Eleventh Avenue: Manhattan’s Last Frontier

by | 14 October 2015

Manhattan’s Eleventh Avenue runs between the Big Apple’s Meatpacking District (just below 13th Street) north to 58th Street, beyond which it’s commonly referred to as West End Avenue. In its current incarnation, Eleventh Avenue is New York City’s Auto Row; if you want to buy a car in Manhattan, you will find yourself there. However, changes coming to the area will soon remake the face of Eleventh Avenue—for developers, perhaps Manhattan’s last frontier—for good.

Audi, just one of the dealerships currently on Eleventh Avenue.

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In June 1989, the New York Times wrote about law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore moving to 825 Eighth Avenue from downtown’s financial district: “The firm’s new stake… will be for the bar what the Dakotas were for homesteaders… a bold leap to the frontier.” It seems that the pioneering lawyers, who renewed their lease for another fifteen years in 2007, had the right idea. Several office tenants, including advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather, followed them to the “wilderness west of Broadway.”  While Cravath, Swaine & Moore renewed their lease, Ogilvy & Mather decided in 2010 to move even further west to 636 Eleventh Avenue, putting them one block from the Hudson River, just north of a tavern dating to 1868 and a large number of residential towers.

View of Eleventh Avenue looking south from 48th Street.

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Today, there are several buildings of note on Eleventh Avenue.  These include the new Whitney Museum at the southern end, the Frank Gehry-designed IAC building at 18th Street, and the adjacent Ateliers Jean Nouvel residential building.

IAC Building (right) and Ateliers Jean Nouvel Building.

Javits Convention Center stretches from 34th to 40th Street, while the Ink48 luxury hotel is found at 11th and 48th. Ogilvy & Mather’s former Chocolate Factory Building is at 636 Eleventh Avenue, and the Pyramid is a new residential building under construction between 11th and 12th Avenues at 57th Street.   Finally, the 1931 Starrett-Lehigh Building sits at 26th street. The 1,800,000 sq. ft. former freight terminal and warehouse building was converted to office use after WW2, and later became a big draw for large fashion and dot.com companies in the late 1990s, despite the long commute to the far west side for most of their workers.

Two recent occurrences will almost certainly lead to more development on the avenue in the next few years: the opening of the new 7 subway line to 34th Street (making the Javits Convention Center and other parts of Eleventh Avenue more accessible), and the development of the Hudson Yards station east of Eleventh Avenue.

Hudson Yards Station a week before opening

It is believed that new development on Eleventh Avenue will eventually price out the automobile business.  The Jaguar dealership  at 787 Eleventh, a building that was recently purchased for $255m from Ford, is now on a month-to-month tenancy—which means that the new owner has carte blanche to develop when it deems the time is right.

What does all this mean for the existing owners and office (and retail) tenants on Eleventh Avenue? Basically, if a developer sees an opportunity to raze a building and develop a residential or hotel in its place, the current owners and lessees (depending on the time left on their leases) should be able to leverage their positions.

Eleventh Avenue—east and west—really is the last frontier in Manhattan. Owners and long-term lessees should anticipate a nice payday.

A lawyer by training and background, Richard is Executive Director of Colliers International in New York. For the last 20 years he has advised corporate tenants globally on how to avoid the pitfalls that landlords lay in store for them. When not working with clients or thinking of innovative ways to assist them, Richard spends his time immersed in history, theater, travel and reading.