In ticking off all of the improvements seen in the financial district this year, Jessica Lappin, president of the Alliance for Downtown New York, was confident that 2015 was a banner year for the neighborhood. Lappin said Lower Manhattan as a whole, since the attacks of 9/11, a recession in 2008 and the devastating Hurricane Sandy in 2012, has now fully recovered.
“2015 was a big year for us,” she said, before highlighted the openings of the Fulton Street transit hub, Brookfield Place and Hudson Eats as three major new draws in the financial district.
“The rejuvenation of lower Broadway, and generally speaking the barricades and walls starting to come down around the World Trade Center site, I think there were quite a few really big moments for us this year, and looking ahead, 2016 is going to be even better,” she said.
Next year will see the opening of the mall at Westfield World Trade Center, Saks Fifth Avenue at Brookfield Place and the retail portion of the Fulton Center, she said. Other highlights to come in 2016 are restaurant openings by Tom Colicchio and Keith McNally at The Beekman, and Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant at the Four Seasons downtown.
“Those are three household names in terms of chefs,” said Lappin, who was a council member on the Upper East Side before taking over at the alliance. “Those will be big openings. In terms of places to go to eat and shop, there’s going to be some really great and exciting options that aren’t here today but will be here a year from now.”
Lappin said the neighborhood’s recovery was due to the people who, instead of retreating out of fear after 9/11, decided to rebuild the financial district.
“It says a lot about the people who work here and live here, and really it’s about the American spirit of people not only not giving up but doubling down their effort to come back and to not be cowed, to push ahead,” she said.
One of those people was Marco Pasanella, who in 2002 opened Pasanella and Son Vintners on South Street at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge.
“We’ve been down here for a bunch of changes,” said Pasanella, who has lived above the wine shop with his wife since 2003. “Of course there were bumps in the road - the recession, the [Fulton Fish Market] leaving, Hurricane Sandy, but now we’re back.”
Pasanella, who lived in the Meatpacking District with his wife before moving to the Seaport, said he decided to open a small business in the financial district after 9/11 – despite thoughts of fleeing the city – out of a sense of defiance and a refusal to give in to fear.
“I think instead, we made a conscious decision not just to not move out, but to go down here. To not be scared,” said Pasanella. “You’re not going to get me to leave my home.”
But despite all the growth and encouraging signs of life, especially since Hurricane Sandy, Pasanella said more must be done in the realm of preparing for another major storm.
“The fear is not so much about terrorism but about real resiliency in terms of coastal flooding and climate change,” said Pasanella. “The [South Street Seaport Historic District] in particular remains as vulnerable as it ever was and has made no progress in 2015 or previously to being any more hardened in terms of flooding. If tomorrow another Sandy came, we’d all be screwed.”
Ro Sheffe, chair of Community Board 1’s Financial District Committee, said the neighborhood has come along way since that devastating storm over three years ago.
“It took a lot longer to recover from that hurricane than anyone ever anticipated,” said Sheffe. “It was a good two years before the ‘for rent’ signs began disappearing finally.”
But it was the attack of Sept. 11, 2001, said Sheffe, that was the catalyst for him “reluctantly” wanting to serve on CB1. He’s been chair of the Financial District Committee for about seven years.
“We saw people moving out and our response was indignation,” he said. “We were more determined than ever to stay after that attack. We weren’t frightened away…we were angry and defiant and we wanted to get to work and put it back together.”
What does Sheffe see as the biggest change to the financial district since 9/11?
“I would say without reservation the population explosion,” he said. “And that of course has a lot of ramifications. It puts a hell of a strain on the schools – a lot of our schools are overcrowded as a result. We’ve opened several news schools in that time but it’s just not nearly enough to cope with that kind of explosion in population.”
CB1 recently released a report predicting the residential population will continue to increase with an additional1,100 housing units going online next year, and another 4,000 in 2017 and beyond, in CB1’s 1.5 square miles. This is on top of the roughly10,220 residential units that went online from 2010 to 2015, according to CB1 chair Catherine McVay-Hughes.
As a result, the board’s Planning Committee passed a unanimous resolution this month urging the Dept. of Education to site a 456-seat school as soon as possible in the district. Plans for the pre-K to fifth-grade school have been in the works since 2013, but a location has not yet been decided upon.
The planning committee’s resolution also called on the city to make significant investments in, “long overdue infrastructure additions and improvements in [Community District 1], including parks, transportation, water, sanitation and others to accommodate past and future population growth.”
McVay-Hughes largely agreed with Lappin and her colleague Sheffe when asked what she thinks has been the biggest change to the financial district since 9/11.
“The busy sidewalks, the restaurants open late, and all the retail expansion, and then the new schools - seeing all the kids rush in and out tells you everything you need to know about how downtown has become a mixed-use, family-friendly neighborhood,” said McVay-Hughes.
Another milestone for Lappin and the alliance was employment numbers this year hitting the same levels that were seen pre-9/11.
“Longer term, we’re projecting between now and the end of the decade that we’re going to grow private sector jobs by about 40,000,” said Lappin. “So I think that’s a good metric that tells you both we’re back to the levels we were at on 9/11 in terms of jobs, but we’re going to really grow.”
Lappin said the financial district’s comeback after 9/11 was due in large part to significant investments being made from all quarters after the attack.
“There was just an incredible commitment on both the public and private sides, a lot was invested both in terms of infrastructure and human capital,” she said. “And that commitment gave people hope that we would come back.”
Lappin also pointed to a coming hotel boom in Lower Manhattan next year as a solid sign of recovery.
“There will be about 11 hotels we expect to be completed between now and the end of next year,” she said. “I think that’s an important new trend and not one we’ve seen here before, really ever.”