Tuesday, November 22, 2011

200 East 79th, Foundation In Progress, Cetra Ruddy Remains Architect

I've had several emails regarding 200 East 79th Street, an 85'x100' lot that was cleared in 2009 and subsequently joined the long list of developments that sat dormant as a vacant lot. The site, owned by the Wilf family of Minnesota Vikings and Skyline Development fame, was revitalized this summer and is now back on track. Pictured above you can see that the cellar(s) have been dug, and the retaining wall and foundation are under way.

According to DOB records the site will rise 19 stories, 210 feet and will contain just under 140,000 square feet of residential space and just over 6000sf of retail space. While there was word originally that it was going to be a rental building, the last I heard (as of a couple of months ago) is that it will rise as a condo. Again, according to city records, 57 units are planned. Do the math and we are looking at an average apartment size of over 2000sf. While these plans can be amended, at current, several floors will contain just 2 apartments sharing a floor plate of 8500sf. Big! Permit details also reveal a storage room and bike room in the cellar as well as common tenant facilities on the 2nd floor. Finally, Cetra/Ruddy remains the architect as was originally planned. There are no renderings yet available, but the original plan was not another ubiquitous sheet of glass, but more traditional architecture. I hope that holds true. Will update as more details dictate.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

New New School Building Reaches Ground Level

The massive modernist construction project for the New School at 14th Street and Fifth Avenue is now at ground level, if not higher in spots. After what seemed like an eternity to dig through bedrock into what will probably be the 2nd sub-basement, the site seems to have picked up momentum with cement concrete and re-bar rising. The final creation at 16 stories and 365,000sf looks like The Pompidou covered in stick em' and hit by a lumber yard. I'm not saying that is necessarily a bad thing, rendering vs. reality is a tricky game. The building is expected to open in 2 years time.

Occupiers At New School Get Smart, Move Indoors!

On Thursday afternoon thousands of protesters massed on the North end of Union Square Park, primarily students. The "National Day of Action" by Occupy wall Street was in full swing. After the Union Square Rally, the plan was to march to the next rally at Foley Square downtown. The marchers, if the hundreds of police present were any indication, were clearly expected to go the same way most of the came, down Broadway. However, the police were clearly caught off guard as the marchers decided to march across 16th Street to Fifth Avenue and then South for a reason that soon became clear to me. Aside from the freedom of movement and temporary lack of control by the police, a hundred or so of the crowd knew exactly where they were heading- to occupy the 2nd floor of the New School Building on 14th Street and Fifth Avenue. And there they continue to occupy at this hour.

I was in the area this afternoon (11/19), and according to the two university security guards posted at the door there are still 50 or so holding down the fort. From the outside, the occupation is apparent with various signs and banners somewhat ironically draped over the large signs for TD Bank that "occupy" the space below. Security at the building would not let me in and told me that they, themselves are not permitted by the university to enter the student center. After speaking with one occupier I was asked to wait for a guy named Clark. Clark informed me that there would be no comments to the media and no media access until the decision on how to handle the media was voted on at a General Assembly meeting. On the way out, a few occupiers opened up just a tad more and pointed me to their website, allcitystudentoccupation.com.

This is not the first time that the new school has been occupied, actually the fourth in recent years. The New York Times details the recent history of occupation and points out that the current school leadership is even more liberal and welcoming that previous leaders like former senator Bob Kerrey who had similar protesters arrested. One thing is for sure, these protesters are thinking! It sure is easier to occupy a building than a park this time of year!

A. Fine Blog Now Easier To Access On Mobile

I have been doing a little housekeeping as I prepare to continue the ramp up. I am happy to announce that the blog is now mobile-friendly. I know, it's about time! Access is the same, just punch in afineblog.com into your iPhone, Blackberry, Droid, what have you and enjoy the easy, quick loading experience!

Also, since spam comments have become prolific, regrettably, comments are now fully moderated and will require my approval. I want everyone to know that this is strictly about spam. There will be zero censorship as has been my policy since day one. Comments both positive and negative are always welcome so long as they are not threatening or obscene to other commenters or your friendly blogger!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Zuccotti Park Officially Converted To OCW Shanty Town

I've been making occasional visits to Zucotti Park to check on the evolution of the Occupy Wall Street movement, but my most recent visit yesterday (Nov. 3rd) really tested my sympathies.

There has been an evolution and it is not a pretty one. The big difference is that a few weeks back the crowds were impressive, idealistic and energized. Occupying wasn't easy. People were sleeping in the open air, crawling under tarps during downpours, doing their best to stay warm, and such incovenience only further convinced us of their conviction and resolve. But something has happened along the way, and one of the most dramatic changes is visual. Where a few weeks ago the park was packed with people, it is now packed with tents. So many tents in fact that better than 80 percent of the park is covered with them jammed side by side. The effect is that rather than seeing a sea of protesters, you see a hodge podge of beat-up tents. It no longer looks like a protest, but more like a shanty town. Since there is little room for people, while appearing crowded, the crowds are far less. And, the crowd is changing.

