ICSC2012

34th Street Partnership Eyes Ambitious Retail Makeover

With due diligence, the 34th Street Partnership is doing for the area anchored by Herald Square what the Ace Hotel has done for NoMad.

US-RETAIL-COMPANY-MACY'SThis week, as brokers and retailers descend upon Manhattan for the International Council of Shopping Centers’ conference in New York, retail consultants John Harding and Richard Cohan, of the 34th Street Partnership, will be meeting with eight to 10 representatives of brands, restaurants and stores each day to convince them to seek locations in the 34th Street area. Given the retail and brand presence already in place along the retail corridor, they may not have to try very hard.

Mr. Cohan, one of the organization’s retail specialists, lists B&H, Gap, Victoria’s Secret, H&M, Foot Locker and Zara as brands that have found a home in the area. There are also newcomers—Joe Fresh and Vince Camuto have set up shop between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, and Timberland landed in the area last year, as did Uniqlo.

Though finding new retailers to position along the 34th Street corridor would be a boon to the area, Mr. Cohan finds that his efforts are more often spent finding new locations in the area for stores that are already in the neighborhood.

“Brands tend to relocate rather than leave our marketplace,” he said.

The partnership has received interest from brands that deal in fashion, technology and any concept that wishes to be associated with entertainment—Madison Square Garden is within the corridor—or wants access to potential customers staying at any one of the nearby hotels, Mr. Cohan explained.

One particular section of 34th Street—between Seventh and Eighth Avenues—is the focus of interest from companies that have eschewed it in the past, he said. “That block is in play right now.” Why the interest? The popular brands already in place have shown how much value there is to be had in the area.

Mr. Harding will be on hand at ICSC to seek out new restaurants to place in the 34th Street corridor. As a licensed real estate broker with over 30 years of experience in the restaurant business, Mr. Harding is in a unique position to guide new eateries—full-service only—to the area. “We have plenty of fast food in that area, but we’re looking to attract more high-quality restaurants.”

One particular success story is the 2010 placement of an event space with a bakery and bistro called 404 at 450 West 33rd Street, spearheaded by restaurateur Simon Oren, operator of the Tour de France restaurant group, whose roster includes such eateries as 5 Napkin Burger, Nizza Pizza and Marseille, said Mr. Harding.

The landlord of 450 West 33rd—then Broadway Partners, now Blackstone Group—had called for a restaurant to fill 17,000 square feet of space in the building, which has housed businesses that have employed as many as 4,000 workers. “If you worked in that building, there was very little choice for you to get anything” in terms of decent food, according to Mr. Harding, who then found Mr. Oren to fill the spot.

Founded in 1992, the 34th Street Partnership is headed by Daniel Biederman and works to keep the 34th Street corridor—bounded by Park Avenue, 10th Avenue, 32nd Street and 36th Street—clean, safe and attractive to retailers and restaurants. The nonprofit organization takes special interest in retail, looking to replace low-quality stores with unattractive frontage with higher-end, well-known shops. In 1992, about 200 of the area’s 600 retailers were considered undesirable—showing ugly display windows and selling products focused on gouging tourists. Today that figure has been whittled down to 50, said Mr. Biederman, who is also president of Bryant Park and the Chelsea Improvement Company.

To achieve its ends, 34th Street Partnership also focuses on cleanliness and safety. It employs a staff of private street cleaners as well as a security consultant—former New York detective Richard Dillon—who confers with the NYPD on matters of area security. The organization is funded by a small amount of money levied from each building that is a member of the partnership. Additional funds come from two ’Wichcraft kiosks in Greeley and Herald Squares that the organization operates.

Several weeks ago, Victoria Secret reopened its doors at its Herald Square location after a massive reconstruction. Last month, the Gap store on 34th Street reopened following a dramatic face-lift, and Macy’s—the iconic department store—is in the midst of a multiyear, $400 million, top-to-bottom renovation. According to Dan Pisark, vice president of retail services with the partnership, these brands’ reaffirmations of commitment to their 34th Street locations is a sign that his organization is doing its job.

It used to be difficult to attract quality retailers because the street was lined with low-quality shops, produce in the streets and graffiti covering almost every surface imaginable, Mr. Pisark explained. “Those were the bad old days.”

Follow Karsten Strauss on Twitter or via RSS. kstrauss@observer.com