How to Save the Greenwich Village We Knew and Loved

By Roger Paradiso

Gentrification on steroids started sometime after September 11, 2001. The World Trade Center horror was a low point in downtown living especially in areas like the West Village and Tribeca. How interesting is it that Tribeca is now the most trendy and expensive place to live in Manhattan? Can you figure that one out? And the West Village is in the top ten most expensive areas (along with Soho) in Manhattan.

TENANTS AND PASSERSBY OUTSIDE OF MANHATTAN PLAZA, a federally subsidized residence building in midtown primarily populated by New Yorkers who work in the performing arts. With the Village losing much of its artistic heritage due to increasing rent in both the residential and commercial sectors, such a program would help bring back more art and culture to the neighborhood and its creative roots. Photo by Bob Cooley.

My friend Mike and I had an office in Tribeca off Greenwich and Vestry streets. In 1996, when I moved into the office, this building was half-filled and my rent for a 10,000 square-foot loft was $3,000 a month. I got the loft for MGM/UA Pictures because my friend Bob was Head of Production. He told me that MGM/UA had several films for me to make in New York. Mike joined me in 1998 when we worked on The Thomas Crown Affair in our loft space and our rent would go up to $4,000 by the time we started filming in 1998. When we discussed that with Bob, he said that MGM was going to pass on renting the space once this last film was completed. That’s when Mike and I took over the lease.

During that period the pleasant Irish owner of the property asked us if we would like to buy it for $4 million. We looked at each other and said we’d think about it. When we couldn’t get any of the other artists and artist companies in the building to form a cooperative, we had to pass. We didn’t have that kind of money.

MANHATTAN PLAZA TOWER EAST, which includes a recreation center and food store. We need similar housing somewhere in the lower west side. Manhattan Plaza energized the entire theater district in midtown. We need this to bring back the artists to the lower west side. Photo by Roger Paradiso

In 2006, this gentleman passed and his children sold the building—a landmarked building of almost 500,000 square feet— for $127 million. It was the highest sale price per square foot in downtown real estate history at that time.  A Lebanese company bought the building and they divided it up into condominium lofts and a hotel. How could the price go up so high? Remember we were coming out of a recession and 9/11. The area was devastated from Sept. 11, 2001 to sometime in 2002.

But from then on, we have been in a digital revolution which has created gentrification, which has made the Village an almost unaffordable place to live for many. What can we do about this?

We must help bring back the young artists and people who made the Village special. They lived in the Village and worked here in the clubs whether they were on stage or waiters and cooks. Let’s not forget our seniors, who made the Village an artist’s community when they were younger. Without them the Village is not the Village. It’s just another expensive place in the city.

We need to create subsidized housing for the young artists and seniors. This is not a revolutionary concept. It has been employed all over the city—like at Manhattan Plaza which is the model for Greenwich Village.

NYU RECENTLY BUILT THIS MONSTER BUILDING on Mercer Street. They can help build the Manhattan Plaza 2. Photo by Roger Paradiso.

Manhattan Plaza is a large, subsidized housing complex which covers 11th to 10th Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Streets. It is managed brilliantly because they charge rent by taking a percentage of a resident’s earnings, usually about one week’s salary, which allows them to begin their careers in Manhattan. It was started in the 1970s and continues to be strong today.

That’s what we need in the Village. How do we get the funds? Let’s start with university subsidies and subsidies to developers. Everyone has made a huge amount of money on real estate in the Village (and NYC) at the expense of the residents.

New York University’s student newspaper, Washington Square News, recently quoted the Independent Budget Office’s communications director as saying this.

“New York City’s Independent Budget Office puts that dollar amount (for NYU) at $141 million. During that time period, which runs from July of this year through June 2023, 142 NYU properties are completely exempt from property taxes.”

If NYU saves $141 million on property taxes and the other real estate developers in the Village save lots of money on tax subsidies, then it is time to pay back the Village and create our own Manhattan Plaza. I’m not advocating taking the subsidies away. Let’s just get everyone together and figure out a way to save the Village. Share the wealth folks and we can save the Village.