When I visited a few weeks ago, the crowd was far more diverse, and dare I say, sane. Now it is as if the crowd has been boiled down, reduced, and there are now far fewer bright eyed, idealistic college kids and far more crazy uncle charlie types. It had been a few weeks and I was skeptical of publications like the NY Post who I was afraid had the political persuasion and incentive to cast the crew of OCW as increasingly derelict. I hate to say it, but they have many points.

It looks like the crowd can be broken down into three groups:

-young people who think it is really cool to trip on acid (or some modern day equivalent), play drums and camp in the middle of Lower Manhattan,

-homeless and mentally unstable people who see the appeal of free food and enjoy the communal feeling of being with their own, and finally,

-the true idealists who believe in the cause and are doing their very best trying to promote and spread the message that income inequality and social injustice can no longer be tolerated.

You have to feel for the last group. I think most people can empathise to some degree with what they are fighting for. Unfortunately for them, this is New York City, and if you offer free food, eventually you will end up with plenty of rats.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fulton Street Transit Center Open....Partially!

At first glance from Fulton Street it looks like a twisted, chaotic hunk of steel. And it is. The Fulton Street Transit Center, the on again/off again $1.4 Billion project to simplify the connections between the 2,3,4,5,N,R,J,Z,A,C and E trains, is finally open! I am not saying complete by any means, that is "expected" by 2014, and as everyone familiar with the history of such projects in the city knows, it will almost certainly be later, if it happens at all. However, as of a few days ago, you can actually access 8 of the trains from an entrance underneath the behemoth of a construction site overhead. The entrance is on Broadway between Fulton and John and it brings you into the actual Transit Center while it is being built around you. Can't wait until they let the light in and finally get this thing finished.
MTA Transit Center Updates (MTA)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

New In Yorkville: Patagonia and Israeli Soap

A couple new shops in ye olde Yorkville are on the horizon near East 86th Street.

future home of Sabon, 10/11/11, A. Fine

The first is in the two small retail spaces on the west side of Lexington just south of 86th Street which formerly housed a Tim Horton's and a cheesy cell phone store. The replacement, which is combining the spaces, is Israeli luxury soap maker, Sabon. Sabon does have competition from L'Occitane which is expected to be open in time for the holiday season on East 86th between 3rd and Lex. In any case, the Sabon sure is an upgrade from what was there, and adds yet another luxury store to the 86th Street landscape. It has been quite a rapid and remarkable transformation of what was a forlorn stretch of Lex just a few years back.

Patagonia pop-up, 10/11/11, A. Fine

Also coming soon is a Patagonia "pop-up store" on the northeast corner of 84th and Third Avenue. The space, a combination of the former Mumtaz (Indian restaurant) that was there forever and a Lenscrafters that disappeared a couple of years ago. The space has been gutted and glassed up. According to Racked.com, the Patagonia will give it a shot for six months and the gauge whether they are interested in the long term. I find the placement of this retail as an interesting development. Being a full 2 blocks from 86th Street this would be the southernmost large retailer on this stretch of Third Avenue (Ann Taylor Loft is slightly further north across the street). The area is still high traffic, so I think a Patagonia type retailer could be successful there at the right price. Still, to be honest, I was really rooting for a quality hardware store which the neighborhood lacks. No offense, Wankel's!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Not Backlash, But War Possible Over New, Ambitious Bike Share Plan

New York City has seen many changes in the streetscape during the Mayor Bloomberg/Sadik-Khan era including miles and miles of bike lanes, public plazas replacing roadways, and the "Summer Streets" program, but perhaps all this pales in comparison to the city's ambitious Bike Share program that is to be implemented this coming Spring and Summer.

If you haven't heard about it, the plan is to have a private company, Alta, to provide 10,000 bikes for Manhattan residents to share for a fee ($100 annually, for instance). The bikes will be located at 600 different locations throughout Manhattan, south of 79th Street, although the final boundaries have yet to be determined.

I met with a handful of D.O.T. employees last week in Union Square who were demonstrating Alta's solar powered bike lock stands and providing free rides to whoever wanted to take a quick joyride and hand over a form of id. There are many brilliant aspects to the plan. It is privately funded. The bikes are heavy enough to not build up bike messenger type speed, and they are equipped with GPS in case anyone thinks about taking them for a more permanent ride. Not sure if a bike is available at your corner stand? There's an app for that! People stranded on Avenue D or York Avenue or on the Hudson will soon have a healthy and cost-effective way to get to the subway. It all sounds great until you get to the logistics, and this is where I think an epic fail may be in the works. One simple point is being overlooked.

