September 14th - September 20th, 2013
Developers Push for Approvals Before Bloomberg Leaves
September 6 - A derelict sugar refinery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the world's largest indoor ice-skating complex in the Bronx and a 63-story Ferris wheel on Staten Island are among a crush of projects that developers are trying to get through the Department of City Planning before the pro-development Bloomberg administration comes to a close on Dec. 31, and its powerful chairwoman, Amanda Burden, steps down, according to Crain's New York. The reason for the frenzy is simple: The planning commission, along with the City Council, has the final say on the shape of all land-use projects. Without City Planning's approval now, dozens of projects will need to start from square one with a commission headed by the new mayor's appointees -- seven of the 13 members -- a prospect that will add great uncertainty, and potentially months or even years of work. The projects now heaped at the department's downtown door at 22 Reade St. fall into roughly three categories: city-led developments, private projects and those being pursued by private developers on public property. For many, it almost feels like now or never. Some of these projects involve new uses for public land. They include the Staten Island Ferris wheel and an adjacent outlet mall. And as if the department were not busy enough, Superstorm Sandy added to the burden. City Planning is being asked to rewrite zoning in flood-prone areas to allow buildings that could better withstand future storms. Without those modifications, property owners will remain unsure about what they can build on their decimated land.
Westfield Lands Big WTC Retailers, Including Apple
September 9 - World Trade Center shopping-mall owner Westfield Group is furiously chasing Brookfield Properties in the race to be the king of downtown retail, according to the New York Post. Westfield, which controls all the retail space at the WTC, has already lined up retailers for 90 percent of the first sites to come on line -- about 360,000 square feet at the 16-acre site, including in the Transportation Hub oculus and in the lower levels of WTC towers two and three. Westfield is said to have signed a lease with Victoria's Secret -- and is said to be close to deals with dozens of retailers, including Apple, J. Lindberg, Tory Burch, Theory, Michael Kors, Swatch and Abercrombie & Fitch, as well as several glamorous international brands. Meanwhile, Brookfield, which relaunched the World Financial Center a short stroll west of the WTC as Brookfield Place, has already lured a batch of high-end boutiques including Hermes, Burberry and Salvatore Ferragamo. Westfield is paying the Port Authority $612 million for a long-term controlling interest in a joint venture for the WTC's retail. New York dealmakers irked that Westfield handles leasing in-house rather than use outside brokers were nonetheless impressed with its prowess. The first of Westfield's eventual 460,000 square feet will be open in or after 2015.
Durst to Reopen Front Street Stores as Retail Takes Off
September 18 - It's been a long and challenging road, but the Durst Organization is confident that Front Street stores will be back in business soon -- and better than before. The company told Real Estate Weekly this week that leases have been signed with 11 out of the 12 original retail tenants washed out of the brick-and-cobblestone neighborhood by Hurricane Sandy. The superstorm hit the South Street Seaport Historic District hard, with water rising seven feet or higher on ground floors. The Durst Organization launched a major renovation of its historic Front Street property and hired Peter Braus of Lee and Associates NYC to handle lease negotiations for the street's storefronts. The retail spaces have been stripped down to the studs in order to get all the water out. The HVAC systems have also been moved from the ground floor up to the roof and all four electrical feeders are now above the flood line -- changes made to protect against future storms. The re-opening comes as Lower Manhattan retail takes its biggest step forward in years with several major developments being unveiled in coming months. An upgrade and expansion of 200,000 s/f of retail at Brookfield Place (formerly the World Financial Center) is scheduled for completion in 2014. Another 65,000 s/f of commercial space is being developed at Fulton Center for completion in 2014. In 2015, Westfield World Trade will open 350,000 s/f of new retail, dining and entertainment space. The Howard Hughes Corporation is initiating a major redevelopment initiative to transform the Seaport. The first phase will commence this October with the closure of Pier 17 to clear way for the development of 365,000 s/f of retail, dining, entertainment, and open space. According to the Downtown Alliance, 23 new retailers arrived in the neighborhood during the second quarter of 2013, 30 per cent more than this time last year.
