Mixed-Use Developers House Innovative Tenants

By Teresa O’Dea Hein, Managing EditorNew York—The constrained retail environment poses challenges for mixed-use developers but some are finding innovative tenants for their commercial spaces. In Manhattan, Gotham Organization Inc. has leased 7,200 square feet at its Nicole luxury rental building to a childcare program that offers cultural experiences with leading performing arts organizations in the area while the developers of the Kalahari recently launched a new outpost of an after-school youth enrichment program in a commercial condominium.At the 149-unit Nicole, located at 400 W. 55th St., the Smarter Toddler preschool recently opened its second New York facility in 7,200 square feet on the building’s ground floor. The preschool has proven especially popular with families in the building. “Parents living in the Nicole were calling to enroll their children in the program even before we broke ground,” says Kettia Ming, director of the school. “It spread by word of mouth throughout the Nicole, and parents would ask the doormen how they could contact us.”Smarter Toddler at the Nicole can accommodate up to 105 children, ranging in ages from three months to five years old. Open only since September 2008, the preschool is already 75 percent filled for the 2008/2009 year, drawing families from the building and also the surrounding neighborhood. “This facility, with its own separate entrance, has turned out to be a nice amenity for the building,” David L. Picket, president of Gotham Organization Inc. and CEO of Gotham Developers LLC, tells MHN. “We checked out the operation at Smarter Toddler’s other location to make sure it was well run. We’re a residential developer first and foremost so we make sure that the retail offers the right mix of services. And while this may not be the highest rent-paying category, it may be relatively recession proof.”Ming, who was frustrated by the daycare options that were available when she was looking for her then-13-month-old daughter, founded Smarter Toddler in 2003. “There were no programs that integrated arts into their every day focus,” she explains. To that end, Smarter Toddler partners with organizations such as The Harlem School of the Arts and Music Together to bring visual and musical arts directly into the classroom. In addition, the arts establishments surrounding the Nicole will complement the preschool’s mission. Day trips to Alvin Ailey’s famed dance studio (directly across the street) and to Lincoln Center, where children will go to hear live jazz, are part of the curriculum.“This neighborhood is a perfect fit for the school’s philosophy which promotes diversity, creativity and culture,” says Katherine Sabroff, Gotham Organization’s vice president of marketing and operations. “The school is also the ideal complement to our family-friendly building: a boutique nursery school offering childcare services to working professionals who desire a stimulating and progressive environment of superior quality.”The school’s director was also attracted by the building’s architectural features, such as its 30-foot ceilings, open spaces, colorful walls and wood floors that are a contrast to institutional daycare environments. “The remarkable height of the ceilings is one of the architectural features that convinced Ming this space would be a perfect fit for her newest facility,” says Sabroff. Ming signed a 12.5-year lease, brokered by George Gordon with George Gordon Real Estate.The other Smarter Toddler facility is located on the Upper West Side at W. 89th St., also in a residential building—a formula that Ming finds works well for the program. The Upper West Side School is currently has a 12- to 16-month waitlist.Farther north at 40 W. 116th St. in Central Harlem, the 249-unit Kalahari is the brand new home to StreetSquash, a nonprofit youth enrichment program that combines academic tutoring with squash instruction, community service and one-on-one mentoring. Kalahari’s developers, a joint venture of Full Spectrum NY, Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group and L+M Development Partners Inc., believe the rebirth of Harlem comes from supporting an array of cultural programs throughout the community. “We are thrilled to welcome SL Green’s StreetSquash Center to Kalahari,” says Ron Moelis, one of Kalahari’s developers. “There is a shortage of parks and recreation facilities in New York, and having an organization like StreetSquash at Kalahari is a perfect fit for our approach to community sustainability. In addition to being designed and built to the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Silver certification, we want Kalahari to extend our commitment and contributions to sustainability into the community.” Green features are a particular focus for Kalahari’s executive architect, GF55 Partners LLP.The $9 million SL Green StreetSquash Center will occupy a three-level, 18,700-sq.-ft. commercial condominium within Kalahari. The condominium features eight squash courts, four classrooms, a library, locker rooms and several administrative offices for its 13-person staff. It is named for Stephen L. Green, chairman of SL Green Realty, a New York-based real estate management and development firm, who is also ranked by U.S. Squash as the nation’s number-2 player in the 45 to 50-year age group.Founded in September 1999, StreetSquash requires participants to finish an hour of homework and an hour of squash, four days a week. Originally, the free program served 24 students but now there are 160 participants and the new facility can ultimately serve 1,000 6th through 12th graders. To date, all of its participants have gone on to graduate from high school and enroll in college.“Our mission at StreetSquash is to provide consistent, long-term and reliable support to the children, families and schools in Harlem,” explains George Polsky, founder & executive director. “By exposing these children to a broad range of experiences and by maintaining the highest standards, StreetSquash aims to help each child realize his or her academic and personal potential.”