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Brokers Weekly - Secret Garden

By Ryan on January 19, 2011

Manhattan’s Secret Garden - Inwood, the narrowest part of Manhattan has wide appeal

When Edison Properties a Newark-based management firm, purchased a rundown Verizon building on 213th street and Broadway five years ago, the surrounding blocks were a commercial wasteland.  “We researched what was here,” said Lenny Lazzarino, the company’s vice president of leasing.  “We didn’t find much of anything.”

Located just above Washington Heights, and bounded by the Harlem and Hudson Rivers to the north, east, and west, Inwood is about as remote as a Manhattan neighborhood can get: over a quarter of residents spend at least an hour commuting to work each morning, according to, a real estate website.

Others run businesses from home, in coffee shops, or out of storefronts, Lazzarino told the Manhattan Times, a local newspaper.

Midtown is ten miles away, or roughly a 30-minute commute on the A train, which ends at 207th Street.  From the former Verizon building’s oversized windows, the Empire State Building appears distant and hazy, almost mirage-like; the Financial District, which is about 45 minutes away by subway, is hardly visible at all.

Topographically, too, the neighborhood is worlds away from the rest of Manhattan: at its northernmost point, the island narrows to a four-avenue-wide strip, and is surrounded by hilly, forested parkland containing caves, salt marshes, and other remnants of Manhattan’s prehistoric days.

Given Inwood’s relative isolation, Edison Properties’ plans for the nine-story complex were initially limited to a Manhattan Mini Storage Center, one of 17 the company owns and operates on the island.  (The company is also know for its Edison Park Fast garages and the Hippodrome, a class A office building at 1120 6th Avenue.)

But after canvassing residents and dropping by community board meetings, Lazzarinio discovered that office space was in high demand.  So Edison Properties renamed the boxy, block-long property Inwood Center and carved three floors into workspace for small, predominantly local businesses.

It was a model the firm had implemented successfully in SoHo, at a building on Varick Street known as the Workspace center.  There, small companies can rent interior offices as small as 150 s/f for $750 a month, and cancel leases with 90-days’ notice.  At Inwood Center, floor-plates range from 150 to 1400 s/f.

“Our motif is, let’s get people in the community here,” said Lazzarino.  “It’s an eclectic mix.”  So far, a total of 77 businesses have rented space at Inwood Center.  The seventh and eighth stories are fully leased.

On the seventh floor, tenants like the Manhattan Times, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman, and Columbia University, which operates nearby Baker Field, a 26-acre sports facility on the Harlem River, share a hallway with an opera singer, who promised Lazzarino that she would soundproof her rehearsal space.  “When she sings you can’t hear her,” Lazzarino said.

A group of actors is looking to rent space for a similar purpose on the sixth floor, which has attracted 27 tenants since it opened in September and has room for 12 more.  Because of its relatively cheap housing stock – one-bedrooms rent for as low as $1,050 a month, according to – Inwood has attracted artists and performers in droves.  Over the summer, the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance held a gathering at the Inwood Center, in which local artists displayed their work. 

Young families and professionals have begun migrating above 200th Street as well, particularly those who are priced out of most of Manhattan (the average Inwood resident makes $34,514 a year) but find the task of searching off the island too overwhelming.

“Brooklyn is big geographically,” said Justin Hieggelke, a Real Estate Group-NY broker who has brought several clients to Inwood.  Further uptown, “Manhattan gets more and more narrow.”  This makes the hunt more manageable, especially now that a growing number of bargain luxury properties have entered the market.

Park Terrace Gardens, a 400-unit co-op complex with landscaped grounds and views of the Henry Hudson Bridge, is an old standby.  The redbrick tower’s biggest draws are the hiking trails of nearby Inwood Hill Park, a 196-acre forest, and Isham Park, a smaller patch of green space with a weekly farmers market and gardening programs for children.

