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From FiDi to DUMBO, neighborhood names take more than letters

By Dan Orlando

BoCoCa sounds more like a place to spend spring break than a neighborhood in Brooklyn.

While it may have the ring of a tropical island, a trendy coffee shop or a lip balm, it’s actually the combination of three separate Brooklyn neighborhoods: Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, and Carroll Gardens.

BoCoCa is attempting to push its way into the local vernacular as New York’s evolution continues. But whether the name sticks depends on a variety of factors.

Boerum Hill has been around since 1600s when early Dutch settlers, called Boerums, began farming the area. Cobble Hill got its name from the steep cobblestone street that once rose from what today is the corner of Court and Pacific Streets. Carroll Gardens was just South Brooklyn until a neighborhood civic association popularized the name after Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence who led an assault on a British encampment near the Gowanus Canal in 1776.

As the city has developed and once-avoided areas have become home to prime residences, more and more neighborhoods are re-creating an identity with a specific brand.

Think Tribeca (Triangle Below Canal) , FiDi (Financial District), DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), SoHo ( South of Houston Street), Nolita (North of Little Italy), the list goes on and on.
For residential brokers, a clear neighborhood identity can be a major sales tool.

“For the most part, the overall brand supports the residential brand and growth of the residential neighborhood,” said Tara King-Brown, a broker who works downtown neighborhoods such as Tribeca and FiDi .

Tara King Brown
Tara King-Brown

“It’s a New York standard to make these acronyms. NoMad (North of Madison Square Park) is a relatively new one.”
King-Brown told Real Estate Weekly that giving neighborhoods a fun aura via a trendy nickname is good for business and helps package homes in an even more appealing way. But she admitted that serious thought needs to be put into the branding.

“The whole idea with this is that it needs to give somebody a visual of what it is,” she said, noting that BoCoCa sounds a bit “ridiculous” and serves know real purpose in terms of the neighborhood’s features.

King-Brown is not a fan of indiscriminately blending neighborhood names together.

“I think people that are coining the phrase should be careful, because sometimes the public will look at that as a little bit cheesy,” she said.

Kent Swig, the developer credited with coining the term “FiDi,” would likely disagree with any of those misgivings.
“This was an area that was already created and already had incredible demographics. It just didn’t have a reference point,” said Swig of the Financial District.

“(It is an) area of Manhattan that has the highest income per capita, per zip code, by daytime of any place in America. And three or four years ago, it had the highest per capita per income at night,” said Swig, adding that it was the fastest growing residential neighborhood in the city. Indeed, its population has swelled from 23,000 in 2000 to over 43,000 as of last year.

“It had all of these things number one and yet, when you said to somebody ‘Oh, I’m going downtown,’ you had this word ‘downtown’ that encompassed an entire range of neighborhoods and no one really defined the Financial District.”

As a district, it encompasses roughly the area south of City Hall Park but excluding Battery Park and Battery Park City, according to Wikipedia.

Swig felt that the area needed branding in order to truly distinguish itself as one of the premier places to live in the country.

Shortly after the healing process began following the September 11th attacks, Swig decided to give the neighborhood a fresh beginning.

Kent Swig
Kent Swig

“I found it very difficult to try and refer to an area that nobody knew what to call. Yet it was so important to New York City,” Swig said.

“I think when you’ve got the fastest growing residential neighborhoods and all the other stuff and nobody knows what to call it and what it really is, it’s a detriment.”

“It’s difficult to go meet somebody somewhere or to locate somebody somewhere when everybody referred to one area in a number of different ways,” he added.

“I thought that it could be an acronym that would really give it its own brand and its own identity.”

“It certainly was deserving, because it ranked first in so many different categories around the United States,” he said.
Swig has been active in the neighborhood for nearly two decades, developing $3 billion worth of office properties, including110 William Street, 80 and 90 Broad 90 Broad, 44 and 48 Wall Street and 5 Hanover Square.

But even for a major developer who is heavily invested in the area, getting the general public to adopt a name for a neighborhood is not an easy undertaking.

“It’s difficult to get done. One, I had a lot of properties down there, so that was helpful,” said Swig. “Two, I did a lot of advertising so when I referred to the area I could use ‘FiDi’.”

Swig said he used the power of the press to drive the point home, initiating a “co-ordinated effort” with the media.
“I got the New York Times to accept that as a brand under the classified area. Instead of calling it downtown, they called it FiDI.”

Swig is very proud of the mantle he bestowed upon the Financial District, but is hesitant to say the name itself is what helped drive up the property values in the area over the past decade.

“I’m not sure that I would correlate the name FiDi directly with the price increase, but what it does is it solidifies the residential brand of the area because, of course, it’s traditionally a business district.”

“In terms of value, I don’t know you could put a price on it,” he added.

Swig said that the residential market in the area was poised to grow anyway because of what the neighborhood offered, but it was likely that the singular name helped a “tremendous amount” in terms of giving marketers an opportunity to advertise it as a singular and established unit.

Max Galka, cofounder of Revaluate, showed Real Estate Weekly just how significantly the value of condos and co-ops have risen since the term FiDi was put into use.

In 2004, residences hit a median price point of $740,000 or $612 per s/f.

Last year, they averaged at nearly $1.1 million and just over $1,200 per s/f.

With numbers like these – whether directly tied to neighborhood branding or not – it’s no wonder there has been a veritable deluge of local labels pouring forth in recent years.

If it does somehow manage to stick, we could, some day, be calling Crown Heights and Prospect Heights ProCro. BedWick is already out there for the area of Bushwick and Bed Stuy. Morgantown appears to have caught on for the Morgan Street subway stop in Bushwick, but can Jefftown do the same further along the line at Jefferson Street?
Clinton doesn’t seem to be able to knock Hell’s Kitchen off the map despite several years of effort by brokers looking for a kinder, gentler image for the gentrifying west side neighborhood.

One story attributes its name to a conversation between two 19th century cops who turned out to break up a gang fight.

When the young cop remarked, “This place is hell itself!” the older cop responded “Hell is a mild climate. This is hell’s kitchen.”

Whether it’s substance or style that makes a name popular, Kent Swig at least believes it has to have heart.
“I think a lot of people are trying to come up with specific brands for neighborhoods,” said Swig.

“Some of them are artificial, but there was nothing artificial about creating FiDi in the area.”

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