By Jeanne B. Pinder
N.Y. Times News Service
NEW YORK _ It was once a proud building, as the gilded mosaic
over one entrance testifies: An angel grasping a lightning bolt,
symbol of technology's mastery over that era, adorns 67 Broad
St., built to house ITT's headquarters in 1928. But now, the
33-story lower Manhattan building is three-fourths empty, the
mosaic entrance is unused, and the building was foreclosed upon
Across the way, at 80 Broad St., a whimsical quartet of metal
seahorses hovers over the entrance of the stately 36-story
building, which is 51 percent vacant.
This stretch of Broad St., at the heart of New York's
financial district, is eerily serene. The overbuilding of the
1980s, coupled with the city's economic problems and a wave of
relocations to newer and better-equipped buildings in midtown,
has left downtown's older buildings simply desperate. It is a
tale echoed in many parts of lower Manhattan, as in downtown
areas across the country.
In New York, the vast swaths of empty office space pose a
stark problem for the owners of older buildings, as well as for
city officials. Even as the economy recovers, the downtown
vacancy rate has continued to rise, and no one is sure when _ or
whether _ job growth will resume, increasing demand for offices.
The optimists speak of renovations that will make the
buildings desirable again, or of converting the buildings into
apartments or hotels. Others say that many can never be saved,
and will have to be demolished. Such decisions, it seems clear,
will be based not only on job growth, but on whether owners _
with or without public aid _ can invest enough to help bring a
"It would really be a crime to lose them," said Laurie
Beckelman, chairwoman of the city's Landmarks Preservation
Commission. "A number of them are architecturally significant,
and they also tell the history of the development of the city, of
New York as a skyscraper town. These canyons of stone shouldn't
just be left to be rubble."
The problems for the city are financial as well as aesthetic.
"The City of New York stands to lose as much as half a billion
dollars a year in tax collections if the decline in values
continues unabated in lower Manhattan," said John H. Alschuler
Jr. of Hamilton, Rabinovitz Alschuler, a policy and management
He said that figure represents about one-sixteenth of the
city's property tax income. "The government needs to intervene
constructively in order to preserve the property tax base that
supports vital services needed by city residents."
For many owners, the problem is complicated by the fact that
the vacancy rate is so high in the older buildings that money
cannot be found for extensive renovations. This, in turn, affects
their ability to rent space.
In the part of Manhattan roughly south of Chambers St. and the
Brooklyn Bridge, the "secondary" or less desirable buildings _ a
group that often includes unrenovated older structures _ are 25.4
percent vacant, according to Cushman Wakefield, a real estate
brokerage and management company.
In the middle stretch of Broad St., a corridor anchored at one
end by the New York Stock Exchange and at the other by the
relatively new headquarters of Goldman, Sachs, the rate could be
as high as 45 percent, the brokerage Edward S. Gordon estimates.
While the New York City figures are among the worst in the
nation, other cities also face an overhang of empty space in
older, less desirable buildings. In Dallas, secondary buildings
are 36 percent vacant, according to Cushman Wakefield, and in
Philadelphia, the figure is 27 percent.
Along Broad St., owners have not given up, despite long odds
and huge costs. …