On a recent trip to the neighborhood, Hieggelke noticed a new development at 29 Cooper Street, just west of Broadway.  For $2,300 a month, tenants can rent a two-bedroom unit with brand-new appliances and access to an elevator, a rare amenity in Inwood.  One-bedroom apartments in the building, which is being marketed by Keyah, a metro area brokerage firm, cost $1,600.  “Their prices are very high” for the neighborhood, Hieggelke said.

As a result, perhaps, professionals like doctors and dentists abound in northern Manhattan; Broadway is lined with medical offices, including an MRI clinic.  Edison Properties set aside space on the ground floor of Inwood Center for a medical complex, which already has seven doctors lined up as potential tenants.  There’s a gastroenterologist and speech therapist on the building’s seventh floor, along with an administrative office of Corinthian Medical IPA, a network of over 500 doctors.

Financial services professionals are moving in, too.  A pair of accountants leased 150 s/f on the sixth floor for $750 a month.  Larger offices rent for about $40 a foot.

So while it’s no secret these days that Inwood’s apartments are cheap, Inwood Center is putting the neighborhood on the map as a relatively affordable destination for businesses.

Some tenants have relocated from lower Manhattan, Lazarino said.  And the building ahs boosted Inwood’s profile nationwide.  A call center from Atlanta took three floorplates on the sixth story and combined them to form a loft-like suite with desks lining the walls.

The company’s staff has moved in so recently that they haven’t had time to fully furnish the office – sheets of paper taped to the windows function as makeshift blinds – but the call center is already on the lookout for 40 new employees.

The owner of the building’s cleaning service, too, has created jobs for neighborhood residents, particularly the working-class Dominicans that settled in Inwood over the last few decades, replacing the Irish and Jewish immigrants that once dominated the area.

Down the 6th floor hallway, there’s a communal kitchen and dining area, and a conference room that tenants and community members alike can reserve online.  “9:30 a.m. on Mondays are booked for next few months,” said Jason Miller, an Edison Properties leasing executive with an office in the building.  Members of the 34th Police Precinct have held meetings in the space, as have civic associations.

Adjacent to the conference room is an empty shell of a space about to be converted into offices.  By next year, its brick walls will be gone and its narrow windows replaced.  As with the rest of the building, the space will be given an industrial-chic feel with exposed ductwork and concrete ceilings.

Inwood Center’s offices are accessible from a lobby at 5030 Broadway, which is flanked by ground-floor retail space Lazzarino hopes to lease to a strong operator – perhaps with established locations elsewhere in the city.

A handful of Inwood residents have asked Lazzarino to bring in a Trader Joe’s.  Stroll along the rest of Broadway, and you’ll find a retail scene dominated by mom-and-pop shops and bodegas.  There’s La Torre Supermarket, Grandpa’s Pizza and John’s Doo-Wop Deli, among other small family-run stores.

The portion of Inwood Center facing 10th Avenue, where Manhattan Mini Storage is located, has a more industrial vibe – mirroring a broader split between the neighborhood’s leafy west side, which is filled with restaurants and quaint brick mid-rises, and the more rundown blocks near the Harlem River.

Five loading docks, which are used by storage staff and office tenants alike, are just across the street form an MTA repair center – or a “cemetery for trains,” as Miller calls it.  The 1 train rumbles along an elevated track between the Harlem River and 10th Avenue, which is home to car repair shops and nightclubs.

In the last couple years, there has been an influx of trendy new restaurants and shops all across the neighborhood. 

Hieggelke, The Real Estate Group broker, occasionally explores 10th Avenue and surrounding blocks with friends, frequenting a clothing shop, lounges, and a café.  At one point, he noticed a sign hanging in a call phone shop, announcing its upcoming conversion into a Chinese restaurant.

Thai and sushi joints have opened up on Broadway, and one restaurant down the block recently expanded, snapping up the storefront next door from the owner of a Pilates studio, which recently moved into the Inwood Center.

“There’s been a lot of expansion,” Lazzarino explained.  But that doesn’t mean the neighborhood’s charm is disappearing.  “It’s a close-knit community,” Lazzarino said.

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