When Nicholas Athanail first moved to the Flatiron district in 1995, the neighborhood was on the cusp of redefining itself, but an undeniable eeriness still seized the district.
Remote, silent, and vastly commercial, businessmen flocked to the various office spaces and manufacturing sites on the weekdays, but the neighborhood resembled a ghost town on the weekends.
"There really wasn't a lot going on," said Athanail, a real estate broker with the Corcoran Group. "Weekends were dead, and there was no one, and no one was walking around the streets. Madison Square Park was not as well maintained as it is now, and it was really very quiet, very desolate back then."
But in the decade beginning in 2000, an influx of luxury condominiums and residential buildings shifted the landscape of Flatiron. More than a thousand housing units were added in those ten years alone, according to census data.
Twenty-six years later, after living and working in the Flatiron, Athanail now describes the district as "the center of everything." This is not surprising. He serves as a Flatiron 23rd Street Partnership board member, a business improvement district from 21st to 28th Streets. He's also the first vice-chair of Community Board Five, is on the associate board for Madison Square Park, and is a landlord for multiple apartment complexes in the area.
"There has been, and there's going to be a lot of change," he said. "And I think all of that change is going to bring more excitement into the neighborhood."
Athanail has reason to be excited. When he first moved to the neighborhood in 1995 he was practicing law. He purchased a two-bedroom apartment for $270,000. He estimates if he were to put his apartment on the market, it would sell just under $2 million.
The story of Flatiron is in many ways a classic NYC real estate tale of opportunity, or some might say opportunism. For decades you had a neighborhood where very few people lived. Suddenly, it seemed, developers rushed in to retrofit existing commercial spaces and throw up luxurious residential towers to draw in the well-paid young professionals and high-income families.
The Flatiron gets its name from the Flatiron Building, a historic triangular-shaped skyscraper built in 1902 and located at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Broadway. The neighborhood now includes the original Shake Shack in Madison Square Park, Eataly, Eleven Madison Park and branches of such national retailers as Cole Haan, Theory, Eileen Fisher and Arc’teryx.
In the early 2000s, 4,700 residential units in 42 new or converted properties were added to the neighborhood, according to the Flatiron 23rd Street Partnership. From 2006 to 2016, leading developers including the Toll Brothers, Thor Equities, Madison Equities, Anbau Enterprises, and Friedland Properties contributed to the Flatiron housing frenzy by adding over 920 new rental and condominium units in that decade alone.
In a city where affordable housing remains in short supply, the luxury real estate market in Flatiron is booming. For instance, 121 East 22nd Street, the first residential building in the city designed by internationally recognized architecture firm OMA. Located at the crossing of Gramercy Park and Flatiron, this building originally was the headquarters of the United Cerebral Palsy of New York City. The nonprofit had owned the building since 1973, but when luxury builder Toll Brothers reportedly offered $135 million to buy the property, the organization took the deal and relocated to the Upper West Side.
After the development was completed in 2019, condominiums at 121 East 22nd Street range in price from $1 million to $11 million. In the same year, the median household income in Flatiron rose to $121,105 while citywide, it was only $70,590, according to data collected from the Flatiron 23rd Street Partnership. The median household income is still higher in Soho, Greenwich, and the Financial district. The median household income for those neighborhoods in 2019 was $164,860, according to neighborhood profiles created by the NYU Furman Center.
Flatiron resident Tara Allport was living in the Upper West Side when she decided to relocate in 2013. She moved to the neighborhood because she wanted to be closer to her friends who lived downtown. For years, Allport was renting a one-bedroom apartment at The Stanford, a full-service condominium on 45 East 25th Street that features a 24-hour doorman, gym, a private courtyard, and views overlooking Madison Square Park.
When a slightly bigger one-bedroom apartment at The Stanford went on the market, Allport jumped at the opportunity to become a first-time buyer. While Allport declined to say how much she had paid in rent and how much she paid for her apartment, data shows how much prices have leaped in the past decade. In 2010 the median asking price for rentals in Flatiron was $3,895, according to StreetEasy. That price is now $5,518, an increase of 42%. A 650 square-foot one-bedroom apartment in The Stanford currently lists for $1.1 million.
The median asking rent in the Flatiron district as of August 2021 was $5,518, while back in 2019, it was $5,195, according to StreetEasy's Data Dashboard. Tenants looking to move to the Flatiron will experience higher levels of competition as inventory continues to decline. In August, inventory fell 69%, according to data from StreetEasy. In August of 2019, the total rent inventory was 431, while in 2021 it was 333, a decrease of 23%.
In the early months of 2021, the Flatiron district also saw a 33% increase in commercial leasing activity, according to a quarterly report prepared by the Flatiron 23rd Street Partnership. There are no signs of the housing boom slowing down as the market continues to soar and surpass pre-pandemic levels.