February 26th 2012
New York Post
The new baby boom nabe isn’t in Brooklyn . . . it’s Wall Street. Welcome to FiDi, where the sidewalks are now crowded with strollers (and stockbrokers!)
On a recent weekday morning by the New York Stock Exchange, 3-year-old Madeleine McMann rode her scooter to her Montessori preschool, expertly weaving through the crowds.
She glanced back occasionally to check that her mom, Karen, was following, but was unfazed by the bankers and office workers streaming out of the subways.
Little kids like Madeleine are quickly becoming a common sight in this neighborhood, as they walk the narrow streets on their way to class or the playground.
In a neighborhood better known for ruthless corporate go-getters, some 1,086 babies were born in 2010 — a 12 percent increase over the previous year, and more than twice the number of infants delivered in 2001.
It’s official: The Financial District has become the new Park Slope.
In fact, new figures released by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene show that the birth rate in Community Board 1, the area south of Canal Street, is higher than any other neighborhood in Manhattan.
The numbers include long-established diaper districts such as Battery Park City and TriBeCa, but, according to real estate agents, it’s the spike in the number of kids living in FiDi that signals the biggest shift. The term FiDi was coined to make the neighborhood seem more attractive as a residential area in the same way as SoHo, NoLIta and TriBeCa.
No longer the preserve of fast-paced singles, it’s now appealing to the buggy brigade, which is drawn to deluxe residences, easy access to transportation and a short walk to the water, parks and playgrounds.
“The school is a 3½-block walk from our apartment, and most of the roads are closed to traffic,” says Madeleine’s mother, Karen, 33, who is married to Joe, 41, a financier.
“It’s very convenient and safe.”
Committed to life in the Financial District until their girls are a lot older, the McManns, who hope to add to their brood of two children soon, are part of a rising population in lower Manhattan. There are a plethora of schools and day cares, and despite the Occupy Wall Street protests, the neighborhood feels safe because of all the security staff and cameras protecting the financial institutions.
“This has been a long, slow growth pattern which took off after 9/11,” says Elizabeth H. Berger, president of the Alliance for Downtown New York. “It’s been described as an emerging community — but now we’ve emerged!”
The realtors agree. “Many of the luxury residential buildings are nothing but dogs and strollers,” says Ariel Cohen, executive vice president of Prudential Douglas Elliman, which sells two-bedroom, 1,700-square-foot apartments in family-oriented conversions such as 15 Broad for an average of $1.8 million.
Similar-size rentals cost about $7,500 per month.
“Space is essential when you’ve got kids, and the larger floor-plate apartments here are competitively priced,” adds the father of two, who has lived in FiDi for more than five years. “Most of the buildings have swimming pools and indoor play spaces. And the neighborhood is at the point of no return in terms of child-friendliness, with good public and private schools, new playgrounds and parks and practically every train line under you.”
The ease of access was a major draw for Julie Budd, 34, a stay-at-home mom to 3-year-old Evan. She and husband Laurent, 38, who also works in finance, bought their two-bedroom condo at 15 Broad five years ago. “We can get everywhere fast,” she says. “And we love being so close to the water.”
Before 9/11, the neighborhood was popular with single finance guys. But it was never a particularly residential area because the buildings were mostly commercial.
Now, a wave of day-care centers and preschools has opened in recent years to cater to the demand. Many, such as Bright Horizons at 20 Pine St. and the nursery and preschool at Trinity Wall Street Church, have waiting lists.
Places at nearby private schools such as Léman Manhattan Prep — formerly known as Claremont Prep — and the Blue School are in high demand, as are spots at the neighborhood’s public schools.
The Spruce Street School and PS 276, also known as the Green School, opened in 2009 to alleviate overcrowding. Meanwhile, the new Peck Slip School will open its doors inside Tweed Courthouse in the fall, and will move to a permanent location at the unused Peck Slip post office in 2015.
Schools aren’t the only facilities springing up. Commercial outlets are also responding to the baby boom. On Feb. 13, J&R opened J&R Jr., a 15,000-square-foot boutique on its second floor, peddling strollers, high chairs, educational toys and children’s electronics.
The Park Place retailer now offers “Mommy and Me” music sessions, following in the footsteps of the South Street Seaport Museum and various private buildings, including the iconic Geary skyscraper, which provides a 730-square-foot playroom where story time, arts-and-crafts and birthday parties are regularly held.
Downtown Alliance chief Berger says these communal playrooms are a must in an area competing with the Upper West Side and Downtown Brooklyn to lure young families.
“We have all the amenities of other residential neighborhoods in New York — the grocery stores, the playgrounds and the schools,” she says.
Berger cites the 2009 lower Manhattan survey of residents, conducted for the alliance by PKS Research, which showed the overall population of downtown Manhattan had more than doubled since 2001.
These days, nearly 27 percent of households include children under 18. Of these, 65 percent have kids below age 6.
This compares to a similar population survey in 2004 that showed that 19 percent of lower Manhattan households included kids under 18.
And the birth rate is expected to rise. More than a third of childless couples in the area (defined as between Broadway and the East River, south of Liberty Street) told PKS researchers they were likely to start a family by 2012. “It’s an extraordinary statistic,” says Berger.
“People were expected to move here, then head to the suburbs once they had kids. They didn’t.”
Jewelry company owner Naina Renvoize and her husband, Nicolas, a trader, epitomize the trend.
They brought their newborn son, Mateo, to their two-bedroom condo at 20 Pine: The Collection two years ago and are now expecting their second child. “I love the fact that we can be in Battery Park or the new Imagination Playground in South Street Seaport in just a few minutes,” says Renvoize, 36.
“I’m always able to meet other moms with kids in the same age range. There’s a real sense of community.
“A lot more restaurants and cafes are child-friendly, with special menus and high chairs.”
Unlike the old days, when the neighborhood went to sleep after the bankers returned home, fewer establishments in FiDi close early on weekdays — so when parents want to go out, they have places to go.
“Evenings, these days, it’s half parents and kids, half suits,” says Vince Alessi, managing partner of Bobby Van’s Steakhouse at 25 Broad St. “Moms and dads come here with their kids after pickup from the Léman School next door. It’s amazing how the clientele has changed.”
Alessi insists the transformation of FiDi from bachelor pads to Baby Central has not led to friction. He says the steak crowd and chicken-nugget crew happily co-exists.
“Everyone gets along just fine,” he says.
But not everyone shares his rosy point of view.
“On your way to work, you spend all your time dodging those gigantic strollers,” mutters precious-metals trader Emil Rizzo, 32, as yet another toddler whizzes past on a scooter. “It’s getting as bad as the tourists who suddenly come to a halt and stare at the sky.”
He compared the area to the Lower East Side, another unlikely but increasingly popular stomping ground for new parents.
“These neighborhoods used to be fun,” he says. “And it’s not like we’re seeing any of these Wall Street babies making any money!”
Even that old Wall Street staple, the sneaky sidewalk cigarette between martinis, is under attack.
“These moms walk by and wave their hands in front of their face like you’ve let off a bomb in front of their kid,” complains a young banker smoking outside a bar, who asked not to be named.
“Why can’t they live and let live?”