No More Compensation Due World Trade Center Developer Says Judge
September 18 - New York property developer Larry Silverstein is not entitled to funds that insurers of his World Trade Center properties won from airlines over the attacks of September 11, 2001, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday. Reuters reported that Silverstein's World Trade Center Properties sued QBE International Insurance Ltd and other insurers in 2010, after they won a $1.2 billion settlement with airlines and airport security companies. Silverstein had already settled his own claims against the insurers for more than $4 billion. He subsequently argued that the insurers, under the terms of their policies, were required to turn over whatever they recovered from the airlines. In his ruling on Wednesday, however, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein wrote that Silverstein's World Trade Center Properties had already been "fully compensated" by its insurers. Hellerstein ruled similarly in July, when he decided Silverstein could not recover billions of dollars from airlines because the insurance companies had already compensated his company.
Feds Add Prostate Cancer to List of 9-11 Health-Related Conditions
September 18 - Prostate cancer has been added to the list of World Trade Center-related health conditions, reported the New York Daily News. The federal Department of Health and Human Services added the cancer to its register Thursday after being petitioned by the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the city police officers union. The union cited a scientific study that found a 17 percent greater than expected rate of prostate cancer among first responders. The addition will cost the WTC Health Program an estimated $3 million to $6 million a year.
Cuomo Calls for Investigation Into Decades-Old WTC Naming Rights Deal
September 19 - Governor Andrew Cuomo has requested an investigation into an agreement the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey struck in 1986 to sell the rights to the World Trade Center name for $10. According to a report by the New York Times, Cuomo has formally asked Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to look into the matter, saying that former Port Authority official Guy Tozzoli "received exorbitant annual compensation" from a non-profit organization set up specifically to "extend the World Trade Center brand." Cuomo's directive comes shortly after a report by the Bergen Record detailing the arrangement. The Record reported that Tozzoli oversaw construction of the twin towers in his capacity as a Port Authority executive, but also, after leaving the Port Authority in 1987 and before his death in February, he drew large salaries from the non-profit World Trade Centers Association -- including $626,000 in 2011 alone. That money came from the WTCA's licensing agreements, in which organizations, including the Port Authority, pay $10,000 per year to use the World Trade Center name, and from merchandise sales, the Record said. Now, the Times said, the Port Authority's executive director, Patrick Foye, has referred to that licensing agreement as "shameful." The Record posted a separate report saying Foye believes Schneiderman's office has the authority to investigate, and perhaps take back the naming rights, under what's called the Tweed Law, which holds that the state may "recover property that was improperly obtained by a public official."
Bull Market for Buildings in the Financial District
September 19 - It's gotten hard to avoid all the scaffolding and trucks chugging through the narrow corridors of the Financial District these days, thanks to a construction boom in new residential, retail and hotel buildings, according to the Wall Street Journal. Over the course of a year, the district will add four new residential buildings, five new hotels and a second Pace University dormitory. This is on top of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's $1.4 billion Fulton Center, the large transit and retail hub slated to open in June 2014. The Financial District houses fewer major financial firms than it once did, and the area in recent years has lacked a definitive feel other than to be a place of work. Many developers tried to usher in more residential units as nearby Battery Park City became more attractive to growing families, but the area didn't take off because of the lack of amenities in the neighborhood, brokers said. Since 2011, however, many see the district turning more decisively into a viable residential area, and there are signs of it becoming a retail and night-life destination in a few years as well. "The focus around here definitely shifted two years ago from what's happening at the World Trade Center to its surroundings," said Joseph Simenic, executive director at the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, the city agency in charge of coordinating 70 public and private projects. "What you'll see in a few years is that Lower Manhattan will have a massive retail corridor spanning from east to west." The residential boom started as funds became readily available to developers and as demand for rental units increased at the same time.