Lower Manhattan office space 'tours' on the rise despite Downtown's struggling properties

MONEY & BUSINESS: Lower Manhattan office space ‘tours’ on the rise despite Downtown’s struggling properties

The Downtown office market is in even worse shape than widely reported data indicate, according to several major dealmakers.

One of them, an industry legend not given to doom-and-gloom scenarios, told us that huge amounts of space are quietly up for sublease even at the World Trade Center and Brookfield Place – Lower Manhattan’s best-performing properties.

Most brokerage firms cite FiDi-area “availability” – including space currently vacant or soon to be — at between 20% and 23%, compared with around 16% uptown. But so-called “shadow space” cited by the market insider could raise the total much higher.

Not every building is in trouble. The district’s grim overall data are skewed by two particular enormous properties – Paramount Group’s “transitioning” 60 Wall Street, where most of 1.6 million square feet are yet to be leased, and 111 Wall Street, an entirely empty 1 million square-foot address that’s now in foreclosure.

But other struggling buildings are also on the downbound train, such as 40 Wall Street. The landmark tower is about 30% empty and its plight will likely worsen as the Trump Organization skyscraper is at risk of seizure by state attorney general Letitia James.

Even more vulnerable are Downtown’s large number of pre-war, Class B-minus buildings that few tenants want at any rent and which can’t easily convert to residential use.

Yet hope might be on the way. According to VTS, the national real estate technology platform that uses AI to monitor and interpret market office-space “tours” — look-sees by companies eyeing a move or expansion – have recently been higher Downtown than in Midtown or Midtown South.

Lower Manhattan saw 40% more so-called “tire-kicking” visits in the months of December 2023 through February 2024 than it did between September and November 2023.

Most of the 1.6 million square feet at Paramount Group’s “transitioning” 60 Wall Street are yet to be leased. Google Maps
Most brokerage firms cite FiDi-area “availability” at between 20% and 23%, compared with around 16% uptown. Getty Images
The Trump Organization skyscraper at 40 Wall St. is at risk of seizure by state attorney general Letitia James. SARAH YENESEL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

A 43% increase in tours month over month easily beat Midtown’s 25% and Midtown South’s 11%, according to VTS. Much of the tenant interest Downtown was by companies seeking 50,000 square feet or more.

VTS chief strategy officer Ryan Masiello said, “I think generally, companies are starting to realize we’re at the bottom of the market right now. More companies are exploring to try to take advantage of lower rents, especially downtown,” he said.

But one highly accomplished downtown market-watcher was skeptical of VTS’ findings.

The entirely empty 111 Wall Street is now in foreclosure Gregory P. Mango

“They can only be true if they’re including the smallest users. It definitely is not true of tenants looking for more than 20,000 square feet,” the insider said.

Manhattan leasing in all submarkets hit the “mute” button in the first quarter, according to Savills which cited “a dearth of large deals.”

The first quarter’s 6.8 million sf of transactions was 6.6% lower than in the first three months of 2023, Savills said.

Interestingly, three of the largest office deals were renewals and/or expansions by major retailers — including for Michael Kors, Burlington Stores and David Yurman, which tallied a total of nearly a half-million square feet.

At least one major landlord saw some positive news. At SL Green’s 485 Lexington Ave., four recent new leases and one renewal totalled 64,303 square feet.

Leasing director Steven Durels said, “Our recent success at 485 Lexington confirms that well-located buildings are experiencing increased tenant demand.”

In the two largest new leases, RSC Insurance Brokerage took 27,964 square feet on the entire 17th floor and Exponent, Inc., an engineering and scientific consulting firm, took 14,383-square feet on the 22nd floor.

Smaller deals include capital markets company William O’Neil & Co. for 4,797 square feet and Graham Holdings Company signed for 3,006 square feet.

In addition, Tegna, Inc., a broadcast, digital media and marketing services company, renewed its 14,078-square-foot lease on the 27th floor.

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