Lower Manhattan: Cultural-Economic Phoenix

Image via Wikimedia Commons

This month marked the opening of the World Trade Center One, which met great national acclaim. It’s been thirteen years since we promised to rebuild the world’s greatest monument to free enterprise and international business, and we have exceeded that promise. Looking up its base, one is confronted with a perfect perspective, with a vanishing point at top, signifying the infinite ppotential of the human spirit.

Conde Nast has led the way in this symbolic return, moving into the Freedom Tower on the third of this month. Charles Townsend, CEO of Conde Nast, triumphantly marched into the building alongside his vice president of corporate branding and communications Patricia Röckenwagner, both full of wonder and pride.

Soon to follow are several companies who’re over all the hype about Williamsburg and Dumbo, which “feels a little 2012.” Andrew Essex, vice chairman of Droga5 (an ad firm with 500 employees), says “we were charting our own path.” As the presence of financial services companies falters, brokers and business lenders have increasingly pitched the neighborhood below Chambers as an alternative to Chelsea and SoHo (where rent has risen, and useful space is at an all-time low).

As a point of pride, Lower Manhattan is bolstering its claim of being the next tech and creative hub of NY (contra the conceit of Garment district and downtown Brooklyn) with data showing the number of employees in these coveted fields increased 71% in the past five years. This lends credence to our promise to not only rebuild Lower Manhattan, but make it even better than before.

Downtown space is at $48-$49-per-square-foot, while Hudson Square, for instance, is $60-$70-per-square-foot. Despite this enticing savings, Lower Manhattan still faces significant challenges attracting tech and creative companies. It lacks former industrial buildings with expansive layouts, a number of its older office buildings with less costly space were converted to apartments, and young companies that like to bounce ideas off peers may find themselves isolated.

To counter this hurdle, LaunchLM announced a new 12,500-square-foot space dubbed “lower Manhattan HQ” at 150 Broadway, a 20th-floor space which will give companies the opportunity to network, hold trading events and book rooms for special projects. It’s scheduled to open next spring. Companies moving into the neighborhood are beginning to feel less like pioneers than they did a decade ago, when the ruins of the the former towers caused a major recession in the area.

Helping the area is a $3,000 tax break per eligible employee to firms that relocate some or all of their operations to lower Manhattan. Downtown has much more empty office space than it did before the recession. More than 10.5% of office space was vacant in the third quarter of this year, compared with less than 8% in the third quarter of 2007, according to JLL, a real estate brokerage.

From New Jersey and the Hudson Yards to the brownstones of Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan is becoming an increasing center of gravity to the region’s economic, financial and intellectual abundance.

Gorgeously designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, One World Trade Center is truly an “architectural act of defiance, a symbol of victory over those who despise reason, liberty, tolerance, and, indeed, freedom.”