By, J. Alex Tarquinio
The Bowery might sound like the last place in Manhattan where you would go to pick out a new designer suit, dine at a chic restaurant or stay in a $1,200 hotel suite. But much of the old Bowery is being swept away faster than you can say “skid row,” and new high-end offerings are on the horizon.
Developers are scrambling to turn the Bowery, which runs diagonally through the East Village and Chinatown, into the latest trendy corridor for luxury goods and entertainment.
The increased activity reflects developers’ quest to find places in Manhattan where they can build ambitious new projects. “It is like what happened in the meatpacking district,” another formerly downscale area, said Lisa Phillips, the director of the New Museum of Contemporary Art, which is about to open on the Bowery. “Any little pocket that was untouched is now being examined under a microscope.”
The New Museum, previously in SoHo, was in the vanguard of the transformation of the Bowery. Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, the directors of the museum decided to build their new 60,000-square-foot museum at 235 Bowery, between Stanton and Rivington Streets. The new New Museum will open for the first time this weekend, with 30 consecutive hours of free admission starting at noon Saturday.
The Tokyo-based architects Sejima & Nishizawa/Sanaa have designed a shimmering tower of interlocking metallic boxes resembling a giant off-kilter wedding cake. The museum building dwarfs the neighboring low-rise brick buildings, which include a vacant restaurant supply store and a padlocked budget hotel called the Sunshine Motel.
Such vestiges of the old neighborhood will probably remain for a while. There is a methadone clinic nearby, and a handful of homeless shelters are left. But several developers insist that is a good thing. They say the neighborhood’s “rough edges” attract the artists, designers and celebrities who they hope will frequent the new hotels and boutiques.
“Neighborhoods evolve,” said Matt Moss, the developer of a 22-story hotel that is going up just south of Astor Place. “But I wouldn’t want the Bowery to change completely. That’s what gives it its character.”
Mr. Moss has been criticized by local residents for building a structure that is much taller than the four- and five-story brick buildings that have lined the avenue since the 19th century.
His building, called the Cooper Square Hotel, is going up on the east side of the Bowery, between Fifth and Sixth Streets, directly opposite The Village Voice’s headquarters. It has big plate-glass windows — the better to enjoy the unobstructed views — and a retro-futuristic design reminiscent of “The Jetsons.”
Mr. Moss said he expected to open the hotel by early next summer. He has not yet set rates for the 146 rooms, which will include a penthouse suite. But down the block, at the new 16-story 140-room Bowery Hotel, between Third and Broad Streets, the room rates range from $495 to $1,200
That hotel has reunited two longtime local partnerships. Richard Born and Ira Drucker, who own several New York hotels together, previously teamed up with the club and restaurant impresarios Sean McPherson and Eric Goode to create the Maritime Hotel on Ninth Avenue, between 16th and 17th Streets.
Mr. Born said the hushed oak-paneled lobby was meant to evoke the Bowery of the turn of the last century. But the building is new. It was nearing completion three years ago as a much more modest project, with a mixture of apartments and dormitories, when the original developers lost their building permit.
“Ira and I have always sought out neighborhoods and sites that we thought were primed to be popular,” Mr. Born said. So they bought out the nearly finished project and stripped it bare. He said the hotel owed its Old World charm to the interior design skills of Mr. McPherson and Mr. Goode.
Down the block, AvalonBay Communities, a residential real estate investment trust based in Washington, has created a vast complex of luxury rental apartments and retail space clustered around the intersection of Bowery and Houston Street.
Once, the only places nearby to buy groceries were the neighborhood bodegas. Now Whole Foods leases 70,000 square feet in Avalon Chrystie Place, a 14-story building running the length of Houston between the Bowery and Chrystie Street. It has 361 apartments. The company also built Avalon Bowery Place Phase I, a nine-story building with 206 apartments, on the southeast corner of Bowery and First Street.
The company has just begun leasing for Avalon Bowery Place Phase II. Avalon has kept the name, although this building is actually one block off the Bowery, on the northwest corner of Second Avenue and First Street. The rents range from $3,000 for studios to $7,500 for two bedrooms and include amenities like a fitness center and a rooftop terrace with wireless Internet access.
The Bowery has been home to several legendary performance spaces. But now only the Amato, a plucky opera company in its 60th season, is still operating there. Last year, the Jean Cocteau Repertory Theater vacated its longtime home at the Bouwerie Lane Theater, and CBGB, the legendary punk rock club where Debbie Harry, the Ramones and the Talking Heads once reigned, closed its doors.
The former CBGB space has been split into two addresses: 313 and 315 Bowery. John Varvatos, the fashion designer, announced this month that he had rented 3,300 square feet at 315 Bowery, where he plans to create a store that will highlight the building’s colorful past. The rock stars Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop already appear in advertisements for Mr. Varvatos’s fashion company.
Karen Bellantoni, the broker at Robert K. Futterman & Associates who is subleasing both spaces for the leaseholder, Elliott Azrak, said she was hoping to find a similar fashion company, art gallery or jewelry store for 313 Bowery. “Or we might rent it to a lounge, a nice little place that will stay open late,” she said.
Ms. Bellantoni is also representing the retail space in the Bouwerie Lane Theater building, at the northwest corner of Bond Street.
The New York developer Adam Gordon, who made his fortune converting old properties for self-storage, bought this six-story building, with 2,500-square-foot floor plates, for $15 million in June. He is renovating the top two floors for his own residence. He plans to turn the middle two levels into full-floor condominiums. And he plans to lease out the first two floors for retailing.
This 1874 building, which has landmark status, has an unusual cast-iron exterior in the French Second Empire style. Mr. Gordon said he wanted to restore the exterior as much as possible to its original condition. “I want to keep the spirit of the Bowery,” he said, including its “rough edges.”
“Every place in New York is becoming more civilized, and this may be one of the last,” Mr. Gordon said. “It’s not going to be the Wild West like it was 30 years ago. But there is still an infrastructure that is always going to keep the Bowery a little funky.”
To that end, Mr. Gordon said that he would not allow retail space in his new building to be rented for chain stores or A.T.M.’s. He said he would prefer to rent to art galleries or design shops.