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Updated 2016 - About New York's Gallery Districts 2011-2016

Growth of Gallery Districts 2011 to 2015. The big news in 2016 is that Brooklyn (as a whole) becoming NYCs largest district with the most galleries, and the Upper East side slipped from third to fifth, with the Lower east Side becoming the 4th largest district as it gains on West Chelsea. You can read more about all of the districts on Feetsquare my blog. In fact, since 2011 much has changed in New York and, while the information presented below is still valid, it is updated on Feetsquare as well as on Galleries of New York my comprehensive database site of the New York Gallery World.

As of January 2016, no fewer than 1,448 New York galleries are grouped into more than 5 major districts and 13 minor districts, with 9 sub-districts within Brooklyn, eight of which are listed to the left, soon to be updated. The following briefly describes each. To understand the morphology of these districts, from the first to the most recent, please see the last section, "History of NY's Gallery Districts"


► West Chelsea.

► 57th Street Corridor.

► The Upper East Side.

► Bowery/The Lower East Side.

► SoHo, NoHo, The Village.

► D.U.M.B.O.

► Brooklyn/Long Island City.

► Other Gallery Areas.


West Chelsea

In contrast to the Upper and Lower East Sides, West Chelsea is a small 12-block corridor between just two Avenues, densely packed with 254 galleries (down from it's peak of 361 in 2008), known for it's low rents and large spaces. Unique in the history of NY's Gallery Districts, the density of galleries in such close proximity to others both large and small is Chelsea's appealing strength, and ironically, one of it's weaknesses. Small to mid-size galleries risk getting lost in the fog of hundreds of other small to mid-size galleries stacked in the twelve large warehouses that made low rents possible in the first place.

Forces are in motion around the future of West Chelsea. Occupying some of the last remaining under-developed land in New York, made more valuble by unobstructed river views, West Chelsea has become a sort of incubator for new architecture. A number of the world's leading architects and firms - Frank Gehry, Shigeru Ban, Neil Denari, Jean Nouvel, Frank Meier, Kossar & Garry Associates and Della Valle Berhheimer, to name a few - have found fecund ground for spectacular superluxury-residential towers. Since 2007, twenty seven new luxury-residential projects have sprouted around the warehouses that were once a low-cost, gritty Shangra-la for galleries. Several more are planned. Of course, with more residences comes a greater need for supporting retail (Balducci's is planning a comeback in new space at 500 West 23rd).

West Chelsea has areas protected to some degree from development by historic designation. The city has designated the "Special West Chelsea District" as an area where arts-related businesses are an as-of-right use, though government regulation of arts designated areas has a pretty dismal record of sustained commitment. SoHo had a similar designation yet, as pressure mounted from retail able to afford higher rents, the definition of "arts-related business" became more and more vague, encouraging more and more non-art related retail use.

The opening of the High Line has brought more foot traffic and Section 2 from W20th to W30th Streets is due to open this Spring 2011, bringing pedestrians deeper into West Chelsea from 14th Street. Art-buying traffic is good for galleries, but general pedestrian traffic tends to encourage more general retail and fuels residential growth, a trend that, in the past and elsewhere, has lead to higher rents overall, especially for ground floor space already at a premium in West Chelsea. About 10,000 SF of new retail space is soon to come on-line; bet that it will not be priced to entice galleries.

Add to this the Hudson yards development project just north of West Chelsea and the Number 7 Subway Extension tentatively scheduled to open at West 30th Street in 2013 (which will connect West Chelsea with L.I.C.) and an image of this district's future comes into clearer focus.

The larger galleries here that acquired their properties before the gallery rush of the 1990s and 2000s tend to anchor the area as an art district. However, the same thing happened in SoHo thirty years ago. Several galleries owned their buildings or spaces in SoHo during the 1980s, and in the end, they fled with most everyone else from SoHo to Chelsea or elsewhere. Some now rent their old gallery spaces to SoHo retail stores, using the income to offset their costs in West Chelsea. Lacking the large anchor art tenants, the concentration of smaller galleries on the upper floors in the buildings along Broadway became increasingly diluted by non-art tenants moving into recently vacated gallery spaces, pushing yet more galleries to relocate elsewhere.

