People are finally beginning to return to New York City.
But as New Yorkers return, they may find themselves coming back to a city that looks quite different from the one they left several months ago. Many offices have not returned to full capacity, with many firms pushing their full returns off until 2022. Manhattan’s retail vacancy rose to 28% in Q2 2021, the highest in at least 10 years, largely driven by the number of stores that had to close in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
These empty storefronts are a reminder of the many ways the world has been forced to change in the past year, but one real estate company has found a way to transform them into a symbol of hope and continue its decades-long commitment to community building.
GFP Real Estate owns and manages more than 55 buildings and 12.8M SF in NYC, including iconic landmarks such as the Flatiron Building. Like many of the city’s landlords, the company has a number of vacant storefronts as a result of the pandemic. Rather than boarding them up, the company decided to turn them into art installations designed to bring hope and inspiration to returning New Yorkers — and their city— as the recovery begins to take hold.
GFPRE commissioned Anthony Russo, an award-winning painter and illustrator whose work has been featured in The New York Times and The New Yorker, to create inspiring murals in the windows of its vacant spaces at 10 Astor Place, 200 Varick St. and 80 Eighth Ave. The murals feature original illustrations by Russo of life in the city alongside positive and hopeful phrases like “We rise by lifting others,” “Be kind, it powers the world,” and “If you light the lamp for somebody it will brighten your path.”
“We wanted to commemorate the beginning of New York’s gradual return from the worst days of the pandemic by bringing some positivity and inspiration directly to the streets," said Jeffrey Gural, GFPRE's chairman and principal. “Anthony’s poignant, yet uplifting illustrations perfectly express the importance of empathy, connectivity and creativity that make New York the greatest city on Earth. More importantly, the work also recognizes that we need to look out for and take care of one another. This mentality has been a core component of our company’s mission statement — to make stronger and better communities by working together.”
The murals are part of the company’s ongoing #GFPRECARES campaign, which aims to bring awareness to the need to work together as New York City continues its comeback. But GFPRE is going far beyond the art installations in its efforts toward helping the city recover from the pandemic.
Placeholder Courtesy of GFP Real Estate/Julien Capmeil 200 Varick St. Founded in 1952 and spanning three generations, the Gural family business has long been a major supporter of local arts and the businesses serving the arts community, and the company has been working with tenants who have been unable to pay their rent whenever possible by offering reduced, percentage or in some cases, free rent to its tenants to ensure their survival.
GFPRE assisted more than half of its 2,500-plus office and retail tenants during the pandemic, providing millions of dollars in rent relief as well as other creative ways of supporting tenants. GFPRE has also donated millions to several nonprofit organizations, including the Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy, Kids in Distressed Situations and Neighborhood Housing Services of New York City Inc. So far, the company has donated more than $10M to nonprofit organizations this year.
“It’s about doing the right thing when businesses needed it most,” said Eric Gural, co-CEO and principal at GFPRE. “The problems faced by these businesses were a direct result of the pandemic, not due to any failure on their part. We knew we had to step in and help them stay in business.”
He added that whenever a tenant reached out, GFPRE sat down and reviewed their finances to see how the company might be able to assist them.
“Having experienced several sharp downturns over the years, we understood that it’s always better to help people in their time of need,” Gural said. “The result is that many of our tenants were able to pull through because no one wins when tenants go out of business — the entire community loses. Shared success has far more upside than a zero-sum ideology because we have to work together to succeed together. Owning a property without a community doesn’t seem to be adding value.”
Eric Gural was a keynote speaker at Bisnow's Sustainable Development & ESG Investing Summit event on Sept. 30. Watch his segment with New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson via the link in our other news clips.