Big real-estate moves show NYC will bounce back from COVID

On Sept. 14, real-estate developer Edward Minskoff will break ground on 29 Jay St., a 250,000-square-foot office building in DUMBO that will be the Brooklyn neighborhood’s first new first-class office address in more than a century.

Whoa, isn’t the office market dead forever? Doesn’t Minskoff know we’re in a pandemic without end?

In fact, Gotham knows something about the post-COVID future that the rest of America, and the world, don’t. The Big Apple’s property moguls, as well as ordinary citizens who aren’t teachers-union members, have stared the Delta variant in the face — and chosen  to move on.

New Yorkers see through the daily doomcasts. They know that the city’s new-infection rate is low and falling beyond a few under-vaccinated ZIP codes. They understand that hospitalizations are few relative to the number of cases and deaths rare by any metric.

The zeal to carry on ignores recovery-retarding, government-and media-driven scare rhetoric, such as indoor-mask “recommendations.” Incredibly, certain venues require masks even outdoors, such as at the Metropolitan Museum of Art roof garden, and, loonier still, on open-air upper decks of NYC Ferry boats.

The return to almost-normal life is reflected in packed restaurants, crowded sidewalks and hot ticket sales for Broadway and Radio City Music Hall.

Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City
The Metropolitan Museum of Art roof garden requires masks outdoors.
Getty Images

Boding even more favorably for the future, real-estate people can read the data, too. Undeterred by postponements of employees returning to offices — a delay prompted as much by mask mania as by the supposedly unstoppable Delta strain — they’re counter-intuitively eager to put up more office towers.

They’re putting up new apartment buildings, too, shrugging off the temporary residential “exodus” prompted by the hideous coronavirus toll of 2020 and warnings about rising crime and taxes and poorer quality of life.

In the eat-or-be-eaten jungle of competitive real estate, developers are surprisingly cautious animals, especially regarding office construction, which they’re loath to start without signing tenants in advance.

People sit on The Lawn at the 27th Annual Bryant Park Movie Nights  on August 24, 2021
People sit on The Lawn at the 27th Annual Bryant Park Movie Nights on August 24, 2021.
Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

If property moguls doubted that recovery was inevitable, they could enjoy their wealth in sunny Florida and not look back. They would sit out today’s uncertainties for a low but safe return on their small, old rental properties — and not risk their fortunes on risky new development with all the financial and legal hurdles that it entails.

Instead, the scope of proposed and planned construction in the five boroughs is epic. Just check out the YIMBY (“yes in my back yard”) Web site, which chronicles the development cavalcade with facts, photos and renderings.

Not every project will come to fruition. But although intentions are harder to quantify than actual construction, the craving to build and build some more is clear to anyone who is out for a stroll.

People gather after "Hadestown" reopening night at the Walter Kerr Theatre In New York City, U.S., September 2, 2021
People gather after “Hadestown” reopening night at the Walter Kerr Theatre In New York City, September 2, 2021.
REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

See all those plywood fences with building permits on them? Developers are tearing down obsolete structures and filing construction plans with the city. “What pandemic?” might be the dreamers’ motto.

Edward J. Minskoff
Edward J. Minskoff will break ground on 29 Jay St. on September 14.
Lois Weiss

Enormous Midtown office towers on architects’ iPads would add millions more square feet to the market — near St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station. Among them: a 1,050-foot-tall skyscraper at 343 Madison Ave., plans for which are winding through the city’s land-use public-review process.

West 57th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues is a new world waiting to rise, where at least five vacant or derelict sites on Billionaires’ Row await marching orders. One of them, at 41-47 W. 57th, would rise more than 1,000 feet.  

A stroll on Second Avenue on the Upper East Side finds demolitions underway for a half dozen new apartment buildings of different sizes. The same is true in parts of Downtown Brooklyn, DUMBO, Flushing and Hunters Point in The Bronx. Plans were recently filed for Beach Channel Drive in the Rockaways and on East Gun Hill Road in The Bronx. There are even plans for a few new hotels, despite the falloff in tourism and business travel.

The audience listens the speech after "Hadestown" reopening night at the Walter Kerr Theatre
The audience listens to the speech after “Hadestown” reopening night at the Walter Kerr Theatre.
REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

Another persuasive barometer of confidence is the dollar value of building sales. These rebounded strongly in the second quarter of the year, with $5.3 billion worth of property sales tripling the first quarter’s total.

It’s less than in the same period of pre-pandemic 2019. But it’s hard to see how this past spring’s $325 million sale of a single office building on Sixth Avenue in Chelsea, which last traded at $173 million in 2012, represents anything other than a declaration of faith in the Big Apple to come — resilient, towering and mask-free.