Battery Park City Becomes a Destination

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By KATHLEEN LUCADAMO | Wall Street Journal | July 31, 2015

Battery Park City has long been cherished for its bucolic look—a leafy esplanade and plenty of park space hugging the Hudson River. But an explosion of high-end stores and must-try eateries in the past few years has transformed the Manhattan neighborhood’s landscape.

“You used to want to go across the West Side Highway to Tribeca for a variety of eating and shopping,” said Shari Hyman, president of Battery Park City Authority, which owns and operates the 92-acre community. “Now it’s the reverse; people come over here for that.”

In the past two years, upscale restaurants and big-name fashion stores have opened in Brookfield Place, the former World Financial Center, and more are coming. Pier A, a three-floor structure dating from 1886, was recently renovated into a restaurant and beer garden. Next month, SeaGlass Carousel is set to open in Battery Park.

“It’s really gone above and beyond everyone’s expectations,” said Jessica Weitzman, a real-estate broker with the Corcoran Group who has worked in the area for 10 years.

As the amenities have increased, so have the prices of homes. One-bedrooms fetch about $650,000, but finding a two-bedroom for less than $2 million is a challenge, according to two brokers who said sale prices have ballooned 30% to 50% in the past two years for two and three bedrooms, apartments that are being gobbled by young families.

“Certainly the market has improved overall, but it feels like Battery Park City has improved more than most areas,” said Ms. Weitzman.

While more stores are popping up, mainly in Brookfield Place and in the foot of the Goldman Sachs headquarters on West Street, the number of apartments on the market is largely static, as there is little space for more residential development.

In a few cases, rental buildings have flipped to condos and demand is intense. One such property, River & Warren condos, just began closing, and already most are in contract, according to Ms. Weitzman. A website for the development shows that seven of the 192 units are available, ranging in price from $2.5 million to $13.8 million.

“There is very little inventory,” she said, adding that bidding wars are becoming more common. “I never experienced a bidding war in Battery Park City and I’ve been here since 2005. In the last year, I’ve had four.”

The prices are expected to rise as more businesses move into the World Trade Center, making the area attractive for investors. “The companies that are filling up those towers have employees that are going to want to walk to work,” said Ms. Weitzman.

But those who live in the area and want to trade up to a bigger apartment will have a tough time finding affordable places, she said.

“Someone who is looking to stay in the area will have a harder time buying property,” she predicts.

Maintenance is high in many new luxury buildings because of the amenities. Residents don’t pay city taxes because the land is owned by the Battery Park City Authority, but they are charged a “payment in lieu of taxes,” which is essentially the same thing because the rate is set by the city and assessed the same as taxes on other city property.

When planned in 1979, the community, which is built on land reclaimed from the Hudson River, dedicated 36 acres for green space and another 36 acres for commercial and residential development.

“From the original conceptualization of Battery Park City, it has been about balance,” said Ms. Hyman, who has headed the authority since last year.

Now visitors to the 1.2-mile esplanade or adjacent parkland are staying for events, like Shakespeare in Teardrop Park, or dining in one of the eateries. In the past, Battery Park City was a place people walked through but rarely lingered in.

The slowing of construction has also made the neighborhood more accessible. No longer are side streets along the West Side Highway closed because of development, said Ms. Hyman.

Battery Park City is also benefiting from the overall popularity of Lower Manhattan, which now houses three times more residents than it did on 9/11, according to Jessica Lappin, president of the Downtown Alliance, a business -improvement district.

As for the surge in home prices squeezing out some residents, Ms. Lappin said it is a struggle for New Yorkers citywide. “It’s becoming a challenge for people not just in Manhattan,” she said.

Parks: The 92-acre planned community is lush with green lawns, well-maintained gardens, playgrounds at Kowsky and Rockefeller parks and a 1.2-mile esplanade along the Hudson River. There is a marina at North Cove and ball fields on West Street. Rockefeller Park houses the Children’s Garden, where local children plant vegetables, and the Lily Pond for bird watching.

Schools: Schools include P.S./I.S. 276, which enrolls about 850 students in grades K-8, and P.S. 234, an elementary school with more than 700 children. Both schools boast test scores far higher than the city average, making them highly sought by parents, and crowded. The nearest private school is Léman Manhattan Preparatory School, a K-12 facility in the Financial District.

Dining: For lunch, Hudson Eats, a cafeteria with outposts from Umami Burger and Blue Ribbon Sushi, in Brookfield Place, is a favorite. Comfort food can be found at Shake Shack on Murray Street and Blue Smoke barbecue on Vesey Street, while North End Grill on North End Avenue has seafood staples and newcomer Parm on Vesey Street is famous for its Italian-American fare.

Shopping: Le District, a French food market in Brookfield Place, is the go-to place for fancy cheese and bread, but locals rely on Gristedes on South End Avenue for basics. Whole Foods in Tribeca is another popular grocery stop. Brookfield Place also has branches of Burberry, J. Crew and Diane von Furstenberg and plans to add a Saks Fifth Avenue store, Gucci and Hermès.

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