Tribeca has always been a historic district of New York City, home to the Broadway-Chambers Building, a brick office tower completed in 1900, and the Woolworth Building, a Gothic Revival tower that was once the tallest building in the world (until 1930, when 40 Wall Street was built, then the Chrysler Building).
These types of old buildings in Tribeca are historically preserved. A real estate agent saw the potential of this protected area and had a brilliant idea: to create a sort of gallery district. Jonathan travis, a partner of Redwood Property Group in New York, convinced a handful of art gallery owners (yes, that’s a word) in 2016 to come and discover the storefronts on the ground floor, which are emblematic buildings protected by regulations which do not allow developments (or in certain cases, renovations).
At first it was like pulling teeth. Now he gets calls from dealers quite frequently.
Since 2016, Travis has helped 18 art galleries move into Tribeca buildings, many of which have been overpriced in Chelsea, the city’s former art gallery district, which has changed in recent years. .
âAfter Hurricane Sandy, the Chelsea galleries were forced to stop using their basements for storage as insurance premiums skyrocketed,â he says. Gallery owners have also found more space and historic charm in the commercial spaces they rent out in Tribeca. Part of the character of these buildings includes exposed brick walls, cast iron pillars and high ceilings. Now the insiders are calling Tribeca’s new gallery district “New York’s top destination for art.
Chelsea, the lower western part of Manhattan, has always been a favorite haunt for art galleries in Manhattan. But Chelsea is emerging as a neighborhood for luxury condos, like Caledonia. What has also driven up property prices in Chelsea is the recent development of the high line, a former railway line turned into a pedestrian walkway in 2014. Art galleries (the places that sell paintings for thousands of dollars a piece) have been hit by huge rent increases, so it’s been easier to look for properties elsewhere.
Travis was an integral part of the process, having come up with the idea of ââtransforming Tribeca’s protected heritage buildings into a new gallery district, as Chelsea overtook all small independent galleries. This is one of the few success stories of a real estate agent who basically designs a neighborhood and it works on an authentic level. It has attracted over 20 galleries since its inception and is a veritable “gallery district” that is set to take over Chelsea soon.
Travis’s work does more than just bring culture to lower Manhattan, it provides an example of how to use heritage buildings responsibly, without destroying them. “I started my career in real estate in a large company and I quickly knew that I liked real estate, but that I hated the environment in which I found myself” said Travis. âSo I made the decision to quit this business and go out on my own. It was very nerve-racking as commercial real estate is one of the most competitive industries in the most competitive city in the world. “
He first had a pivotal moment reading the Wall Street Journal in 2014, reading an article about Chelsea’s undergoing transformation. âIn the article, a dealer named Casey Kaplan was quoted as saying he didn’t like what was going on in the area, and when his lease expired the following year he wanted to leave,â said Travis.
He sent Kaplan a cold email posing as a real estate agent who read the article and would work his ass to find him a new space. Kaplan gave him the opportunity to meet him at the gallery and find a new home for his business. From there, other gallery owners followed by word of mouth (article published in the Real deal didn’t hurt either). Travis continued to send cold emails to gallery owners and sent over 10,000 cold emails to gallery owners around the world posing as a real estate agent, mentioning the Kaplan deal and the bustling neighborhood. development of Tribeca galleries.
He recently worked to bring the Nicodim Gallery, which spans New York City from a 3,500 square foot gallery space on the ground, to a cast iron building on Greene Street, where Tribeca meets Soho. He also helped move Harper’s Books to a new 4,000 square foot location on West 22nd Street in a new ground floor space.
Designing a new neighborhood is nothing new. Planned communities have have been used for years as part of residential developments, such as proximity to shopping malls with suburban sprawls, or mixed-use buildings that combine commercial spaces at the foot of an apartment tower. The first planned community was the village of Riverside, IL, built in 1869 by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the same designers behind Central Park in New York City, and today the village is a national monument. It is not a community development district, however.
Tribeca’s Gallery District isn’t exactly a Business Improvement Area – there wasn’t much to improve other than foot traffic. There is no additional charge that galleries pay to be part of this neighborhood. There is a regular event, Tribeca Art + Culture Night, where over 60 galleries stay open late but the art galleries floor in Walker Street, White Street and Franklin Street between Baxter Street and West Broadway was completely organic.
“With galleries, it’s not about changing neighborhoods, it’s an addition to Chelsea,” said architect Markus Dochantschi, former director of Zaha Hadid Architects and founder of studioMDA, who designed the Andrew Kreps Gallery at Tribeca in 2019, among several others in Tribeca and Chelsea.
New York’s upscale gallery district started out in Soho’s lofts and warehouses, but when gallery owners’ prices were overpriced in the 1980s and 1990s, they moved to Chelsea, which has larger spaces. “That’s what makes Chelsea, Chelsea,” he adds.
Since the gallery spaces were dezoned during the construction of the High Line, many spaces have been lost, “classic gallery spaces have been closed,” Dochantschi said. He cited the resilience of the Chelsea area, as it still has the anchor galleries like Pace and Gagosian or David Zwirner (in other words, the mega-hit galleries). âChelsea’s gallery spaces offer a tiered ladder that you can’t get in Tribeca, and Tribeca can’t compete with. Tribeca doesn’t have 100-foot-wide lots with column-free spaces and skylights, âhe explained.
Even Markus recognizes what Tribeca has, however: affordable rent. The historically preserved buildings in the area also make good small-scale galleries. âThe exterior of each building is marked,â says Dochantschi. âThe facade of all these buildings in Tribeca has a lot of glass because they were run by merchants selling products, but they also have very tall doors because they had to get their materials into the building. All of these elements have been preserved in these buildings in Tribeca.
Whether or not Tribeca becomes âthe new Chelsea,â the effect of the area’s designation as an arts district has changed the area for the foreseeable future. And it all happened thanks to a broker who decided to contact a disgruntled tenant. This story is not exactly reproducible, not all neighborhoods can be an art district or any other type of district for that matter. But it shows the power of a real estate professional with vision and enough ambition to show it off.