When the Beekman hotel opened in Manhattan in 2016, it wasn’t the interior opulence by master mood maker Martin Brudnizki or the award-laden resident chefs that were most notable. No, the most audacious aspect was the location: deep in Lower Manhattan, an eight-minute walk from the behemoth offices of Wall Street, at the epicentre of the world’s largest stock exchange.
New York is a city renowned for its multifarious hotel offerings, but most of those keep to well-tested streets close to Central Park in Midtown, or the on-trend Chelsea, Flatiron and SoHo districts. Manhattan’s Financial District was where people went to work; outside office hours, it was a ghost town. To open a five-star hotel there, even in a building as iconic as the 10-storey Beekman – one of the city’s very first “high-rises” when it was built in 1881 – would have been unthinkable a decade ago.
But 16 years after 9/11, downtown Manhattan has seen enormous changes. Regeneration took time to hit its stride, but now new hotels, retail centres and leisure facilities have reinvigorated the area. The Beekman’s success is a clear demonstration of the latest evolution in city living. “Nobody ever thought that Manhattan’s Financial District would become a hotbed of world-class architecture and culture,” says Allen Gross, chairman and CEO of GFI Capital Resources Group, developers of the hotel. “But the Beekman has made it the new place to be; it’s the ‘anchor tenant’ attracting all sorts of new neighbours.”
The Beekman and the Four Seasons Downtown both opened last year; Brookfield Place and Westfield World Trade Center provide extensive luxury and high-street retail opportunities; and the magnificent white, curving arches of Santiago Calatrava’s Oculus cover a transport hub where 11 subway lines handle 250,000 daily commuters. Add in restaurants like Cipriani Wall Street, Nobu and a 45,000sq ft Eataly, the wildly popular Italian food market overlooking the reflecting pools of the World Trade Center, and it all adds up to somewhere that’s less 9 to 5 and more 24/7.
And residents have eagerly followed, pushing the median sale price in the Financial District up by some 500 per cent, from $205,750 in 2001 to $1.23m last year. Upmarket developments such as 50 West, 111 Murray and the Woolworth Tower have all been built to address the increased demand for downtown homes.
Newly launched 125 Greenwich Street is an 88-storey tower with 273 condominiums, ranging from studios to three-bedrooms, one block away from One World Trade Center. It was designed by Rafael Viñoly, with the top three floors given over to sport and leisure facilities, and prices start from $1.2m, with three-bedroom homes from $4.625m. Meanwhile, resale examples include a three-bedroom cooperative apartment, 10 minutes’ walk from the heart of Wall Street, for sale through Knight Frank for $5.995m. South-facing windows – 14 in all – and a communal roof terrace provide views of the Freedom Tower and Lower Manhattan.
What’s happening in New York’s Financial District is being repeated in many global cities: a new world order spearheaded by – who else? – millennials. They like cities; they like to live in them, work in them and play in them. They like the opportunities and lifestyle cities provide – and unlike baby boomers, they have no desire to escape at the end of the working day.
“The digital age has blurred the distinction between work and play,” comments Yolande Barnes, head of Savills World Research. “Entrepreneurial lifestyles demand long working hours, making lengthy commuting less appealing, while the co-creative, sharing economy means that interaction with others to exchange ideas is increasingly important. In the 1980s, we all wanted to move to the country; now we aspire to a townhouse in the city. Out-of-town business parks and suburban homes are substantially less attractive.”
The world is urbanising at pace. In 1980, 39 per cent of the global population lived in urban areas. Today, that figure has grown to 54 per cent, with predictions that by 2050 it will increase to 66 per cent. Our changing work environment is a significant factor in this growth. As investment banks and financial industries shrank post-2007, the less space-intensive tech industry soared, freeing up office space in traditional business areas. Meanwhile, these new tech firms are largely staffed by global nomads, happy – indeed, often determined – to move at will.
“How do you transform the corporate City of London environment to attract workers who crave the buzz of Shoreditch?” asks Liam Bailey, global head of research at Knight Frank. “Developers strive to create something less monoculture. The tension for planners involves catering for new residents, tourists and workers who want shops and hotels, while keeping the dense cluster of office occupiers that makes the City so unique globally.”
Dan Conn, CEO of Christie’s International Real Estate, agrees, adding that ultra-high-net-worth buyers are happy to live in a central business district, but only if the services and amenities are top quality. In New York, however, the distinction between the Financial District and other areas of Manhattan is, in his opinion, not always clear cut. “Overall, I would say that the idea of a CBD in New York has been illusory for a while,” says Conn, himself a New York resident. “Downtown was historically the CBD, but for 30 years Midtown has been a dominant part of the business landscape too. And now Hudson Yards is emerging as a commercial and residential area with high-end facilities. So really, New York has not one but multiple CBDs, each with multiple high-end developments.”
