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A blog from CityRealty (Links below will take you to the 6sqft site)


Jeffrey LeFrancois on the High Line (Image via Kat Slootsky) Jeffrey LeFrancois on the High Line (Image via Kat Slootsky)
Even though the Meatpacking District is already the epitome of urban cool with history and modernity perfectly blended on every corner and its streets bursting with life, Jeffrey LeFrancois is responsible for making the neighborhood even better. LeFrancois is the Executive Director of the not-for-profit Meatpacking District’s Business Improvement District (BID). In this role, LeFrancois is responsible for working with property owners, commercial, retail, and residential tenants, elected officials, and city agencies to ensure the Meatpacking District remains a cutting-edge, ever-evolving Lower Manhattan neighborhood. He also oversees the BID’s branding and marketing strategy, development of neighborhood programming and public space management, and community affairs for the neighborhood’s seven million square feet of retail and office space.

LeFrancois took over the BID in the final stages of the laborious, four-year redesign of the Gansevoort Plaza project. As they usher in exciting new public spaces like Piers 55 and 57, not to mention the thriving Whitney Museum and High Line, CityRealty spoke to LeFrancois to find out how his job is going so far, how he explains the distinctive identity of his neighborhood, and how he'd spend a perfect afternoon there.

How did you get involved with the BID?

I have been involved in government and politics and for the civic good on the west side of Manhattan for a long time. I went to school in New York City and I never left. I have been in this line of work for over a decade and found my way into the BID world rather organically. Years ago, I worked as Chief of Staff to then-City Councilman Corey Johnson when he was negotiating the creation of the BID on behalf of the council when it was originally being formulated. Then I came to realize it might be a fun thing to do next. I was the Director of Operations + Community Affairs and am now the Executive Director.
Meatpacking-District-02 Meatpacking District restaurants and plazas via BrakeThrough Media

The Meatpacking District has a very strong identity. How do you explain it in contrast to other NYC neighborhoods that struggle to find their identities?

It is a number of factors. The Meatpacking District is utterly charming and that comes from a number of things. For starters, they did a really terrific job of preserving the historic fabric of the neighborhood. It was designated a historic district back in 2004. There has been a real transformation in the development of new architecture and renovating the old architecture through the lens of history. The nature of the Meatpacking District is that while uses of the buildings have changed, their presence has not. The architecture defines how it feels to be here. You can get lost on the streets here - they are rambling and roaming - but not too lost. There is a lot of activity on our side streets which is unique and charming. And our zoning regulations are an important part of all of this. We are a manufacturing and commercial district, so we are a business district surrounded by a residential community.
Our most recent history spans the past 20-30 years and happened in rapid succession. There were the meat and produce industries as well as a variety of smaller retailers, car repair shops, etc., but then the super high-end luxury couture moved in alongside meatpacking plants. We also had a very early food scene with a high-end and fancy food scene that is still blossoming. And we have upstairs tenants as well. Even with the boom in the tech sector, we still have prominent fashion houses here and this neighborhood is their home. Obviously, we have Diane von Furstenberg and Theory. We have a great cross cut of industries in our neighborhood, which is what really makes us shine. We have top-shelf food and drink. The Whitney Museum returned home downtown, so if you want to see the best American art in the country, you come here. We have all the shopping you could want, new types of retail from traditional to experiential. It is really a full-circle, 360-degree neighborhood where you can spend an hour or a day to live, work and play.
Meatpacking-District-03 Streets of the Meatpacking District via BrakeThrough Media

It’s amazing that even though there isn’t super-convenient transportation, the area isn’t cut off.

One thing that really adds to the charm is how the district feels removed from the rest of Manhattan. It has an element of feeling far away but in actuality, it is only a couple of blocks from the 14th Street subway. But our low-slung buildings and the fact that we’re not overloaded with vehicular traffic all the time makes us feel very special in the city. But the fact is, the rest of the sounds of the city happen here, they’re just on a smaller scale.

Do you see any other New York neighborhoods similar to the Meatpacking District?

One of the best things about New York is that while the Meatpacking District has a strong identity, people in any other neighborhood in the city will argue their neighborhood has as strong identity too. But something that makes the Meatpacking District so exciting is that people want to identify with the district. They specifically come to the district because they want to be here because of how it looks and feels and the experience of being here.
Meatpacking-District-04 Sunset views from the High Line (Image via CityRealty)

The High Line was a huge addition to the neighborhood. What changes did you see after the park opened?

