South Manhattan gets new life with touch of glamour

NEW YORK (AFP) - In an old bank converted into an apartment building, young people bump into each other in a hallway designed by Philippe Starck. Is it happening in Soho or Greenwich Village ? Actually, this is New York's financial district, which is quickly turning into an upscale residential area.


A woman walks past the future site of a new Tiffany & Co. store at 37 Wall Street in New York - Photo : Nicholas Roberts/AFP

A construction boom is under way around Wall Street and the site of the destroyed World Financial Center, an area known for its affiliation with big business rather than New Yorkers' everyday life.

The southern tip of Manhattan has also been living under the shadow of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The site of the destroyed Twin Towers is now full of construction equipment and workers building a new train station due to open in 2009.

On Thursday, JPMorgan Chase, one of the largest investment banks in the country, announced that it will move its offices to one of five future towers that are planned for "Ground Zero," following the lead of other giant financial institutions.

French company Hermes will open its second boutique in New York on June 21, just in front of the Stock Exchange in a bid to add a touch of luxury to a neighborhood full of discount electronics and clothing stores.

Jewelry trader Tiffany's is soon to follow.

"The location is promising," Patrick Thomas, president of Hermes International, told AFP. "It is a business district and because of that, it probably has more of a masculine touch. That's why we'll give more attention to men's products in our store than we normally would."

Thomas is confident that other retailers will soon follow the lead.

"It's not a gamble. One can feel that there is a boom in this neighborhood," he said, pointing out that the southern tip of Manhattan was becoming more residential.

In fact, after losing 50 percent of its residents in the wake of September 11, the area, using tax incentives, has not only recovered its lost population but registered 30-percent growth compared to the pre-9/11 level, according to the Alliance for Downtown New York, an organization created with the purpose of revitalizing the area.

The tax incentives "expired and then people stayed," said Valerie Lewis, vice president of the alliance.

Since the 19th century, narrow streets in this neighborhood have been crowded with banks, but now many local skyscrapers, initially slated for demolition, have been converted into luxury residential buildings.

At 15 Broad Street, a former JPMorgan building bought by a developer for 100 million dollars soon after September 11, Philippe Starck has designed an entrance, terrace and even a swimming pool at the site of an old bank vault.

Further down, 37 Wall Street promises a spa, a billiards hall and a movie lounge. 20 Pine Street has been conceived by Armani/Casa as the first luxury residence dedicated to fashion.

Pine Street promoter Michael Shvo said the building, 80 percent of which has already been sold, is attracting young stylish people who appreciate good design.

Some of the neighborhood streets are now reserved exclusively for pedestrians. "It's wonderful, it's very exciting," said Helen Burnie, a resident who has been in the neighborhood for three years. "The city is bouncing back, it makes me feel there is hope."

However, at 15 Broad Street, a young couple with a small child is planning to move out. "It's not that great here," complained Suzanne Fine. "Too many tourists, lots of construction, not enough convenience stores. In five years, it will be great, but now..."

Christian Salomone echoed her view. "Few stores are open late at night or on weekends, it is very business-minded," he said. "Some restaurants are catching on, but for the most part, it's still steakhouses, not very neighborhoody restaurants."

Meanwhile, Lewis of the Alliance for Downtown New York says the retail sector is almost always the last to follow. But she said a Whole Foods supermarket was due to open in the area in 2008.

The current population of 45.000 residents will increase in the district by a third in five years, she assures.

By Catherine Hours

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