Will the Flower District Be New York’s Next Gallery Hub?
In one pioneering dealer's words: "The area was five blocks of plants and sex."
The Flower District, where the stock in trade is cut stems that sell for dollars apiece and exotic flowers are available for purchase starting at 5 a.m., seems like an unlikely place for a gallery that sells paintings and sculpture for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars and the dealer doesn’t make an appearance before 10 a.m. Nonetheless, come February 2015, Chelsea art dealer Casey Kaplan will unveil a new 10,000-square-foot, two-story storefront space on 27th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenue, more than two times the size of the 5,000-square-foot gallery he currently leases in Chelsea and replete with a library, viewing room, and storage space. While he’s the first of the Chelsea galleries to take the leap and move to the Flower District, he’s not the only one looking to move into this area. Could this mark a new migration? Will the district of boxwood shrubs become the next gallery hub?
“What’s exciting about The Flower is it’s in flux,” Kaplan tells artnet News over the phone. “Wholesalers are either going out of business or relocating. Rents are changing over there. It’s probably one of the last areas of Manhattan that isn’t completely fixed.”
Whereas in Chelsea the going rental rate is anywhere from $100 or $200 per square foot to $1,000, the Flower District, at $60 0r $80 per square foot, is comparatively a steal. While Kaplan won’t say how much he’s paying in the Flower District, he says he will pay more on his new space than he is currently paying in Chelsea, but not as much as he would had he stayed on West 21st Street.
For Kaplan it was also a creative choice. With show after show in the same space, it was starting to get monotonous. All of the Chelsea galleries have “the same cookie cutter look,” he says, and people “become blurry-eyed streaming in and out of galleries.” In the Flower District, the spaces have a different feel. The ceilings aren’t so high, he says, and there’s a variety of businesses, from cell phone shops to tiny hotels like the nearby Nomad. “It’s about real estate,” he says. “It’s about money.”
While the reasonable rents, unique architecture, bustling streets, and eclectic shops of the Flower District do resemble the Lower East Side in some ways, Kaplan says he didn’t consider that area because the galleries there aren’t among his “generation of galleries.” “I grew up with galleries that started in SoHo and migrated to Chelsea,” says Kaplan, who founded his gallery in 1995 and will celebrate its 20 year anniversary in March. “So it wouldn’t make sense.”
Kaplan says four different galleries, all of which are looking to relocate because their leases are either up for renewal or are not being renewed, have asked him for his real estate broker’s information and want to discuss the Flower District with him. Two of the galleries, he said, are “established and older,” while one gallery is of his “generation” and mid-sized, and one is a gallery younger and smaller than his.
And it’s not only mid-sized and smaller galleries needing to relocate who are looking. According to one real estate broker we spoke with, mega-gallery Pace has also been scouting the Flower District to expand its empire. Pace didn’t return a call for comment.
Though Kaplan is the first of the Chelsea crew to take the leap to the Flower District, for galleries, the area isn’t totally virgin. Established in 2013 by Katie Michel and Brad Ewing, the gallery and project space Planthouse on 28th Street feels a little like the type of place you’d encounter on the Lower East Side. A deep, narrow, 2,000-square-foot space with low, pressed tin ceilings midway between Sixth and Seventh Avenues that currently has a worthy show of prints by artists including Vija Celmins, Chuck Close, and Cindy Sherman, their space is a boon. At $40 per square foot, it’s below market value, and they’ll most likely have to move out in a year as per their agreement with the landlord. A few blocks away, just outside the Flower District, is Broadway 1602.
“The area was five blocks of plants and sex,” says Michel of the Flower District’s former profile, noting how drastically the neighborhood is changing its character due to the “cheap condos” going up around the area. But Michel notes that the area itself is already something of a destination that regularly draws the likes of socialites and celebrities like Taylor Swift, who recently came to the neighborhood to pick out some flowers.
Check out our slideshow for a few available spaces in the Flower District.