TriBeCa: An Everchanging Neighborhood

Cast-iron buildings compared to the 60-story skyscraper at 56 Leonard Street. Photo credit: 6sqft New York City


Once a commercial hub for industrial factories and warehouses, the Triangle Below Canal Street has gone through two major cycles of cultural transformation. In its latest incarnation, the lower Manhattan neighborhood has become one of the most expensive areas to live in the Big Apple. The median price of all currently available rental listings in TriBeCa is $7,015, rounding out to about $98 per square foot. Meanwhile for Manhattan as a whole, the median price for available listings sits at $4,295, roughly $80 per square foot. The prime location, abundance of parks, spacious apartments, historical architecture, and vibrant arts and culture scene are all factors contributing to the neighborhood’s sky-high cost of living.

Since the 1840s, TriBeCa has gone through multiple cultural transitions from the commercial and industrial to the artistic and creative, and now the luxurious. “The neighborhood’s spacious warehouses and factories were attractive to businesses looking for large commercial spaces,” said Samuel Walters, a photographer and New York City historian. While working as a public-school teacher, Walters runs, a project that began in 2014 with the goal to visit, photograph, and document every neighborhood in Manhattan.

In December of 2021, world-famous F1 racecar driver Lewis Hamilton sold his 443 Greenwich penthouse for a staggering $49.5 million. The five-bedroom, six full bathroom, and two half bathroom home is located on top of a converted book binding factory that was built in 1883. The building is one of many lower Manhattan developments that began as an industrial space. The turn of the 20th century saw TriBeCa’s cobblestone streets lined with textile factories and massive warehouses. “As manufacturing began to decline in the mid-20th century, many of TriBeCa’s industrial buildings became vacant and were abandoned,” said Walters. It wouldn’t be until the late 1960s when artists seeking affordable spaces would move into the vacant lofts, sparking the first cultural transformation in the neighborhood.

As artists and their families continued to migrate towards TriBeCa, “Their presence breathed new life into the community,” said Walters. Gradually, the neighborhood was turned into a vibrant artistic community that attracted an influx of new businesses and residents. There was a significant amount of redevelopment and gentrification in the neighborhood throughout the 1980s and 90s. The warehouses and factories that remained vacant were converted into luxury residential lofts, drawing in celebrities and the wealthy. TriBeCa’s flourishing arts and culture scene, luxurious living spaces, alongside the historic preserved cobblestone streets and cast-iron buildings are all contributors to its high cost of living.

Robert Moskowitz (b. 1935) is an abstract expressionist painter who purchased a TriBeCa loft at 81 Leonard in the 1970s and turned it into his art studio. “We bought it for around $40,000 and nowadays it would cost you an arm and a leg,” said Moskowitz. The 5000 square foot loft features a massive skylight and its very own elevator. Moskowitz estimates that the loft in its current state is worth between 4 to 5 million dollars. “We really love the open space and it makes for a great studio,” he said. Moskowitz also deeply appreciates the location. “It’s easy to draw inspiration while walking around TriBeCa.” The historic cast-iron buildings mixed with the modern glass sky-scrapers make for unique and eye-catching real estate.

Cormac Fingeret is a Film & Television student in his final year at New York University. Growing up just minutes from central TriBeCa and the Hudson River, he found plenty to appreciate about the neighborhood. “TriBeCa is very scenic and I loved playing soccer and going to school around the Hudson River,” he said. “The community is very family-oriented and there’s so many great restaurants, movie theaters, parks, and other ways to enjoy your down time.” However, Fingeret and his family moved from TriBeCa to the Los Angeles Metropolitan area when he reached high school. “While TriBeCa has a lot to offer, it’s very expensive for such limited living space,” he said. “This isn’t just TriBeCa, but for Manhattan as a whole, it can be really noisy with cars and construction.” Fingeret found that living in TriBeCa will come with costs and benefits.

The location, classic architecture, urban environment, easy transportation, artistic culture, and access to a number of amenities have made TriBeCa the desirable neighborhood that it is today. This in turn has driven up the cost of living. According to the NYU Furman Center, in the current market “TriBeCa rentals average $4,250 for a studio rental to $12,000 for a 4-bedroom rental.” The median price for a 1-bedroom apartment in 2022 was listed at $5,661, a 46.56% increase from 3 years ago. The culture and features aren’t going away anytime soon, meaning the trend in TriBeCa’s real estate may continue to skyrocket for years to come.