Re-examining the Soho Effect

07/21/2010 4:00 AM |

Technically you still have to be an artist to live in Soho—the ordinance hasn't gone away. But it long ago stopped being enforced. And as far as I know, outside of a select group of art stars, there are very few (particularly performing artists) with $4 million handy to toss around. It's also not entirely clear that the area provides much of interest besides the architecture. Not to mention Soho's almost complete lack of essentials like laundromats, grocery stores, and other services—of course the wealthy in New York these days can rely almost entirely on delivery for just about anything—it's only we plebes who actually have to wash our own underwear. As Lyons said, "I love Soho, it's beautiful, but if I had $4 million I'm not sure I would choose to spend it here."

About the only street life after the shops close for the night on Broadway is over at rare outposts like Cipriani's on West Broadway with its puffed up, Day Glo orange-colored patrons, sipping bellinis out at café tables even in the throws of winter, thanks to the likely not very environmentally friendly heaters that rage through the cold, with at least one Ferarri or other over-the-top luxury car double parked on the street in front. Now the neighborhood also sports the Trump Soho, along with the Soho Grand and other boutique hotels like the Mercer. At the height of a Saturday shopping crush, Broadway is jammed with suburban tourists racing to buy the same crap from Victoria's Secret that they could get back home but with the added bonus of twice the sales tax and a subtle coating of perfume imparted by the dust and stink of New York.

When I asked David Zar of Zar Properties, the new owner of the Ohio's building, what his plans for 64-68 Wooster Street were, he demurred, saying that the company's focus right now was just "to complete renovations on the building." Zar Properties acquired the building in January of 2009 for just under $13 million, and soon after that they sent an eviction notice to Lyons for the Ohio Theatre. After negotiations, Lyons was able to extend the lease first for six months and then a year, but this summer's Ice Factory festival features the last performances that will take place in the space under the Ohio flag. Lyons' own piece Nostradamus Predicts the Death of Soho will be the last actual show of the festival, the last night of which (August 14) will also feature a benefit party for the theater.

Zar Properties began adding a number of new Soho properties to their already Soho- and Tribeca-heavy portfolio right around the time that the market started going sour. Among their recent acquisitions were both 38-40 Greene Street and 42-50 Greene Street, not too far away from the property at 57-63 Greene where the original Oelbermann, Dommerich, & Co store used to be (a property currently owned by a real estate holding company). In addition to flashy purchases in Soho and Tribeca, Zar Properties is also fond of flashy customers and press. Earlier this month Zar offered basketball superstar LeBron James the Ohio's old rehearsal studio on the sixth floor of the building to use at his leisure for free while he looked around for a possible place to live in the city. But those kinds of publicity stunts are nothing new for New York business people, regardless of the industry. I asked David Zar if there was a strategy behind their recent Soho purchases and once again he brushed the question off, saying they were just looking at what was available. But it took the company four years to acquire the property at 64-68 Wooster from Hahn and Magistro and the space was never technically available, as it was never placed on the market, so it's hard to believe that they would work that hard for that long to get something for which they have no specific plans.

For now, all that those of us outside of Zar's offices can do is speculate about what the future of 64-68 Wooster will be. But its time as a hub for the arts is almost certainly over. In the meantime, Zar told me the current tenants were "free to stay," assuming they're protected by rent control or they're able to swallow the hefty rent increases.