Property acquistion in Chelsea is a good bet, especially for galleries willing to see beyond the galleries.

While one or two landlords are holding down prices, overall rents are on the rise, and other areas of Manhattan offer large space for less than is found in much of West Chelsea, both for upper floors and for ground floor space. A few buildings here are asking rents comparable to prices in SoHo. The Chelsea Arts Tower commercial condominium project, conceived as the future economic model for galleries (with the lower eight floors reserved for gallery use) has proven to be less beneficial for galleries than anticipated. Only two galleries occupy the building now (never more than four), one of which was a developer in the project, the other a renter. Asking rents here are among the highest in West Chelsea.

West Chelsea is still the bling of the NY gallery scene, but unabated luxury development, growing mainstream appeal and a simmering ambivalence among many dealers and buyers may be dulling it's edge. Whether or not these trends are a detriment or will benefit the galleries of West Chelsea remains to be seen. If, in the future, the warehouses situated in areas designated M1-5 and reserved for museum/gallery use are allowed to convert to residential loft use, as happened in TriBeCa and SoHo, or the pressure from retail for ground floor space grows with increased non-arts related traffic, or commercial condominium conversion accelerates, the rentable square footage available for galleries would likely decrease.

As up in the air as it seems, the sky is not falling in Chelsea.
• There have been enough new 5- to 10-year leases signed in the past two years to sustain a solid base for at least that long.
• No other district has the capacity for as many galleries so close together and as easy to visit, other than D.U.M.B.O.
• Asking rents are still the lowest of the Manhattan gallery districts, despite their steady climb.
• DIA continues to extend extraordinary support for smaller galleries, ever pointing the way, and the large anchor galleries continue to organize ground-breaking shows that garner good reviews and heavy attendance.
• Other major institutions are moving nearby and new space is becoming available, some of it possibly substantial.

Chelsea may mature as the UES did; its future appeal and longevity rooted in its new gloss and compact size, or like SoHo.

The durability of Chelsea may be tied to the larger question: can the profitability of galleries and gallery districts, through the value of their commodity, keep pace with overall economic growth in an expensive city like New York? In any event, where galleries go from here is the big unknown.

Please call us to examine these trends, and identify options and strategies for the future.

View available space and prices in West Chelsea.

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57th Street Corridor

The area straddling 57th Street and immediately south of Central Park, defined on the north by East 60th Street, on the south by 53rd Street, and between Third Avenue and Broadway, is distinguished from the Upper East Side mainly by the multi-tenanted Class-A office buildings that house the 89 galleries found there today. Nine primary buildings have hosted galleries since 1912, when the Milch Galleries first arrived. The programs at these galleries range from primary and secondary market works, photography and painting from 19th through the 20th centuries, contemporary figurative, contemporary asian, old masters, some antiquities and mid- to late-career emerging artists. There are fewer galleries here now than in the corridor's heyday during the middle of the last century, when almost 200 galleries made this a primary art destination. Today, with the exception of two or three buildings, ownership's commitment to the Arts appears to have waned some, despite the well-advertised events that are organized, preferring more to lease to conventional office tenants than to galleries.

That said, there are also newly renovated buildings where ownership is eager for galleries, in virtually column-free spaces with 16 foot ceilings and concrete floors with windows on Park and Fifth Avenues and this area is still fundamentally strong. Please call us to discuss this.

View available space and prices around 57th Street.

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The Upper East Side

The mammoth 120 block area between Fifth Avenue and Third Avenue, from East 60th Street north to East 90th, with Madison Avenue as the spine, has been nuturing successful galleries since Haas Galleries opened in 1906, around the time the core of the Metropolitan Museum of Art was being completed (a process that is on-going). Most of them cater to international dealers, collectors, large museums and local wealthy arts-oriented clientele. This is reflected in the programs there: mostly primary and secondary market work, 18th through the 20th century milestone works, masterworks, antiquities, the more well-known mid-to late-career emerging artists, as well as displays of the superworks of the superstars of the art world. Powerful international dealers make this a stable and desirable area, even with the high rents. Galleries that own their spaces and buildings along with a highly supportive neighborhood have contributed to the strength of the Upper East Side. Many of the 20th century's American masters were discovered here, great names made, art dynasties forged.

