is new but the transformation of downtown Manhattan had begun well before 9/11. The attacks that felled the twin towers did however create the need not only to rebuild but to heal and this emotional element has played a major role in planning decisions.
Central to the reconstruction was the dramatic white Oculus transit hub by Santiago Calatrava. Rogers + Stirks’ World Trade Center 3, and David Child’s One World Trade Centre – the tallest building in the US – tower over the white ribs of the hub. Hoardings covered in colourful street art surround World Trade Centre 2 – for technical reasons not yet out of the ground.
Earlier this year, the Four Seasons New York Downtown added its classic architectural profile to the world’s most famous skyline. Above the hotel are 157 branded residences, with available units from $3million. At 926 feet, the property is the tallest residential building Downtown – a boast that will not last for long. Now under construction is 45 Broad Street, the new class of skyscraper known as a ‘supertall’ which top out at 1,100 feet.
Everywhere in Downtown scaffolding and hoardings encase landmark buildings for despite the challenges of converting from office to residential, developers are snapping them up.
Windows are often the biggest problem – wide office buildings often have no daylight at their core. At One Wall Street 30 lifts on a perimeter wall were removed and will be replaced by 10 in the core to enable all residences to have windows. “Residents will look out on the history of New York architecture,”says Richard Dubrow, Macklowe’s director of marketing.
Architect Ralph Walker – revered for the Art Deco lobby at One Wall Street – tapered his tower using setbacks that will give 47 apartments private terraces. One of the most stunning apartments will be the penthouse in the former board room with its mother-of-pearl ceiling.
“There are often architecturally unique moments in Walker’s buildings and this is one,” says Shaun Osher CEO of Core, the agents for One Wall Street.
The building will have 70,000 square feet of spa facilities in two main areas, including a lap pool on the 38th floor. Other amenities include entertainment and storage spaces, an outdoor terrace, and 24/7 concierge services.
Osher says that he is unable to specify the demographic of buyers due to “discrimination laws.” But one tenant he is happy to name is Whole Foods Market, an anchor which has signed for 44,000 square feet of the commercial spaces that will occupy 6 floors, three above and three below street level.
Apartment prices have not been finalised. “We are watching the market,” says Osher. However Core do give an entry price of $960,000 for a studio – significant as it is below the $1million mark in an area where the average price for apartments is around $1.7 million. (see footnote*). This suggests an average of $2,600 a square foot which is way below the 432 Park Avenue, Macklowe’s 96-story condo in Midtown where prices hit the more than $7,000 a square foot. So despite One Wall Street, which borders Broadway and Exchange Street, having once been the most expensive corner of New York, ironically today it is not even in the top 10 priciest districts listed by Business Insider.
First published in the Telegraph, January, 2019