Hudson Yards’ glossy literature bills it as “the new heart of New York”, a “city within a city” built over former rail yards on Manhattan’s once-derelict West Side, around 30th Street. It’s an ambitious project in arguably the world’s most ambitious city, the biggest private development ever undertaken in the US. Related Companies and Oxford Property Group have taken 28 acres and seven square blocks to create the ultimate live‑work-play environment, which will comprise 18 million sq ft of commercial, retail and mixed-use space, create 55,000 jobs and eventually, they say, add an annual $19bn to New York’s GDP.
Already, an infrastructure is in place, capable of transporting the 125,000 people who, Related says, will live and work in Hudson Yards, while BlackRock, L’Oréal and Boston Consulting Group are among the companies in residence. At the heart of Hudson Yards is Vessel, a dramatic Thomas Heatherwick-designed, 15-storey sculpture with 2,500 copper-coloured stairs, that looks set to become a genuine New York landmark. Built in Italy and currently being assembled on site, it will overlook parks, cultural venues, gyms, malls, hotels, offices, homes and even a school.
The UK’s economic and financial centre remains, of course, the City of London, with over 17,000 businesses and 430,000 employees contained within its famous Square Mile. Yet change is afoot here too. Recent openings include the Four Seasons hotel (and, eventually, residences) at Ten Trinity Square, and The Ned, the members’ club and hotel opposite the Bank of England that is a joint venture between Los Angeles-based Sydell Group (The Line and NoMad hotels) and Soho House. The Museum of London is moving to a new site in the City, while the Barbican Centre, opened in 1982 at the City’s edge, remains Europe’s largest multi-arts venue. “London is close behind New York, where the Financial District – Wall Street – up the West Side has changed faster than any other CBD,” notes Knight Frank’s Bailey. “But London is a bit different, in that it has adopted a policy of changing uses around the CBD rather than directly in it.”
Thus, the City has a full 6,000 homes, with six schemes of 15 units or more currently in development at locations within striking distance of the Square Mile. The largest of these is Barts Square, a mixed-use development in West Smithfield, well placed for the Farringdon Crossrail station, due to be fully operational in 2019. The 236 apartments are priced from £820,000, with a prime three-bedroom duplex in Hogarth House, topped off with a glazed roof, for sale through Savills for £4.5m.
Crossrail’s improved transport links are a key feature of The Denizen, a 99-unit City of London development freshly launched this month. The scheme is close to the Barbican, opposite Fortune Street Park and within easy walking distance of Moorgate and Farringdon stations. One-bedroom apartments start at £695,000, rising to £2,375,000 for the three-bedroom, ninth-floor penthouse, where two large terraces provide sweeping views of London. Owners have access to a residents’ lounge, cinema and games room. Jason Margetts, head of east London residential development at Savills, says early demand at The Denizen has come from City workers looking for a pied-à-terre and parents looking to buy a base for their children at university, with an eye to a longer-term investment.
The Residences at Four Seasons Ten Trinity Square will start from £5m through Savills when they come on the market this autumn. The 41 apartments in a beaux-arts Grade II*-listed building, previously the Port of London Authority headquarters, will have period details and views over prized City landmarks, including the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. And across the Thames on Southbank – but still overlooking Tower Bridge, The Shard and St Paul’s Cathedral – the Kensington Suite will occupy the entire 43rd floor of One Blackfriars, due to be completed next year. The four‑bedroom apartment, with interiors by Tara Bernerd & Partners and a Harrods Estates concierge, is on at £23m through Knight Frank.
Looking ahead, what does the future hold for cities? “We will see more ‘micro’ CBDs outside the city core,” says James Roberts, chief economist at Knight Frank. “In London we are seeing it already, in places such as Battersea and King’s Cross. Also, the need to add culture” – as seen in Miami with Art Basel, and increasingly in Dubai, a city actively encouraging a vibrant art scene – “is understood. In Asia, Kowloon East in Hong Kong, once known as the ‘dark side’ and filled with sweatshops, is being redeveloped, and companies are moving there from Hong Kong Island.”
“Big global cities have done well, but been hit by affordability issues, making the creative classes rediscover smaller cities,” says Savills’ Barnes. “In the UK, this means Bristol, Manchester and Glasgow have become important – Oxford and Brighton too. In the US, consider Portland, Nashville, Raleigh and Austin, with its ‘keep Austin weird’ slogan reflecting its alternative vibe.” But for all the evolutions, a city’s winning-ness will always rest on one factor: “Thriving cities come down to proximity to human capital. It’s all about people.”