Two years after opening amid much fanfare, Saks Fifth Avenue is pulling the plug on its three-level, 86,000-square-foot women’s store in Brookfield Place. The space, at 225 Liberty Street, was extensively remodeled in 2015 and 2016 to accommodate Saks, which was billed as the anchor retail tenant that would lead the transformation of the shopping areas in the former World Financial Center, as the complex underwent a $250-million renovation into an upscale mall. For Saks, more than 10,000 square feet of formerly public space in the once-soaring lobby of 225 Liberty (then known as Two World Financial Center) was privatized and repurposed into retail floors.
This development comes at time when many retailers are struggling in Lower Manhattan. In October, Brooks Brothers closed its Financial District store after 45 years of doing business at One Liberty Plaza. And in 2015, Fairway cancelled plans for a Tribeca outpost (at Greenwich and Murray Streets) 24 months after announcing plans for a 50,000-square-foot store, without ever opening the facility. A similar misfire occurred when Saks Fifth Avenue announced in 2015 that it would also debut a branch of its outlet brand, Saks Off 5th, at One Liberty Plaza in 2017. That store never opened.
In recent years, retailers focused on lower price points appear to have made greater inroads into the Downtown retail landscape than their more upscale peers. Examples of discounters that have planted their flags locally include TJ Maxx (in the Financial District), Target (in the Tribeca space once slated for Fairway), and Marshalls (opposite the World Trade Center). During this time, Century 21, the paradigmatic discounter that opened on Church Street in 1961, has continued to dominate the local retail landscape.
Saks plans to shutter it women’s store on January 5, but expects to continue operating its much smaller men’s store, located elsewhere within Brookfield Place.
In a separate, but related, development, Battery Park City resident Ann Schwalbenberg spoke during the public comment session of the December 11 meeting of the board of the Battery Park City Authority, to protest Brookfield’s proposed remodeling of the domed, octagonal lobby at 200 Liberty Street. (This structure, located directly across the street from 225 Liberty, was designed as a twin to the lobby that was converted into retail space prior to the opening of Saks, in 2016.) Brookfield now plans to absorb several thousand square feet of public space in the lobby of 200 Liberty to create multiple new restaurants.
At the December 11 meeting, Ms. Schwalbenberg said, “I think it would be criminal if they destroy the marble floor, the stairways, with their incredible design. All to dumb down the lobby into some food court? They only want chains in this building. They don’t want anything special.”
“It’s their building and there is probably little that anybody can say about their plan,” Ms. Schwalbenberg, who is a leader of the Battery Park City Seniors group, “but our seniors meet all the time,” in the public space of the 200 Liberty lobby. Ms. Schwalbenberg has since begun circulating a petition to protest the plan.