Is the mainstream media right about Wall St. living?

By Jean Marie Hackett

“Terror Returns to the Financial District: Naomi Campbell moving into 55 Wall Street” screamed Gawker’s ominous — yet promising — header on June 28.

The Gawker Stalker map of celebrity sightings, a regular post on Gawker, one of my favorite blogs, is a map of Manhattan with little markers running from just above 14 St. and stopping just below Canal, flagging celebrity steps on the Manhattan pavement. Would the little flags start appearing on William St. with Naomi reports? Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt made an African country hot.  Will Naomi — maid-assault charges and all — do the same for the Financial District?

Some of my Financial District friends apparently think so. “We’re so chic!” read the cheery email in my inbox from my usually sarcastic friend, Frank, who lives across the street from me in the Financial District. His email, sent to all of his Financial District-dwelling friends, attached a link to the Wall Street Journal’s piece on our neighborhood, which describes the plans of Hermès, BMW, Tiffany and Naomi Campbell to move in on Wall St. “Is Wall Street becoming the new Fifth Avenue?” read the opening line of the story. But perhaps my friend was being sarcastic. After all, how chic are we if we have to forward each other emails attaching articles as evidence of how chic we are?

Not that I would blame him for getting excited about the Journal’s acknowledgement of our residential existence down here near the street that gave the paper its name. We’ve been talking about how “up-and-coming” our neighborhood is since we all moved in less than a year ago, and this was the first time I had actually seen something “come up” out of it.

By last weekend, Frank wasn’t so sanguine. “What neighborhood,” he grunted, as we admired the views from my building at a rooftop gathering, before he proceeded to beg me not to move away.

One young woman on the roof sighed as she told me how she would miss the views from the roof-deck; she expected to move from her Financial District apartment by the end of the month. Living and working within the same three blocks proved to be too much of this “neighborhood” for her to handle.

“I’m moving to Soho,” she said.

She wasn’t the only one considering a move. With plans to return to school Uptown in less than a month, and sick of spending my time beholden to an elevator in a high-rise building, dreams of an old, walk-up building in a more solid neighborhood began to dance in my head, fueled by promises of no-fee apartments on craigslist.org. My boyfriend was less enthusiastic, pointing to the neighborhood building blocks — Dick’s Hardware store on Gold St., Sephora on Broadway, a wine shop with convenient hours right by Liberty Plaza — appearing down here. I didn’t tell him about Whole Foods’ plans to bring a store to the corner of Greenwich and Warren Sts.

Then the media buzz kicked into gear.

It began in mid-June, when New York magazine devoted a two-page spread to the new restaurants sprouting up alongside Seaport-area apartments in the wake of the departed Fulton Fish Market. “Few New Yorkers venture to South Street Seaport for dinner (the captive tourist audience is another story),” the author began with a sneer. But the moral of the story is that New Yorkers might actually want to check out the Seaport-area restaurants.

New York magazine isn’t the only publication taking notice of the drastic changes brought on by the end of the fish market and the new residences popping up every day. Frommer’s Budget Travel proclaimed that “the departure of the Fulton Fish Market is leading to a quick gentrification of the area” as it described the arrival of Hampton Inn’s new Seaport hotel.

And it didn’t hurt when The New York Times wrote about Thomas Jefferson’s dinner with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison at his rented Maiden Lane home in the summer of 1790 in a recent Week in Review article.

But the clincher was definitely the Wall Street Journal’s reports of a “Wall Street Renaissance” with the expected landing of Hermès, BMW and Tiffany & Co. on Wall Street, settling in right alongside Naomi Campbell, Bruce Willis and Harvey Weinstein, owners of luxurious spaces at 55 Wall St.’s new Cipriani Club Residences.

Out of curiosity, I took my dog for a walk down Wall St. on Sunday night to check out Naomi’s new digs. At the corner of Wall and William, right by the 2/3 subway stop where hordes of people arrive for work everyday, the 55 Wall St. building, a fortress with about a dozen mammoth columns, was quiet; a couple of fancy cars sat out front, but no Naomi. But there was life on the street. At the corner, several people carrying groceries from the nearby 24-hour grocery store, Jubilee, hurried past me, a young woman pedaled on a leisurely bike ride, and a young man strolled on, chatting on his cell phone. A few blocks away, the outdoor seating available on Stone St.’s cobbled path was packed with restaurant-goers. Packed? On a Sunday night?

Perhaps they had read New York magazine, which listed the Stone St. restaurants as being among the city’s “perfect places for outdoor eating” in last week’s issue.

My boyfriend certainly had. “We can’t move,” he said, as I pored over Craigslist’s newest list of no-fee apartments further Uptown. “Our neighborhood is up and coming.”

Looks like I’ll be around to find out if the neighborhood ever gets there.

Jean Marie Hackett is a freelance writer living in the Financial District.

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