Space in Manhattan is at a premium, and, these bike stands take up an incredible amount of space. The bike stand that Alta displayed, according to the D.O.T. rep is what they will actually roll out on the streets. The stands are broken into 10' long segments. Segments with the credit card machine hold 3 bikes, and an interlocking segment without holds 4 bikes. So, for seven bikes you are taking up a 20' by approximately 5'-6' to accommodate the length of the bikes. That's at least 100 square feet for 7 bikes. So, for 10,000 bikes we are talking about 142,000sf of sidewalk space. But wait, when asked how many spaces would be required for the ebb and flow of daily bike commuters (so there are enough spaces at a subway during the a.m. rush for instance) the answer is double. So, now we have 20,000 bike spaces taking up 282,000sf. While that may not sound like a ton of space compared to a whole island, let's not forget that these will all be placed in high traffic areas. With the average size of a NYC sidewalk maybe 15' (pure guesstimate), do you think people will be happy with 40 percent of a sidewalk in a high traffic area crowded with rows of bicycles? Also, let's not forget that a high traffic area is likely to need more than one 20' string of bikes. At an express subway stop wouldn't you think that 100 bikes would be a minimal number for the masses. So there you are looking at 200 spaces, or 571 feet of bike stations (5'-6' wide). The D.O.T. reps realise that there won't be available sidewalk space needed in all locations, which is likely an understatement, so they suggested that in some cases, parking spots could be usurped to the cause. With fights over parking spots a daily reality in NYC, do they really think that taking over parking spots will be popular with drivers, or with merchants that depend on the spots for deliveries or potential customers to park?

For the record, I am a proponent of the plan and I look forward to more bike lanes, a more bike friendly and bike safe city. However, I think the city and Alta, are setting themselves up for a big backlash and potentially a war over this plan if rolled out (unintended pun) as it appears it will next summer. People beyond the usual suspects of the likes of the NY Post and Rosanna Scotto are more than likely to be annoyed, andgered, and potentially outraged. This could prove to be a major setback for biking in the city. The best thing they could possibly do is to try to figure out how to fit more bikes in a smaller space to minimize the impact on our already crowded sidewalks in already crowded spaces. When planning such an ambitious plan the city, D.O.T. should tread lightly (pun intended) and intelligently. Good luck!

*Thanks again for reading A. Fine Blog! It is great to be back. If you see this story, in word or content, recycled by the lazy media, please give me a heads up at andrew@afinecompany.com. Thanks, Andrew

Friday, September 30, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Gains Momentum

It all started with my desire for a cracked pepper turkey sandwich last Saturday. The sandwich was to come from my favorite deli on 13th and University, a block from Union Square in Manhattan and a block from my office. As I walked up Broadway through the stench of the unneeded nuisance of yet another street fair it was clear something was up. A helicopter hovered and circled to my North, and as I turned onto University I happened upon a sea of blue, perhaps 100 or 150 police officers, police vans, and a street blocked to vehicular traffic. I saw of few of the 80 or so arrested moments before being loaded into vans. I missed the melee by perhaps 5 or 10 minutes which included the pepper spraying of seemingly innocent women and it was revealed later thanks to You Tube, another group of protesters and or pedestrians. I could certainly see how, if I was a few minutes later, my quest for a sandwich could have possibly landed me in the slammer. My interest was piqued. I went to Union Square where there were at least a couple hundred police. Park Avenue was closed to accommodate police personnel. Traffic cut off Westbound on 14th and was at a standstill in all directions. I lingered for an hour or so. There were no protesters, just curious crowds using digital cameras and smart phones to take pictures of hordes of police, many of whom were wondering what the hell they were doing there. The police and the crowds eventually dissipated and to me, this was just another day in NYC. Surreal for a moment or two, but another day, which I figured would simply fade into the tapestry that is everyday life here in the city.

Hours later, I had time to check the net to see if there was anything about the events on Twitter, and that is when I first realized that this was turning into a real story. Several videos had surfaced that showed a police officer pepper spraying protesters. While the incident was quickly dismissed by the police commissioner, combine helpless women, a senior police officer, pepper spray and video that combines all 3 and such a story has stickiness. As it happens, it was probably the turning point for what initially looked like a fledgling effort by a small band of anti-Wall Street protesters known as Occupy Wall Street.

Occupy Wall Street is a group that started camping out at Zuccotti Park on Liberty Street on Sept 17th and has been holding daily marches on Wall Street at the opening bell and closing bell. By all accounts there were perhaps a hundred people camping out nightly and perhaps a couple thousand that came to march last Saturday. In reality, that may have been the peak but for the attention that the protest got from Saturday's incidents.

