3 Nonprofit Groups Get a Manhattan Deal:
$1 a Year
Tina Fineberg for The New York Times
J. Christopher Daly, a developer of Riverhouse
By J. ALEX TARQUINIO
July 18, 2007
Tina Fineberg for The New York Times
Riverhouse, a luxury condominium tower,
will lease space to nonprofit groups.
Poets House, a comprehensive poetry library, with 50,000 books in its collection, has been squeezed into a tiny second-floor loft in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan for 16 years. It has been able to renew its lease at 72 Spring Street only in five-year intervals. So Lee Briccetti, the executive director of the group, has had to renegotiate the lease every few years.
“We’re poets, so this was an amazingly stressful situation for us,” said Ms. Briccetti, who is a published poet herself. She decided that securing the organization’s future “meant somehow getting off of the real estate treadmill.”
And that is exactly what Poets House will do next year, when it moves into a new space at the southern tip of Manhattan that will have sweeping views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The little nonprofit has signed a lease until 2069 for more than 12,000 square feet of raw space at Battery Park City. Poets House will pay $1 a year in rent.
This deal is all the more eye-popping because it is occurring as rents for street-level retail space in Manhattan are skyrocketing. That is somewhat less true in Battery Park City, which is not a major shopping district, said Alan Napack, a senior director in the retail services group at Cushman & Wakefield. Still, he estimated that street level space near the library’s future home might fetch $60 to $100 annually per square foot.
But Poets House was selected by the Battery Park City Authority as one of a handful of nonprofit groups to benefit from the authority’s public amenity program. All of them have been given leases with the same favorable terms — $1 a year rent until 2069.
“This is publicly owned land, and we think the public ought to continue to get some use of it,” said James E. Cavanaugh, president and chief executive of the Battery Park City Authority.
The 92 acres of land beneath Battery Park City, a surprisingly leafy residential neighborhood in Lower Manhattan, were created some 40 years ago out of landfill from the excavation for construction of the World Trade Center.
The Battery Park City Authority, a public agency with both city and state involvement, was created to manage the development of the reclaimed land. Today, developers own the buildings they put up there, but must lease the land beneath their buildings from the authority. These leases also run until 2069, exactly 100 years after the founding of the authority.
Whenever the Battery Park City Authority puts an undeveloped parcel of land up for bid, it requires developers to include public amenity space in their proposals. Developers must agree to donate this space to the authority to compete for the right to build.
For example, over the last few years, the authority required the developers of three luxury rental apartment buildings — the Solaire, the Verdesian and Tribeca Green — to build public restrooms, public meeting rooms and a workshop for the authority’s Parks Conservancy. But at Riverhouse, a residential development under construction in Battery Park City, the authority has leased all of the public amenity space in the building to outside cultural institutions.
Three nonprofit groups will occupy most of the first and second floors of Riverhouse, a huge horseshoe-shaped 32-story, 264-unit luxury condominium that should be ready for occupancy later this year.
Besides Poets House, the New York Public Library will open its first branch in Lower Manhattan. And Mercy Corps, a relief agency based in Portland, Ore., with field offices in dozens of countries, including Iraq and Sudan, will have a small exhibition space highlighting global hunger.
The amenity program is not exactly free for the nonprofits. They have had to raise millions of dollars to build their spaces. Goldman Sachs, which is building its new headquarters one block away, donated $3.5 million for the public library. Poets House has already reached the $5.5 million needed to build its space, and is still raising money for an endowment and operating expenses. And Mercy Corps has raised $2 million of the $5.4 million that it will need for construction.
Mr. Cavanaugh said the libraries and exhibition space should contribute to a well-rounded experience for Lower Manhattan residents and tourists alike. He said Riverhouse would be two blocks from the memorial planned for Ground Zero. “We already see a lot of tourists who come down here to look at Ground Zero,” Mr. Cavanaugh said.
The Sheldrake Organization, the New York City developer that is building Riverhouse at Two River Terrace, just steps away from the World Financial Center, has carved out more than 27,000 square feet on the first and second floors for the three nonprofits.
The only street-level retail space is leased to City Bakery, an organic cafe with a restaurant on West 18th Street in Manhattan.
As part of its winning bid, Sheldrake paid $60 million to the authority before breaking ground, and has leased the land below the building for $1 million a year until 2069. J. Christopher Daly, the founder and president of Sheldrake, said the company would also spend tens of millions of dollars building the space that it would donate to the authority.
“But we will have a great amenity for the building that is not a drugstore or a bank,” Mr. Daly said. He predicted that the public library, as well as the children’s reading room that is planned for Poets House, would be popular with condo buyers.
At first glance, the exhibition space about world hunger might seem like an unlikely fit in a building that will have some very well-heeled residents. The one- to five-bedroom apartments at Riverhouse have asking prices ranging from $800,000 to $5 million. Some buyers are combining adjoining apartments for much more. Roughly half the apartments have sold, Sheldrake says.
But the Battery Park City Authority sought a relief agency to occupy the 4,000-square-foot exhibition space that will be directly opposite the Irish Hunger Memorial at Vesey Street and North End Avenue. Michael Cooper, the director at large for Mercy Corps who applied for the amenity program, said he hoped the World Hunger Action Center, as the new space is tentatively titled, would educate the community about global hunger. “Putting the World Hunger Action Center at the heart of the World Financial Center is a statement in and of itself,” Mr. Cooper said.
For her part, Ms. Briccetti said she would like the three neighboring nonprofits to coordinate programming from time to time. Poets House already has a longstanding relationship with the public libraries. And she said that if Mercy Corps were planning an exhibition about relief efforts in Ethiopia, for example, “we could bring in Ethiopian poets to recite the tales of that place.”
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company