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Rent It Out Or Else! Manhattan Borough President Wants Penalties For Vacant Storefronts

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Is there a Broadway blight going on? Perhaps you've noticed the abundance of empty stores up and down Manhattan.

As CBS2's Hazel Sanchez reported, vacant storefronts have become a familiar sight all around the city.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is making it her business to find out why no one is leasing the space, and what can be done about it.

"Those are the heart and soul of your neighborhood. And I think when they're empty for a long period of time you feel depressed," she said.

Brewer organized a group of volunteers who surveyed Broadway from Battery Park to Inwood, and identified 188 empty street level store fronts within the 244 blocks.

Vacancies the borough president believes are killing the vitality of neighborhoods.

"You often have stores nearby that then don't have the level of business because people tend not to visit a store when there's a whole bunch of vacancies," she said.

Some blame online retailers and high rents for the mass vacancies.

A recent report by the Real Estate Board of New York or REBNY showed landlords are reacting.

The average asking rents have gone down in 14 of 17 high-profile corridors like Broadway in SoHo where there are plenty of empty shops.

Despite all the unoccupied space, REBNY said on average the commercial market is actually strong.

It might not make sense, but experts said it's the norm.

Some neighborhoods are doing well -- Broadway landlords from Battery Park to Chambers were able to raise their average asking rents for ground floor retail space from $326 per square foot in the spring of 2016 to $362 in spring of this year.

"In a city as large as New York where we have almost 8-million people it's not unusual that we have a vacancy rate of about 7 percent which the borough president points out,"  REBNY President John Banks said.

Brewer is working on legislation that would penalize landlords who keep property vacant for long periods of time.

The Real Estate Board of New York said it would oppose any legislation that would force landlords to rent out their property or face a penalty.


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