The Park-Bennet Building at 980 madison Ave, built by the auction house as it's headquarters during the prime years of the UES - the 1940s-1970s - is the first among the five multi-tenanted buildings on the UES. While pressure from general retail is mounting overall in the area, ownership here maintains it's committment to the arts with plans to renovate and reserve an entire floor for use by galleries while maintaining flexibility in terms of pricing to encourage gallery use. Now, it's incumbent upon galleries to take advantage of this, otherwise market-forces will, correctly, allow non-arts related businesses to fill this void instead, and as is happening in Chelsea, erode these galleries' preeminence.

In the same way it has along 57th Street and elsewhere, large international brands are becoming the preferred tenants over the big art brands that once held sway. This may change the character of the UES, which has experienced, like many areas in NY, a drop in total galleries over the past few years. Whether it's a long or short-term trend will be determined. The UES has thrived for over a century, through good times and bad. 188 galleries distributed among some of the most beautiful beaux-art buildings in Manhattan makes the UES a powerful locale for conducting the business of art.

View available space and prices on the Upper East Side.

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Bowery/Lower East Side

Tucked between Chinatown, NoLiTa, The East Village and the East River, this traditional immigrant neighborhood is home to 86 galleries as of May 2011, up from 71 at the end of December 2010, making it the fastest growing art community in the city. Despite it's edgy reputation, considerable gentrification has occurred in the last five years and rents are somewhat unstable. Still, the galleries here provide walls and space to many early- to mid-career emerging artists and the "outsider" atmosphere is fertile and fresh, though more tied to the larger art market than some might admit. The many tenements with small retail space (among the same problems that dogged the East Village scene in the 1980s), the general surfeit of upper floor space, the large thoroughfares that slice the area into semi-autonomous habitats, the ever undulating margins of Chinatown and relentless luxury/residential development - coupled with it's relatively sprawling size - all conspire to make the LES an unpredictable district to navigate, but also an incredibly dynamic one.

It is a destination district, and major art institutions firmly anchor the scene, at least on the west and The BMW Guggenheim Lab plans an outpost nearby (designed to tie the museum program into the everyday fabric of the city).

Development on Bowery continues with construction of the new Louzon Group boutique hotel where The Salvation Army now sits, the same thing that is happening in Chelsea.

Bowery and Chrystie Streets make up a separate area of more established galleries, Rivington and Staunton Streets connect them to the East of Essex art community, with a sort of Orchard and Ludlow Corridor chopped out by Allen and Essex Streets in the middle. The area south of Delancey Street, congested with vehicular egress to Brooklyn, is a world away from the galleries south of East Houston. The Lower East Side B.I.D. is exerting huge effort to stitch them all together. Most galleries are found along Rivington, Staunton, Orchard, Eldridge and Chrystie Streets, and Bowery.

East of Essex has lost three galleries within the past year.

Music has always defined the area more than art, and does so now. There are more music venues and bars than galleries, the two being compatible but curiously platonic bedfellows.

View available space and prices on the Lower East Side.

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SoHo, NoHo and The Village

While SoHo may not be the nearly 300 gallery creative powerhouse in was in the 1970s and 1980s, the 86 galleries there now are alive and well. They merely moved from the retail-ridden northern half into the area south of Broome, and east into the office buildings along Broadway, where rents are slightly cheaper. The traffic is good though the percentage focused on art may not be as viable as it once was, SoHo holds it's own with collectors and buyers in spite of steadily rising rents.

Included with SoHo is NoHo and west-central Greenwich Village, as there are fewer galleries here, most associated with institutions or in smaller zones where rents are cheaper, around Lafayette, Bond and Great Jones.

View available space and prices in the SoHo vicinity.

