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Wall Street Journal

In Manhattan's Chinatown Signs Of Change

Melanie Lefkowitz

If You're Browsing For a Home

268 E. Broadway, No. A2005
This 20th-floor co-op in Seward PArk has one bedroom, one bathroom and a pass-through kitchen. There is a full wall of windows and a private balcony. Building amenities include gym.

Listing History: On the market for about a week
Property Plus: Renovated bathroom with window
Property Minus: No laundry in unit
Listing Agents: Neal Young and Jeremy Bolger of Halstead Property
Open House: By appointment
The ethnic enclave of Chinatown, with its narrow, winding streets crowded with vendors, shoppers, tourists and locals, has so far experienced less new development than other lower-Manhattan neighborhoods. But real-estate brokers and locals say they see signs that change is on the way.

Several luxury condominium buildings have opened in recent years, and a handful of hotels have transformed some streets. Some buildings in Chinatown are changing hands, brokers say. There has also been an increase in new restaurants, coffee shops, art galleries and developments along Chinatown’s boundaries, particularly the Seward Park area on the Lower East Side.


“I think it’s an emerging market—there’s little inventory and increasing demand. I’ve seen it on the ground as a resident,” says Christopher Morales, a broker with Douglas Elliman who has lived in Chinatown for four years. “I’ve seen more non-Chinese people, and it’s become a place where you hear people wanting to go…The neighborhood is becoming a cool, hip place to be.”

Of course, there are few signs of major change in the neighborhood’s core, where brokers say most businesses remain Chinese-owned and most of the housing comprises rentals in tenement buildings. The new establishments tend to be on the neighborhood’s margins, along its borders with Tribeca, SoHo, Little Italy and the Lower East Side.

Chinatown lies in the middle of some of the city’s most sought-after downtown areas, with easy access to Brooklyn along the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. Most subway lines can be found either within Chinatown or close by. The area is famed for its Asian restaurants and shops, as well as its colorful character.

“It’s a place with a lot of thriving culture,” Mr. Morales says.

Some fear that culture is threatened by development and demand. A 2013 report by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund found that between 2000 and 2010, the number of Chinese residents in Chinatown declined, while the number of whites increased, and that by 2011 fewer than half the residents of Chinatown were foreign-born.

Chinatown is “struggling to maintain its cultural and economic identity in the face of rising real-estate values and changing demographics,” and is still recovering from 9/11 and the growth of Chinatowns in Flushing and Sunset Park, according to a 2013 study by the Pratt Center for Community Development and the Chinatown Working Group, a consortium of local groups seeking to increase protections for the neighborhood.

“Chinatown is probably one of the last swaths of neighborhood that hasn’t been completely developed,” says Robin Goldberg, a broker with Halstead Property who has lived in neighboring Little Italy for 37 years. “What’s nice is that Chinatown does have a historic grid to it. It has these streets that intersect for one block and then open to the Bowery. There’s this low-lying historical housing.”

Most available real estate in Chinatown consists of small condominium buildings, on or near the borders of other neighborhoods, and large co-op buildings such as Chatham Towers, two 25-story buildings on Park Row. The median price among the nine listings in Chinatown proper was $1.5 million last week, says Rentals are more common, and last week listed 81 available rentals.

But more housing in and around Chinatown is on the way. The Essex Crossing development, projected to create 1.9 million square feet of commercial, residential and community space, including 1,000 apartments, is in the Seward Park area.

“Developers are pushing the boundaries a bit and encroaching into Chinatown territory,” says Julie Pham, of the Corcoran Group. “I think it’s a corridor that’s going to change probably very rapidly over the next five to 10 years…it is in a very central location, and it’s just a matter of time before that real estate appreciates and buyers find that area desirable.”

Parks: The 3-acre Columbus Park, at Baxter, Mulberry and Bayard streets, has playground and basketball courts. The nearly eight-acre Sara D. Roosevelt Park, stretching from Canal to East Houston, includes a turf soccer field and roller-skating rink.

Schools: Chinatown is part of Community School District 2, and local schools include P.S. 124, the Yung Wing School, where 61% of students met state standards on English and 79% did so in math, according to the city’s 2013-14 school-quality snapshot.

Dining: Asian establishments include the Nom Wah Tea Parlor on Doyers Street, specializing in dim sum; Great N.Y. Noodletown, on Bowery; Bassanova Ramen, on Mott Street; and Pongsri Thai, on Bayard.

Shopping: Shops selling Asian goods include the Hong Kong Supermarket, on Hester Street. The Ali Baba Organic Market is on Mott Street.

Entertainment: The neighborhood’s many nightspots include the Whiskey Tavern, on Baxter, which serves pub food; and the 169 Bar, on East Broadway.

Friday, March 27, 2015