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Offering Big Spaces, Amsterdam Avenue Is Catching More Retailers’ Eyes

Offering Big Spaces, Amsterdam Avenue Is Catching More Retailers’ Eyes

New York Times 12/26/2007


The stretch of Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan used to be the homely cousin to the two strong shopping avenues that flank it: Broadway and Columbus Avenue.

While the street did a decent job attracting service-oriented businesses like bodegas, dry cleaners and ethnic restaurants, large national retailers sidestepped it, preferring the denser foot traffic (and generally larger buildings) on the nearby avenues.

Lately, however, Amsterdam Avenue has been demanding attention in its own right. While its blocks lack the heavy-hitting retailing names like those on neighboring avenues, including Barneys Co-op, Ann Taylor or Loehmann’s, Amsterdam is in the enviable position of offering some of the largest retail spaces available on the Upper West Side.

On the southeast corner of 100th Street, at 801 Amsterdam Avenue, are two large retail parcels, with some 34,000 square feet on different floors. The spaces are part of the large Columbus Village mixed-use development that has already signed Whole Foods as a tenant and is expected to take up three contiguous city blocks between 97th and 100th Streets. “Amsterdam is changing,” said Robert K. Futterman, the chairman and chief executive of the Manhattan retail real estate firm that bears him name. He expects the street to keep attracting service-oriented businesses, but also more fashionable tenants.

In the past, Amsterdam’s architectural topography often worked against it, real estate professionals say. In particular, they point to the fortresslike feeling that pervades the part of the street between 73rd and 76th Streets. There, stores are generally scarce, and passers-by may feel hemmed in by large buildings like the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, Riverside Memorial Chapel, the Apple Bank building and the backside of the Beacon Theatre.

Still, even this stretch of Amsterdam is starting to be noticed. In November, the chocolatier Jacques Torres opened a store at 285 Amsterdam, in retail space that once housed a pizzeria and sits at the base of the Verdi apartment building on the northeast corner of 73rd Street, opposite the Apple Bank building.

Mr. Torres’s quietly opulent store, his third, features marble, dark wood and crystal chandeliers. “We wanted it to be elegant, but not pretentious,” he said last week.

Mr. Torres expects his store on Amsterdam to benefit strongly from the many families, as well as food lovers, that live in the heavily trafficked neighborhood.

Ross L. Kaplan, a broker and director at Newmark Knight Frank Retail, said that foot traffic in the Verdi Square area around Mr. Torres’s new store tends to be extremely heavy, because commuters spill out of the two subway entrances, at 72nd Street. “We’ve had a few national tenants look at the space at the Verdi,” he said. “That’s something we wouldn’t have expected three or four years ago.”

National retailers usually want larger spaces, and until recently, Amsterdam did not have much to offer, local brokers say. Mr. Kaplan said that he and Stu Morden, a managing director at Newmark Knight Frank, were about to begin marketing 5,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space on the northeast corner of 76th Street that was cobbled together by combining space taken up by a dry cleaner and sales offices for two nearby condominium developments.

One of the condominium developments is the Harrison, a two-tower project being built across the street, at 350 Amsterdam. It is to offer 132 condominiums and more than 40,000 square feet of retail space. The developer for the project is the Related Companies, the New York company that built the Time Warner Center. South of the Harrison, space for larger retailers is also in the works at 170 Amsterdam Ave., between 67th and 69th Streets, on the site of an older two-story retail building, which used to house an assortment of businesses like a Burger King, a Chinese restaurant, a furniture store and medical offices.

According to numbers collected by Newmark Knight Frank Retail, over the last five years some 3,100 units of residential construction have already been built or are being planned for the neighborhood west of Broadway, between 66th and 72nd Streets.

But many of the area’s new residential towers carry little, if any, retail space, said Amira Yunis, a retail broker at the company, who, along with Jared Lack, is representing the retail space at 170 Amsterdam.

“We think the area is underserved,” said David R. Becker, a managing director at American Continental Properties, a New York real estate management and development company. His company wants to remake the older building at 170 Amsterdam into a sleek, glass-sheathed complex that will offer about 200 feet of retail frontage along Amsterdam, as well as three floors of retail space measuring 17,000 square feet each.

Retail rents on Amsterdam used to run roughly half of what they were on Broadway. Lately, however, the gap has been narrowing, and annual rents for smaller, older retail spots on the streets are often more than $250 a square foot.

By some measures, however, retail space on Amsterdam continues to be a bargain.

Take, for example, 2075 Broadway, a large residential building that is being built on the southwest corner of 72nd Street, across the street from one of the busiest subway stations in New York. Plans call for it to offer nearly 48,000 square feet of space on five floors, with an asking rent of $550 a square foot for ground-floor space and $125 a square foot for space one floor below. By contrast, asking rents at 350 Amsterdam, about four blocks north, are just $280 a square foot for ground-floor space and $80 a square foot for space one floor below.

The rent gap does not surprise Mr. Futterman, whose company is also marketing 2075 Broadway. Even when a store on Amsterdam is just 50 or 75 feet away from retail space on Broadway, he said, “there can be a huge difference in rents.”