The Future of the Diamond District

An article in the New York Times today speculates about the future of 47th Street, noting that Manhattan districts once devoted to fur, flowers and toys have all but disappeared, and Diamond District tenants “pay a fraction of the rents charged on nearby blocks.” And indeed, there are rumors about jewelry buildings in the area trying to attract non-jewelry tenants.

On one hand, 47th Street is probably secure for the time being. Unlike those other ”districts,” the “Diamond District” has a retail base, which draws tourists, and therefore will probably retain some city support. The Borough President’s Office just gave the 47th Street Business Improvement district a $100,000 grant for outdoor informational kiosks, meant to supply information to visiting shoppers. That is a nice vote of confidence right there.

By buying a number of 47th Street buildings, developer Gary Barnett has already shaken things up considerably.  Clearly, the street needs an upgrade, and the kind of modern facilities one sees in other centers. Many of the buildings on 47th Street are pretty appalling. One prominent building, whose bathrooms remind me of the ones I’ve seen in Third World countries, is being redone, likely because of the threat posed by Barnett.

Even so, there is something of a Catch 22 here. If the buildings are ever upgraded, the landlords could probably charge a lot more money for office space. As it is, I wonder how some of the wholesale businesses there afford their rent.

I am not sure “the Street” will ever be like it was when I began in this business — a truly exciting meeting point for the industry, where deals happened on the sidewalk and it had the feel of a big, extended family. Instead, like all other industry institutions, 47th Street will probably undergo a period of transition in the years ahead. Here is hoping Barnett — who used to work in the diamond business — can improve things while retaining the flavor that has made 47th Street so special for so long.

JCK News Director