Commercial Real Estate & Advisory

Deal of the Week: Vitra Has Designs On Meat-Packing District

By Lore Croghan | August 1, 2001

Christopher Owles has a deal streak going with the Swiss design industry.

He’s just done his second in a row, for a furniture maker called Vitra.

“I call myself the Swiss connection,” says Mr. Owles, who is a director at Sinvin Realty Corp., a brokerage that specializes in cool downtown neighborhoods.

Furniture makers are dream clients, because they usually bring high-profile assignments and appreciate architecturally-significant buildings.

Back in the spring, the first of his Swiss customers, USM, bought a building nicknamed, “the Queen of Greene Street.”

Vitra went the rental route, with a location that’s a real find: an 1898 beauty of golden-hued brick at 29 Ninth Ave.
It’s being overhauled and turned into a first-class office and retail facility by a group of developers that includes Philip Katz, Charles Blaichman, Bill Schaffel and Joe Daly.

The furniture maker, known for its re-editions of designs by Charles and Ray Eames, is building a 12,100-square-foot store on the first and second floors of the property. When complete, it will then move out of a showroom at 149 Fifth Ave. and into the consciousness of the shopping set that trolls the meat-packing district, buying expensive duds from Jeffrey and art from the expanding gallery scene.

It took Mr. Owles 18 months to complete Vitra’s 10-year deal. He spent the first nine months searching for the right spot, a task that took forever because the market for retail real estate was white-hot back in 2000, and Vitra wanted something that fit its budget as well as its aesthetic requirements.

It took another nine months to clinch the deal at 29 Ninth. The place was exactly what Vitra had in mind, but the Katz-Daly group hadn’t closed on the building when lease negotations started.

The long months spent with the developers paid off in an unexpected way for Mr. Owles: They got to know him so well that they hired him as the leasing agent for the rest of the 60,000-square-foot building.

Who: Vitra
Where: 29 Ninth Ave.
How big: 12,100 square feet
Asking rent: $75 a square foot for the ground floor,
$40 a square foot for the second floor
Lease: 10 years
Landlord: Philip Katz, Joe Daly
Broker: Sinvin Realty Corp.