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Among the gallery districts in New York now, none holds more promise than this area Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. With plentiful, comparatively inexpensive warehouse space (similar to Chelsea in the late 80s but on a smaller scale), plus ground floor retail, D.U.M.B.O. has room to grow. An ownership base who is very receptive to the arts and creatively enthusiastic about supporting them, numerous arts organizations and an established gallery presence give D.U.M.B.O. a solid foundation. As a nexus for contemporary photographers, and with a large and productive artist-in-residence community in place, D.U.M.B.O. thrives.

As with the rest of the Brooklyn-L.I.C. Crescent, the challenge is overcoming the perception that it is remote and inaccessible, a specious assumption at best. With two subways and regular ferry service, D.U.M.B.O. is an important district well worth investigating. Though traffic can be thin at times, organizations there are applying creative solutions that remedy this. The 41 galleries here focus on photography and emerging artists' work at all career stages with some secondary market representation. The rents for large, clean space are the cheapest in New York City, making D.U.M.B.O. a smart play.

View available space and prices in D.U.M.B.O.

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Brooklyn/Long Island City

The East River is more a psychological barrier than a real one, but remains a barrier of perception all the same. Several subways and ferries conveniently link Brooklyn and Western Queens to various hubs in Manhattan, many more than exist in West Chelsea (exactly one, the M23 crosstown bus), yet these areas still occupy the fringe of the NY Art World, perhaps unfairly. Galleries have been in Brooklyn since the 1800s (Brooklyn Heights) and they have done well since 1974, when PS1/MoMA opened in L.I.C., in this industrial part of Queens (many of the more successful ones have moved to Chelsea while others more recently are moving back). The galleries of Williamsburg and Greenpoint began to flourish in the 1980s, with the exodus from SoHo. The galleries in these tight-knit and artist-run Brooklyn communities show early- to mid-career emerging artists, and many are local Brooklyn artists, perhaps because artists can afford to work and live among the galleries there (much as Greenwich Village made possible in the early 1900s). Many of these galleries are echoes of the East Village scene, amending the manifesto of street art that was tagged there. However, as in other parts of Manhattan, gentrification and development and their attendant rising-rents threaten the economically fragile art-climate here.

View available space and prices in Brooklyn/LIC.

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Other Areas: TriBeCa, Hudson Square and Meatpacking

TriBeCa (blue) didn't exist as such before the 1990s, but it was a lively art district during the middle to late 20th-Century, and still is. Many of the well-known SoHo galleries of the 1970s came up in this triangle below Canal Street: the Park Place Group, Franklin Furnace, Alternative Museum, Clocktower and others. Some, like Clocktower and the Soho Photo Gallery are still around. Recent residential development and conversion of old warehouse space to luxury lofts has increased prices. TriBeCa in Q1 2011 has 25 galleries and art related businesses spread out among the 53 blocks that comprise TriBeCa. Space is available here.

Hudson Square (pink), just north of TriBeCa on the far west side, is home to about 13 galleries now and has been a popular spot for galleries like White Columns, Ace Gallery, Nitsch Carolina Contemporary, Ace, and Jazz Art in General. This area was once the printing district with multi-tenanted buildings with heavy-load floors, high ceilings and large industrial windows, but with renovation and conversion, most are priced high for gallery use, finding more frequent use by international advertising agencies and media companies. It is, however, a viable locale for galleries wanting to be away from the herd.

The Meatpacking District (AKA MePa) (yellow), filling in the space between the Far West Village and West Chelsea, would make a great gallery district were it not for the gentrified rents, often well over $150 per square foot, better suited for high-end retail, restaurants and clubs. Galleries do make temporary use of these large, high-ceilinged ground-floor spaces, as Opera Gallery did recently for a very cool Mr. Brainwash show. This area would make a great location for a museum opening an annex, with a museum and auction house presence already in place. In fact, so nice that the Whitney Annex is due, finally, to open in 2015. Ground will be broken this year.

The Upper West Side and Harlem both have been home to galleries, especially Harlem, but were usually too distant or the rents too high to attract neighbors. The UWS has many "galleries" that are really more frame shops, perfectly logical considering the residential nature of the area.

View available space and prices in other areas.

To see how these gallery districts evolved, please "continue" below. Call us to discuss any of these areas or others in detail.

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