By Liz Berger
Our mission at the Alliance for Downtown New York is to advance Lower Manhattan as a global model for a 21st century central business district, a compelling place to work, live and visit. This objective contemplates the future as well as the past, because for much of the last 400 years our community has been both commercial and residential.
Though the canyons of 20th century Wall Street were business-only, the Financial District first took shape in the 1700s as securities traders who lived in the neighborhood met to make deals under a buttonwood tree near what is now 68 Wall.
Now, in barely a generation, it’s back to the future for the Financial District. The area to which I first moved in 1982 was a prestigious business address but gave few hints of today’s bustling live-work community. Although 10,000 of us lived below Chambers Street way back then, there was only one all-night restaurant, the Roxy Diner on John Street, and even it closed on Saturday nights. It was tough to find a place to buy a carton of milk any time, and evenings and weekends offered few shopping and dining choices. But we loved life on the cusp of the city’s past, present and future. The adventure was worth the challenge of being pioneers.
Today, the Financial District remains an internationally recognized place to do business, but it also has become a desirable residential neighborhood. New restaurants and markets have opened; old ones have expanded their hours and menus. The past 10 years, especially, have brought a satisfying and important array of companies, merchants, restaurateurs, schools and parks—and a new generation of employers, residents and tourists to enjoy them.
And it’s not just the Financial District that has blossomed into a 24/7 community. Our recently released Year in Review report confirms that all of Lower Manhattan had a great year in 2011, with a blockbuster surge in commercial leasing, a residential population increase and almost 10 million visitors. Long story short: Lower Manhattan is where everyone wants to be, and, as tourism skyrockets, we’re especially excited that the South Street Seaport Museum has reopened.
The momentum continues. In early 2012, acclaimed hospitality leader Danny Meyer expanded his restaurant offerings in Battery Park City with Blue Smoke, an authentic barbecue restaurant at 255 Vesey Street, and North End Grill, a white-tablecloth restaurant at 104 North End Avenue.
We’re looking forward to a great year for Lower Manhattan. The winter is almost over, warmer weather will soon be here to stay, and I hope to see you on May 12 at our fifth annual Spring Community Day event in Wall Street (Mannahatta) Park. Get ready to meet your neighbors and get some dirt under your fingernails!
Liz Berger is President of the Downtown Alliance.