Mixed Use

By Patrick Hedlund

As the square turns

While the fate of two prime-time storefronts on the south side of Union Square has yet to be determined, recent whispers have indicated that more big-box stores could be headed for the space currently occupied by a pair of retail behemoths.

Electronics retailer Circuit City, which filed for bankruptcy late last year, will shutter its location on 14th St. at Fourth Ave. at the end of next month as part of plan to auction off all its properties and leases nationwide.

A sales associate at the store said that Walmart was interested in the space, which is owned by developer The Related Companies, although a New York-based spokesperson for Walmart said the big-box chain currently has no announced projects in the city.

Best Buy, which has a store less than a mile away on W. 23rd St., is another name that has been floated as a future tenant. A company spokesperson said the electronics-and-entertainment retailer does not currently have any plans for the site and could not speculate on potential deals.

Rumors have also swirled for months over the possible departure of the adjacent Virgin Megastore, where Related — which owns a controlling interest of the Virgin stores — is also the landlord.

“We’ve made no decision about that property,” Related spokesperson Joanna Rose told Mixed Use, echoing her statements to this paper from last May regarding Virgin’s long-speculated exit. However, Rose did confirm that brokerage Winick Realty Group continues to handle the leasing assignment for the nearly 60,000-square-foot property.

A spokesperson for the Union Square Partnership did not have any information on who could open in either space, where brokers have pegged asking prices for the marquee addresses at upward of $300 to $350 per square foot.

Silver Towers honors

New York University’s Silver Towers complex has become eligible for historic designation by the state, which adds another layer of protection to the South Village site that has been deemed of “exceptional architectural significance.”

After being proposed for inclusion in the State and National Register of Historic Places by the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation, the three-building property was found by the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to represent an “exceptional post-war residential complex where the themes of urban renewal, university planning and public housing intersect to create a dynamic sculptural expression… .”

Designed by James Ingo Freed of I.M. Pei & Associates, the complex, known as University Village, occupies a 5-acre parcel between Bleecker and Houston Sts. and LaGuardia Place and Mercer St., and includes a 100-by-100-foot lawn at the center of the three 30-story towers. And at less than 50 years old, the 1967 property must have exhibited outstanding architectural importance to merit consideration by the state.

Already a city landmark, the complex’s new designation will mean that no state or federal funds can be used for new construction or demolition on the site without it first going through a historic preservation review to help ensure no negative impacts on its historic resources. Additionally, if any rezoning or variance were proposed for the property, the designation would have to be considered in terms of the effects any changes would have.

“This is significant because it is only with a zoning change or variance that anything could be built on the site, and of course universities like N.Y.U. frequently try to access state or federal funds for demolition or new construction,” G.V.S.H.P. said in statement.

The historic register designation also qualifies the co-op at 505 LaGuardia Place for certain grants and tax breaks for restoration and renovation work, “which they will no doubt need to do over the years,” G.V.S.H.P. added.

Andrew Berman, the preservation society’s director, said G.V.S.H.P.’s pursuit of the designation was something that would have occurred regardless of N.Y.U.’s development plans, but noted the move was no doubt hastened by fear of the university’s next move.

“It’s a further firewall against inappropriate development on that superblock, which we are facing the real possibility of from N.Y.U.,” he added, referring to the school’s proposal to build a 40-story high-rise on the same block.

Housing Works works it

The AIDS advocacy and services organization Housing Works will open its eighth New York City store in Tribeca next week, featuring its fashionable selection of secondhand furniture, artwork, clothing, housewares, accessories and books.

Housing Works already operates a pair of similar thrift shops Downtown in the West Village and Chelsea, with all profits from the stores’ sales going to serve homeless and low-income New Yorkers living with H.I.V./AIDS.

“We can’t wait to open in Tribeca,” said Richard Vorisek, Housing Works Thrift Shops president, in a statement about the new location at 72 Warren St., between West Broadway and Greenwich St. “The neighborhood has exactly the kind of generous community spirit that Housing Works stores depend upon.”

In Fiscal Year 2007-2008, the stores generated $12.6 million in sales, proceeds from which went to fund services including housing, medical care, meals, job training and drug-treatment programs. As at the organization’s other locations, the Tribeca store will provide jobs for participants in and graduates of Housing Works’ job training program for people living with H.I.V. and AIDS.

Housing Works is renting the new space from the adjacent Church Street School, and will look to partner with the school on projects to generate income for H.I.V./AIDS services and teach schoolchildren the value of public service.

Keeping tabs on tenants

The tables have turned in the landlords-vs.-tenants war with a Web site that allows building owners to pre-screen prospective renters before ever handing over the keys.

The membership-based DoNotRentTo.com gives landlords the opportunity to search the site’s database to find if a possible tenant had prior problems with late payments, nonpayments, destruction of property, theft, refusal to vacate the premises or other issues.

The site is driven by information submitted by landlords, who share their experiences dealing with problem renters online and can then be contacted by other building managers regarding tenants’ histories.

Landlords can freely submit renters’ information to the site, including their full name, Social Security and driver’s license numbers, address, rental length, specific utility costs owed and even photos of property damage. A one-year membership is $29.99, and more than 500 members are currently online with access to more than 2,000 tenants in the database, said co-founder Joseph Collins.

“New York is a pretty hot market for it, sad to say,” stated Collins, who as a landlord himself once rented to a tenant who stole the stove, refrigerator and front door from his property. He added that within the first month of launching the site in 2007, about 200 New York City renters were added to the database. Given today’s dire economic state, Collins said his site is seeing more and more activity due to the “combination of the housing market and people losing their jobs.”

“I find a lot of people are more or less checking this site because so many people have bad credit,” he said.