This fall, work is due to start on the 22-block, mile-and-a-half-long Highline Park. “Creating a park and vibrant new public space out of the long-closed Highline will be the crowning achievement in the revival of the Meatpacking District, which is basically where the Highline begins,” says Chris Owles, Managing Director at Sinvin Realty Corp.
Owles is the retail and office broker who has played a bigger role in the Meatpacking District’s transformation than probably any other. He has negotiated leases for over 150,000 thousand square feet in the neighborhood.
Because there are only about 100 buildings in the Meatpacking District, many of which are small, Owles’ activity accounts for a very large portion of the leases done in the area. On many of his deals, Owles worked closely with his colleague Bruce Sinder, President of Sinvin Realty.
Owles’ success as a broker could be considered surprising, given his unlikely start in the business. He was principal at a design and architecture firm who was enterprising enough to recognize that if he helped potential clients find their new space, he would be much more likely to be hired to design it.
The first client for whom he found space was also a friend, Alex Bueno, then the co-owner of Le Zoo restaurant. Owles found Bueno the space for the restaurant Waterloo in 1998.
“Chris has always been a remarkably attentive person,” says Michael G. Glanzberg, Owles’ friend since their meeting at prep school in ninth grade and now a partner at the San Francisco law firm of Kelly, Herlihy & Klein, LLP. “If I had to venture to guess why he’s successful at what he’s doing, I’d say it’s because he derives his satisfaction from the accomplishments of other people.”
David Puchkoff, a landlord with whom Owles regularly negotiates, called Owles “the best broker in town.”
Owles’ transactions have helped convert the Meatpacking District into the city’s most contemporary of neighborhoods. Just 10 years ago, such an outcome did not seem likely for what was a small, bloody remnant of New York City’s 18th century economy.
Design giant Vitra’s lease of 12,000 square feet at 29 Ninth Avenue in 2001 was one of the most important deals in the Meatpacking District’s relatively short transformation. “They were one of the first major names there after Jeffrey, when the Meatpacking District was more known for its nightlife than anything else,” says Owles, who negotiated the deal with Sinder.
“Vitra wanted a hip edge and a space that did not imply they were following on other’s footsteps,” Owles says. That ruled out more established downtown locations like Soho and Tribeca. Vitra’s roster of designers includes some of the field’s biggest names, including Charles and Ray Eames. “Having someone fo that caliber allowed companies like design Within Reach and Theory to move into the area,” Owles explains.
The Vitra transaction was one of several Owles negotiated at the redeveloped 29 Ninth Avenue. The other tenants who became a part of the building are Soho House with its restaurant, cinema and hotel, and Jean George Vongerichten’s restaurant, Spice Market. Just 100 feet up the street at 415 West 13th Street, Owles signed Bumble and bumble for 50,000 square feet. At 36-40 Gansevoort Street Owles has also signed Theory for a 60,000 square-foot new development that will house the clothing retailer’s retail store, showroom and offices. He brought Wachovia to the Meatpacking District, its first bank in decades.
Nearby, Owles is marketing 22,000 square feet of available space at 446 West 14th Street and almost 100,000 square feet at 450 West 14th Street. Charles Blaichman is developing both of the projects. Owles has worked with Blaichman before, on 29 Ninth Avenue and 413 West 13th Street.
“On one side are the two buildings Diane von Furstenberg has purchased for her store and offices, at 440 and 442 West 14th Street,” says Owles. At the other end of the block will be a pedestrian bridge to the pier on 15th Street, which the Cipriani restaurant group and developer Steve Witkoff have won the right to redevelop as an exciting entertainment destination.
“It is the epicenter of public space which is so rare,” Owles sums up. “To have the Highline, the pier and the Hudson River Park at your doorstep is a great draw. Andre Balasz’ Standard Hotel a block south ain’t going to hurt, either.”