This is the 10-year anniversary of the High Line being open to the public. I have been involved in this neighborhood for a long time and I have been at every High Line ribbon-cutting since the beginning. It has been really neat to watch it happen. The High Line is a top tourist draw for the city of New York. It gives people a way to come to the Meatpacking District or leave the Meatpacking District. It connects neighborhoods like nothing else in the city. Hudson Yards is brand new and anyone can take the High Line and come straight down to us.

Did you know how huge the High Line was going to be from the very beginning?

The founders of the High Line, Josh David and Robert Hammond, are visionaries. Maybe they knew. It was a major transformative element for the entire West Side in the mid-2000's to the latter part of that decade. It was a real time for a lot of change. The economic downtown of 2008 really pumped the brakes on rezoning, and many projects are just now being realized.

Similarly, the Pier 55 park will certainly be a draw when it opens. Are you excited about that?

I am extremely excited to see what that park is coming to be and what it will be for New Yorkers. It will be a destination for folks from out of town, but New Yorkers will come to love it too, especially when they see it and experience it. There is also Pier 57, which is a hulking project to the north with a park on the top, a plaza on the promenade, and exciting tenants like City Winery setting up shop. It is really a neat new asset. To the south is Gansevoort Peninsula, which is being planned as a real locals’ park. If you look at Pier 55 as a destination for every tourist, Gansevoort Peninsula will be a super-local space in the district.
Meatpacking-District-05 Ribbon-cutting ceremony with LeFrancois in the center (Image via Pat Dunford)

What has been your biggest challenge in working with the neighborhood?

I have had this position since February and I would say that the biggest challenge has been hammering to get the past four years of construction completed. The entire neighborhood has literally been torn up for four years and slowly we have seen it come back together. The Gansevoort Plaza is this amazing 20,000 square feet of public space. The BID is responsible for maintaining it and we’re very excited about it. It is a major asset for everyone in the neighborhood and great for businesses and residents. It really adds a uniqueness to our neighborhood. When Congressman Jerry Nadler was here for the ribbon-cutting, he stood in the middle of the plaza, looked around and said that it’s interesting to hear all the talk about open spaces but most open spaces, like corner parklettes, don’t feel too open. Then he said, this is truly an open space that feels really special.

How do you work to preserve the historic integrity of the neighborhood?

Aside from the historic designation, the community built itself to be here. They recognized the organic nature of how the neighborhood came to be. We don’t do things to specifically preserve the historic nature of the neighborhood. We are a 21st-century neighborhood with 21st-century companies operating here that didn’t exist 10 years ago.
Meatpacking-District-06 Aerial view of Gansevoort Plaza via BrakeThrough Media

Do you have favorite spots in the Meatpacking District?

Of course I do, but I don’t know if I want to give them all away [laughs]. It really depends on my mood. I am an afternoon cortado person so based on my vibe of the day, I have my favorite cafes. Chelsea Market is in our district and it is a gem in New York City, not to mention around the world. Some shopping brands exist elsewhere but the stores don’t exist in the city and we have them here, like Trina Turk. We also have this amazing jeweler, Doyle and Doyle, that doesn’t just have antique jewelry but centuries-old jewels. We have the new Restoration Hardware gallery here and we’re seeing a real design center growing with RH Gallery, Arhaus furniture shop and Ayu on Washington Street.

What do you foresee for the district in the next 10 years--retail, residential, experiential?

Everyone is saying that retail is having a moment of contraction and change, but what is happening in the Meatpacking District is retailers are continuing to redefine the experience of shopping. What is taking place on the ground and what people are doing in our neighborhood are happening here first.

Is branding a neighborhood like branding a company?

Branding a neighborhood is different than a company because our product is made up of a whole bunch of different entities and we have to consider how we steward them. But the Meatpacking District is a wonderful historic neighborhood with a modern twist. The Samsung building design by architect Morris Adjmi literally encompasses that modern twist and is a stunning example of all that our neighborhood encapsulates.
Meatpacking-District-07 Meatpacking District buildings via BrakeThrough Media

Additional Info About the Building

Contributing Writer Michelle Sinclair Colman Michelle writes children's books and also writes articles about architecture, design and real estate. Those two passions came together in Michelle's first children's book, "Urban Babies Wear Black." Michelle has a Master's degree in Sociology from the University of Minnesota and a Master's degree in the Cities Program from the London School of Economics.
Luxury Homes in Midtown | Newly Renovated Studio-2BR Homes View Property
Spacious 1 Bedrooms with outdoor space and in-residence w/d View Property
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