Neighborhood Tour: The Real Story Behind Flatiron's Retail Revival
Flatiron’s on our minds since news broke on Monday that SL Green’s buying 11 Madison Ave for a record-breaking $2.6B. New York Historical Tours tour director Kevin Draper and Eastern Consolidated principal Adelaide Polsinelli show us why the area’s got all the elements of a live/work/play (and sightsee) mecca.
The hype surrounding 11 Madison Ave centers on its sale price, but the building has another number worth thinking about: 100. That’s the number of stories called for in architect Harvey Corbett's original design. Kevin says once the Great Depression hit, financing dried up and the project stalled at 29 stories, as it still stands today.
Kevin likes to call 175 Fifth Ave by its original name: The Fuller Building. The Fuller Co had it built in 1902 to serve as the company’s eponymous HQ, but its execs so disliked everyone calling it “The Flatiron Building” that they moved up to a new tower at 41 East 57th St in 1929, which still bears the company’s name. Kevin says the name predates the building, and refers to the triangular shape of the block where Broadway crosses Fifth.
When Eataly opened its 50k SF spread at 200 Fifth Ave in 2010, Adelaide (snapped on the tour) says it showed the potential for the neighborhood’s retail scene. As she points out, tourists seek the area out now, and Eataly's a big reason for that. In the last two years, Zara and the high-end salon Warren Tricomi joined a long list of retailers signing new leases along the stretch of Fifth Avenue that runs through the area, and The Gap and Club Monaco have recently done big remodel jobs. It’s all helping the area look more and more like what folks tend to think of when you say “Fifth Avenue.”
But Adelaide also points out that the higher foot traffic brought on by the complete street redesign installed during the Bloomberg years along Broadway means Broadway sees the bigger retail rent asks. Adelaide says within the neighborhood, ground-floor retail along Broadway now asks as high as $500/SF, whereas along Fifth it goes as high as $400. About 10 years back, she says, it was flipped, with Fifth seeing the higher asks, although she says they were only around $150/SF at the most on Fifth and more like $100/SF on Broadway.
Adelaide says the neighborhood’s 39 fitness businesses are helping set the tone of its retail scene. She says landlords are happy to sign gyms or yoga studios to second- or even third-floor space for around $75/SF—more than most office tenants pay, but nothing like what first-floor retail tenants have been paying. Kevin points out that vertical retail had another heyday during the Gilded Age of the 1870s, ‘80s and ‘90s, when William Sloane opened a high-end carpet business at 888 Broadway called W.&J. Sloane on the first few floors that would become ABC Carpet & Home, which still runs a six-story showroom space there.