Loren Munk was biking through Lower Manhattan about five years ago when he saw unusual construction activity going on on a quiet Broadway street.
“I walked down the street and saw someone building walls and a gallery,” he said. Hyperallergic. “At one point I heard six galleries would be on the Strip.”
Munk, an artist and critic also known as James Kalm, is best known for pioneering the online guerrilla video art review. During openings, Munk pedals to a gallery on his mountain bike, pulls out a small digital video camera and records his spontaneous impressions of the show which he then uploads to YouTube. The project took him to where an art scene developed and nurtured his meticulously documented work map paintings who stalk the diaspora of New York galleries. The works also became a hagiography of artists’ studios and gallery spaces that existed, however briefly, in overlapping eras in the city.
Lately, Munk has found himself in Tribeca, where a bunch of artsy spaces have started to rival Chelsea. This spring, Munk returned for the Show by Gordon Matta-Clark and Pope.L at David Zwirner’s on Walker Street, where two dozen people strolled inside. The atmosphere reminded him of Soho in the mid-1980s, when hundreds of artists congregated in lofts with galleries downstairs.
“I’ve seen the cycle go five or six times and if it’s good it takes 20 years to go through a cycle,” he said. “You start with this pretty rough area with garages and warehouses, and then people move in and start changing it. It takes five or six well-known galleries to solidify a neighborhood. Once entrepreneurs start to see that it’s where people want to make money, the gold rush begins.
Artists have long gravitated to less popular or overlooked areas where commercial studios were plentiful and affordable. Galleries often followed, remaking the corridors where they took root as they did in Soho in the 1970s, the East Village in the 1980s, Williamsburg in the mid-1990s, Chelsea in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and the Lower East Side and Bushwick in the mid-2000s.
But Tribeca reversed that pattern. Almost 60 galleries sprouted in central Tribeca, in the area between Canal and Chambers streets and west of Lafayette Street, triple the number who moved to the neighborhood in 2019. This growth has occurred even though Tribeca is one of the most expensive places in the city: Homes have sold for an average of $4.73 million l last year, making Tribeca the third most expensive neighborhood in the city, the real deal reported. (Nolita and Times Square North topped the list.) Its studios had average rents of $5,683 per month for buildings without a doorman, while its one-bedroom apartments fetched nearly $7,000 per month, by far. the highest in the city, according to a March 2023 MNS. Real estate rental market report.
And yet, its retail prices have remained largely stable and affordable compared to other Manhattan neighborhoods. The average asking rent for Lower Manhattan stores in the first quarter of 2023 was $253 per square foot, two dollars less than landlords wanted this time a year ago, according to a Cushman retailer. and Wakefield from 2023. report. Rents in Tribeca are about 20% lower than those in the Meatpacking District and Soho, and a third of the price on Madison Avenue, according to the report.
Savvy brokers who know the ins and outs of Tribeca have often found even better deals. One of the neighborhood’s most prolific sellers, Jonathan Travis, a partner at Redwood Property Group, who has placed 34 galleries in Tribeca over the past decade, said rents on side streets where art spaces are are concentrated are now between $95 and $125 per square foot.
“It’s unique in that it’s a luxury neighborhood with an affluent postcode, but the retail rents don’t reflect the wealth of the neighborhood like many other places in the city. “, did he declare. “There’s a lot more neighborhood vibe in Tribeca than in Chelsea.” Travis got a lot of credit for bringing galleries to Tribeca. His first client was Alexander and Bonin Gallery, followed by Bortolami, Casey Kaplan and Andrew Kreps. As he met with other gallery owners, clients told him they were unhappy with the new developments around the High Line and Hudson Yards. Landlords began to double the price of their leases once they expired or simply tore down their one-story garages to make way for multi-story condos and technical offices.
“The common denominator we heard frequently was, ‘We think we’d like to leave West Chelsea but we don’t know where to go,'” Travis said. “Instead of the galleries saying, ‘I want to pay more to be at Chelsea,’ they said, ‘We don’t want to be here now.’ It sounded like our opportunity.
