Alliance releases upbeat report on Lower Manhattan

In light of intense interest in Lower Manhattan, the Alliance for Downtown New York released “The State of Lower Manhattan,” which lays out the demographics since 2001 and covers the commercial, residential, retail, hotel and recreational growth of the area. Downtown Express photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer
BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER | A 34-page report called “The State of Lower Manhattan” recently released by the Alliance for Downtown New York paints a glowing picture of the area’s recovery since 9/11.

The disaster had some beneficial repercussions. It brought money, new buildings, and eventually new businesses and residents to Lower Manhattan. When 1 World Trade Center and 4 World Trade Center are finished within the next three years, “they will become part of a business district that has more brand new, high-tech, green commercial office space than any other business district in the country,” the report states.

It goes on to say, “Today, the district has 8,428 companies, 130 more than were here on September 11, 2001.” And there are now three times as many hotels as there were when the Twin Towers were destroyed.

This is the first time in recent years that the Downtown Alliance has published such an extensive and detailed report devoted to Lower Manhattan. “For the last several years the Alliance had included a demographic portrait of Lower Manhattan in its annual report,” said Jeff Simmons, spokesman for the Alliance. “During its 16-year history, the Downtown Alliance had occasionally done separate reports on the state of Lower Manhattan. Given the significant global media interest in Lower Manhattan on the cusp of the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, we thought it prudent to provide [this] report this summer.”

As the report explains, finance used to be the dominant industry in Lower Manhattan. Now, partially because the number of financial services companies in the area has decreased, the City of New York is the largest employer. Professional services are a robust third, followed by media companies that are jostling to move in. Condé Nast, which has leased one million square feet at 1 World Trade Center, will join firms already here such as Broadcast Music, Inc., American Media, Inc., the New York Daily News and U.S. News and World Report.

To serve the new businesses as well as the ever-increasing number of visitors (nine million in 2010, with millions more expected when the National September 11 Memorial and Museum opens), there are now 18 hotels in Lower Manhattan, with seven more on the way. The report mentions that average annual occupancy rates are comparable to those elsewhere in the city and that average daily room rates are $283 a night, 23 percent higher than the citywide average.

Another upbeat statistic: Lower Manhattan’s population has more than doubled in the last decade. Now, with 56,000 residents (expected to be 60,000 in the next two years), the one square mile south of Chambers Street is one of New York City’s fastest growing residential neighborhoods, according to the report.

People move here because of “excellent housing stock, access to subways and other mass transit, walkability (30 percent walk to work), superior schools and safety,” the report asserts. They are well educated and affluent. The median household income is $143,000 — more than three times the citywide median and double the median for the rest of Manhattan.

Most are couples or families with children — “and 40 percent of the childless households say they plan to have children within the next three years.”

Brimming with optimism, “The State of Lower Manhattan” does not mention some of the fault lines in the neighborhood. Even now, there are not enough public school seats to accommodate the influx of families. Affluent families are able to pay handsomely for their apartments, whether rented or owned, and have made “affordable housing” in Lower Manhattan an oxymoron. Relentless new construction has endangered or destroyed some of the historic buildings of Lower Manhattan that give the area its character.

The bias is because the Alliance’s report reflects the perspectives of Lower Manhattan’s business owners. The Alliance for Downtown New York is funded by an assessment on commercial tax lots in its district, based on the number of square feet in the tax lot. The owner of each commercial lot is billed by the Department of Finance at the rate of 18 cents per square foot, calculated on the basis of the total square footage of the building. There are 644 commercial tax lots that contribute.

From this perspective, construction is always good, high rents and sale prices are good, high-end stores and restaurants are good even when escalating rents drive out service businesses and more residents, visitors and workers are desirable.

Using data from a variety of sources such as Cushman & Wakefield, Citi Habitats and the New York City Department of Finance, the report was prepared by the Downtown Alliance’s research team, and was designed by its in-house graphic designer. It is available online at www.downtownny.com.