Financial Times - May 1999

Tony Walker finds how downtown areas are being altered for smart residential use.

Aldo Andreoli cannot quite believe his good fortune. The Italian-born architect and designer secured the right to develop a 70,000 sq ft Romanesque Revival yellow brick building on Franklin Street in the heart of TriBeCa just as the district was becoming one of the, if not the, hottest real estate locations in downtown Manhattan. Downtown—as opposed to uptown—describes an area below 34th street and includes Greenwich Village, SoHo, Chinatown and the Wall Street financial district.

Andreoli believes New York's residential "center-of-gravity" is shifting downtown from staid uptown, at least from an entertainment, culinary and cultural standpoint. "I'm bringing uptown downtown," he says of his project, which involves conversion of four factory floors into designer "lofts" for open-space living.

He is also bringing a taste of Italian design to New York, marrying colorful post-modern interiors with the traditional Romanesque exterior of one of TriBeCa's more prominent landmark buildings. In this, he is something of a trailblazer in introducing New Yorkers to novel ways of mixing "old and new" which is a forte of Italian architects and designers whose daily challenge in their own country is to make the old habitable. Downtown areas such as TriBeCa and SoHo with their aged factories and warehouses provide suitable sites for creative conversions to make use of large spaces.

TriBeCa itself was "discovered" in the 1970's by a few adventurous souls who saw its potential, but it is only in the past few years that it has taken off. This is reflected in a sharp increase in prices propelled partly by riches made on nearby Wall Street. High net-worth immigrants, including prominent actors, are drawn from the Uppers East and West sides by the area's "funkiness" and its proximity to Greenwich Village, Chinatown and New York's financial district. Local agents tick off names of TriBeCa glitterati who have moved in.

The Corcoran Group, real estate brokers, reported that prices of lofts in TriBeCa and SoHo rose last year by between 25 and 30 per cent on average to $1m (^ 620,000) for SoHo and $821,000 for TriBeCa. James Lansill, a broker for Stribling and Associates, a leading Manhattan brokerage, notes that prices in TriBeCa are becoming "more and more interchangeable" with those on the Upper East and West sides. He describes the response to Andreoli's Franklin Street building as "astonishing". At $ 1.65m and above for each of the 14 lofts on sale the market is proving "extremely deep". All this is a far cry from the days when TriBeCa served as the down-at-heel hub of Manhattan's wholesale food suppliers. Gradually its food markets have moved out to places in the Bronx. But, with some of Manhattan's best-known restaurants being located there, the link with food continues. ⊕

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