Mixed Use

By Patrick Hedlund

Emigrating Downtown

The Italian American Museum opened in its new Downtown space this week, where president Dr. Joseph Scelsa had only a moment to reflect on the historic debut in the symbolic heart of the city’s Italian immigrant community.

“Right now I have a full house,” he said on the museum’s opening day Tuesday from its new base on Mulberry and Grand Sts. in Little Italy “It’s wonderful,” he added. “It’s something that you can’t possibly imagine how good you’re going to feel till it happens.”

Formerly in Midtown, the museum relocated after arranging to buy the building at 155 Mulberry St. for $9.4 million. The neighborhood was an obvious choice, but the building itself also represents one of the most important pieces of the city’s Italian-American heritage. The former Banca Stabile building, once the “cornerstone of the financial community and the social community” of Little Italy, still maintains many of its original features preserved through the generations, Scelsa said.

“So much social interaction took place because of this bank,” he added, noting that the space’s original marble walls, floors, vault, adding machine, teller windows and light fixtures remain. “It was really an all-service center more than just a bank.”

The museum will be able to salvage those artifacts as well as expanding into two more lots at the site, where it will eventually operate out of 10,000 square feet featuring classrooms, additional galleries and a theater space. Scelsa said the museum still needs about three years before realizing the full expansion, but that the progress made represents a “quantum leap” since it was first chartered in 2001. He also hopes to tackle preservation efforts to protect other significant buildings in the community, as well feeding off the neighborhood’s connection to the past.

“So many people are coming in,” Scelsa said, “and every one of them has a story.”

Office vacancies, prices up

The vacancy rate for Downtown office space shot back up again in August after dropping the month prior, continuing this year’s trend of increasing availability as prices inch upward.

Downtown’s Class A office space showed a 6.7 percent availability rate last month, up from the 6.2 percent in July and nearly double the rate of 3.9 percent at the end of 2007, according to a monthly report from Colliers ABR.

The August increase can be attributed to a pair of significant subleases opening up in the World Financial Center: Dow Jones’ placement of 204,000 square feet on the market at 1 World Financial Center, and law firm Thacher Proffitt and Wood’s placement of nearly 80,000 square feet at 2 World Financial Center.

The average asking rent for Class A space Downtown climbed in August to $62.27 square feet, up 3.3 percent from $60.27 in July. Downtown asking rents sat in the mid-$50s per square foot as of the end of 2007, rising steadily throughout the year to its current price.

Mayor inks Buildings bills

The mayor signed into law last week legislation aimed at strengthening enforcement at construction sites and modifying the qualifications of future Department of Buildings commissioners.

According to one of two bills signed by Mayor Mike Bloomberg last Wednesday, the city will require the presence of concrete-safety managers on job sites of 10 or more stories where a minimum of 2,000 cubic yards of concrete are poured. Additionally, Intro. Number 790-A requires these safety managers to register with D.O.B. and continually monitor concrete operations for compliance with safe practices and building regulations. The legislation stipulates that new managers will undergo extensive department-developed training, and they will have to include in their building plans a statement that workers have completed a special course on construction safety and health within five years of working on a site.

The second measure, Intro. Number 755-A, requires that either the D.O.B. commissioner or first deputy commissioner be a licensed architect or engineer to hold the job. The move came right before the mayor officially promoted former Buildings Acting Commissioner Robert LiMandri — who is not a licensed architect or engineer — to the post of department commissioner.

“Being Buildings commissioner is a management job that requires management expertise,” Bloomberg said at the bill signing. “We should not eliminate top candidates for that important position just because they don’t have the professional licenses that have no bearing on their ability to excel in the job. We need the best people in city government. When outdated regulations get in the way of that, we should change them.”

The City Council also voted last week on another series of building-related measures; one to improve crane operation safety, and the other to make it illegal for individuals to scale any city structure more than 50 feet tall, including statues, cranes, bridges, signs or buildings.