The neighborhood’s cast iron lofts have perfectly met the needs of gallery owners. Many 19th century industrial buildings were once used by textile merchants and printers, but have since been listed and converted to condos or co-ops. Their retail spaces are often too small for a chain or luxury retailer, but large enough for galleries that don’t need renovation. Some ground floor Tribeca locations have also been too cumbersome to build a restaurant or bar. The neighborhood’s community council must also approve new liquor licenses, which are increasingly difficult to obtain in Lower Manhattan because its residents prefer peace and quiet, restaurant advocates say.
“Although the law allows businesses to serve alcohol until 4 a.m., some community councils require stipulations with much earlier closing times or they reject an applicant outright because they don’t want a ‘a nightlife business in this location,’ said Andrew Rigie, New York City Hospitality. Executive Director of the Alliance. “A raw space that opens up like a gallery is a much lower barrier to entry than converting to a restaurant.”
Other larger forces shaped the southward migration of the galleries. A handful of spaces had opened in Tribeca around the turn of the century, but the 9/11 attacks shut down Lower Manhattan for months, stunting retail development there for much of the decade. Chelsea began to mature as the city’s premier arts destination until Hurricane Sandy inundated many ground floor spaces in 2013, destroying millions of dollars of work. Tribeca became an attractive destination because its buildings provided basement storage outside of a flood zone.
Once the pandemic hit in 2020, some gallery owners who had been considering a move for years abandoned Chelsea or the Lower East Side as retail rents in Tribeca dropped dramatically. Many shops and restaurants in the area closed permanently, but galleries stayed afloat as customers continued to buy art online. “The art world has done pretty well,” Travis said. “Many dealers have had good years in 2020 because dealers have intensified their focus on online offerings. People were bored at home, and the art-buying population still had disposable income.
But the most important reason gallery owners gave for moving to Tribeca was that another gallery they admired was already doing business there. Bortolami moved from Chelsea to Walker Street in 2017 when their lease ended and their landlord decided to gut the building and build offices above. Tribeca had Alexander and Bonin and a few other galleries nearby, as well as 30% more space than they paid for at Chelsea.
“It was just bigger spaces, a more interesting neighborhood, an easier commute… It wasn’t a hard sell,” said Claire Bergeal, senior director of Bortolami Gallery. “We had thought about the Upper East Side – that’s where the money is – and some people told us we should look at the Lower East Side, but the spaces in those two places weren’t so generous. We also want to be aware of who would be around us, the types of customers who would visit us. »
A year later, the owners of the Canada Gallery decided to move from Bowery Street to Lispenard Street after being recruited by other dealers, including Stefania Bortolami and Andrew Kreps.
“I remember meeting Andrew [Kreps] and asking, ‘What do you think?’ and he said he was all for it. He wanted change to happen,” said Phil Grauer, co-founder of the Gallery of Canada. “Galleries wanted to move there because it was affordable and the rooms were big enough.”
Charles Moffet, who opened his eponymous gallery in Chinatown in 2018, moved to a ground-floor space on Washington Street in 2022, just west of Tribeca’s art epicenter, because he loved the critical mass of galleries in the area and its accessible location. “We have a nice community feed of Tribeca galleries and are in communication about openings,” Moffet said. “It’s super convenient. We spoke with collectors coming off the West Side Highway. It is a very easy way to get off by car or on the metro.
The momentum of the arts scene showed few signs of abating, even as new construction surged north of the Hudson Square neighborhood. Google opened a 630,000 square foot campus on Pier 57 last April when Disney’s 22 floors headquarters at Four Hudson Square should be ready by 2024.
Chris Roth, managing director of Hines and the developer behind the two corporate mega-complexes, wants to attract more galleries to its ground-floor retail spaces as white-collar workers return to offices in the area. “There will be a lot of opportunities for art galleries and activating community space at street level,” he said. “We would love to have them, frankly.”
The galleries will likely stay in Tribeca for a long time. Travis predicts that many of his tenants will renew once their current 10- or 15-year leases run out. He does not expect commercial rents to increase by more than 20-25%. But the physical footprint of the art world has always been fleeting, especially in New York where it can be hard to stay rooted in a neighborhood without generational wealth.
“When something like that starts happening, you realize it’s a groovy thing, if it’s genuine,” Munk said. “It’s a cultural power that releases this energy. People can come in and be part of this community, learn and do weird and weird things. And when it falls apart, that’s it.