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Chinese-Owned Buildings On Canal Street Are Being Sold To Outside Developers

For decades, Canal Street has defied change. But now there are signs that the lure of big money might just be too great.

By Jeff Vasishta March 7, 2017
Editorial credit: Patrick Poendl / Shutterstock.com

If you wanted knock-off Gucci handbags, Rolexes or Ray-Bans, for decades there was only one place to go—Canal Street in Lower Manhattan. Now it seems that if you want the real thing, Canal Street may soon be the place to get them, as well.

Recently, the always congested thoroughfare has been experiencing a real estate Renaissance, with big league developers snatching up properties like tourists once snatched up imitation Louis Vuitton before the city started cracking down on the street hustle. The New York Post reports that major players such United American Land, Vornado and George Comfort & Sons are buying up buildings and land on Canal from local partnerships, who had owned them for decades.

And they aren’t going cheap, either. 301 Canal St—a small, unremarkable, vacant two-story brick building— was purchased by UAL (United American Land) for $5.4 million or nearly $3,084 per square foot. This is the second-highest investment sale on the street to date on a square-foot basis.

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“The buyer was eager to make the deal,” co-broker Peter Braus of Lee & Associates Braus understated. UAL repped itself, “The sale price was just shy of the asking, which in this market is quite an accomplishment,” Braus understated.

Recently, the aesthetic has been changing on Canal Street. It’s a long way from being tree-lined, glassy and pedestrian-friendly. Attempting a crossing away from a cross walk, with traffic shuddering past in heavy volume, is like wading into crocodile infested river but modern jewelers, boutiques and restaurants are spilling over from Broadway and West Broadway inching down toward the Holland Tunnel.

There’s little doubt that unimpeded Canal Street west of Broadway would metamorphosize in a matter of years into something shiny, safe, corporate and commercial like much of the rest of New York. Standing in its way are the Landmark Preservation Commission Board which overseas Tribeca East Historic District and dozens of Chinese owned market like trading stalls, chopped up into 100 and 200 square-foot stalls where everything from batteries to blenders to blankets can be purchased.

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“Some landlords can get $800 to $1,000 a foot for them — you couldn’t get close to that if you combined them, so there continues to be this bazaar-type atmosphere,” says Braus.

But it’s inevitable that a tipping point is on the cards. There is simply too much money and too much interest. In November, Trans World Equities submitted plans to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for a new 8-story building next door at 312 Canal, where a wide two-story building currently stands. Though the consensus from the committee was generally negative due to the size of the building, smaller proposals may make it through the net. The same company also purchased the renowned Pearl Paint buildings next door at 308 and 310 Canal St and filed plans with the Department of Buildings to convert the former art supply store into a new mixed-use building.

Construction and conversions are abundant throughout the neighborhood. A building at 136 Baxter St in Chinatown, just off Canal Street, once played host to horse stables for the NYPD. Now it’s home to condos, including a chic, industrial one-bedroom that just hit the market for a not-insignificant $3.45 million. Timber beams and original cast iron columns, limestone and glass help contribute to the upscale aesthetic which is more Soho than Chinatown. It’s a pattern that’s been replicated in Chinatowns across the US, with low income Chinese who live in cramped apartments being displaced when developers manage persuade owners to sell.

Protecting parts of Canal Street, along with the Landmarks Preservation Committee, is the fact that much of the neighborhood is still owned by Chinese, who, until recently, preferred to keep it that way. Aiding their cause was the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA), who handled disputes “in house” without outside interference, keeping developers away.

As influential community elders, many of whom own property on and around Canal Street grow older and pass on, it remains to be seen how long they or their families can ward off the lure outside developers. If recent sales are anything to go by, change is already in the works.

Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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