Media coverage was sparring, vague, and dismissive of the protester's efforts. They we labeled as "hippies", 'trust fund kids complaining of corporate greed while tapping away on their Apple iPads', and more or less slackers that are too lazy to get a job, were disorganized, with no focus, and no clearly defined objectives. Well, given that I am a mere 2 subway stops from the epicenter of this movement it was time for a look.

I arrived just around 4pm yesterday (9/29) in the midst of a torrential downpour. I found a park that spans a square city block that was packed with various gear mostly covered with blue tarps: soaking cardboard signs, a stockpile of canned goods, drinks and around 100 protesters. My first reaction was, well, I'm sure my timing was poor and people had probably scurried to seek shelter from the rain, but still, there were only 100 or so people there. As it turns out, I had arrived when the afternoon march was taking place. Soon the rain was gone and a couple hundred marchers returned with drums, sax, and chants of "all day, all week, occupy Wall Street". I worked my way through the crowd. I talked to organizers, police, bystanders, and protesters of all ages. I found some major misconceptions on the part of the media.

First, there was no confusion on the part of protesters as to their cause. There was a common thread- a revolt against the income inequality that has mounted in this country over the past couple of generations. There was a revolt against a political system that they see as owned by corporate America. The protesters see themselves as representative of the 99 percent of Americans who are getting screwed by the top 1 percent. The viewpoints that I heard today were no different than what I hear on TV from liberal pundits that range from Rachel Maddow to John Stewart, except these folks are on the street espousing these views rather than get paid millions to espouse such views on cable tv.

Another misconception is that these folks are a bunch of sloths and slackers. Unlike many protests which I have seen over the past 20 years, these are not a bunch of Vietnam Era hippies that show up at every protest. Sure there or some of those, but the crowd is decidedly under 40. There are plenty of students, independent contractors, and people coming down after work, at lunch, etc.. Sure, there are hippie types and certainly a requisite group of posers, but the crowd was far more representative and mainstream in opinions and background than I expected.

Finally, the protestors seem far more organized than they are given credit for. There are several committees that meet daily with topics that range from art to sanitation, food, and media. The committees later meet in a "General Assembly" to discuss the results of the committee meetings and to plan the day ahead. They have daily schedules planned and have fully utilized the internet to get their word out on Twitter and numerous blogs that are live streaming from Zuccotti Park. They have also managed to branch out with various cities such as Chicago, New Orleans, and San Fran planning their own "occupations".

Although the group has largely been ignored by the media, celebrity appearances by the likes of Michael Moore, former Gov. David Patterson and potential appearances by band Radiohead have improved coverage of late. Add to that several unions have pledged solidarity with Occupy Wall Street including the Transit Workers Union and the Teachers Union to name just a couple. The unions are likely to join the protesters on a legal march this Wednesday.

While it is anyone's guess how large this movement grows, and how long people will stick it out to occupy Zuccotti Park, Occupy Wall Street has momentum. While the movement has been dismissed, it has grown. One can only speculate how this turns once the media begins to pay some real attention.

*I will be updating the blog on a regular basis as events warrant.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fairway Market On East 86th Opens Amid Much Fanfare

It's 10am and the much anticipated new Fairway Market at East 86th Street is but an hour from opening. The opening news conference is a few minutes behind schedule as we are waiting for numerous elected officials who are expected to attend. I've had the pleasure of a preview tour this morning and I have to say it is impressive. It is not just the wide selection of produce, breads, cheeses, etc that impress me, but great prices as well. $1.99lb for beefsteak tomatoes or $3.99 for a fresh loaf of rye are but a couple of examples. The crowds have gathered and the press conference is about to begin. Welcome Fairway!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Damn Good Hot Chocolate Served Up At "Little Brown"

$4.90 for a 12 ounce cup of hot chocolate. $4.90! Worth it? A resounding yes if that cup of hot chocolate comes from newcomer "Little Brown Chocolate Bakery and Coffee" now occupying the south corner of the Lucida at 85th and Lex. It has a clean, appealing look from the outside, and any business that prides itself on quality chocolate must be investigated further so a visit was a must. Prior to opening I thought the approximately 700 square foot space would be challenging for any business, yet, the space has high ceilings, floor to ceiling glass windows, and a crisp layout which has the feel of a modern living room and has a comfortable feel for the 25 or so that can be seated there. But enough about all that, it is the chocolate that matters and from my sample, it was fantastic! I chose the milk chocolate variety, and the cashier described it best "it is not like drinking a hot chocolate, it is like drinking liquid chocolate". He was right. The consistency was thick, and the taste exceptional. One of the best hot chocolates that I've ever had. At first I was going to say that it only compares to "Max Brenner", but it figures, the shop is from the "Bald Man" behind Max Brenner. The only negative was that the "double" at 12 ounces was a bit too much for me, next time, I'll save a couple of bucks and settle in with the 8 ounce single which is more than enough to satiate.
What To Eat At Little Brown (NY Mag/Grubstreet)