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Makor's Upper East Side Story

By: Liel Leibovitz
Published: 5/25/2006Source: The Jewish Week

Is the central address of young Jewish hipness moving cross-town from the Upper West to the Upper East Side?

That’s the question in the air this week in the wake of the 92nd Street Y’s surprising announcement that Makor, the 7-year-old cultural mecca for young Jews on West 67th Street, will be moving across Central Park to join its parent organization at 92nd Street and Lexington Avenue.

The move is scheduled to occur in the next three to five years, during which time the Y’s building will undergo a major renovation. Meanwhile, Makor’s programming is slated to move to a different, as yet undecided location. The West 67th Street townhouse that has hosted Makor since it opened in 1999 will be sold.

The cultural center which helped launch the career of jazz singer Norah Jones and arguably raised the Jewish cultural bar with forward-thinking musical programming, lectures and films was purchased by philanthropist Michael Steinhardt in 1997 for $16 million; it is currently valued at $25 million, according to press reports.

The relocation of Makor raises questions that transcend issues of New York real estate deals. More than anything, the venue was perceived as the crown jewel of the Upper West Side’s young Jewish scene. And the move, some experts say, may shed light on the city’s changing demographics.

According to Deborah Grubman, senior vice president at Corcoran, the leading residential real estate company, the traditional framework of New York’s real estate dividing the city’s neighborhoods into affordable and exorbitantly expensive is no longer in place. In lieu of distinct neighborhood-based price tags, she said, Manhattan now has what she termed pockets.

There are no longer inexpensive areas, said Grubman. Certain buildings and locations will command a high price, and others will not.  As a result, she said, young people seeking affordable housing are no longer likely to congregate, as they did in past decades, in a specific neighborhood.

For young Jews, like young people citywide, that neighborhood for years was the Upper West Side. Now, with the West Side inundated with new, upscale apartment buildings, trendy restaurants and expensive boutiques, young Jews seem to be flocking elsewhere.

The implications of such a shift, said Alix Friedman, a spokeswoman for the Y, are that a center like Makor can no longer be said to have an attachment to a particular neighborhood.

Makor’s patrons are more geographically dispersed than you might think, she said.  Only 17 percent of them come from the Upper West Side. Another 13 percent come from the Upper East Side, while 14 percent come from Brooklyn and 20 percent from outside New York City altogether.

And yet, for Makor’s patrons, the reactions seem to vary by ZIP code.

Aimee Friedman, 26, the author of young adult best seller South Beach and a resident of the Upper West Side who has frequented Makor’s classes and events, said she felt a sense of loss.

“I feel the West Side has always been such a bastion of Jewish culture and young Jewish life, she said, and I’m a little surprised that Makor is leaving. Makor, in many ways, felt like the center of young Jewish activity, and [its departure] is going to change the neighborhood.“

Echoing those sentiments, Dov Rosenblatt, the singer of the band Blue Fringe and a fixture on Makor’s stage, said that although the crowd in attendance might be diverse, there was a point to be made for proximity.

“Makor was right there, right near everybody”, he said.  “It was also a classy venue for all the arts to meet, and the West Side thrived on that. Everybody went there for different events.“

And while Rosenblatt said he was not opposed to the idea of moving Makor’s programming to the East Side, he liked the idea of the Y having a presence on both sides of Central Park.  “It created a crossing, he said.  People could go to events on both sides of town.“

For Makor’s patrons who live on the Upper East Side, however, the move is a blessing.

Joel Kandy, a 30-year-old analyst who lives on 94th Street and First Avenue, said that his side of town, despite a recent substantial boom, has for too long been ignored.

“More and more young people are moving to the East Side”, he said.  “In my building, new apartments go within a day, because it’s still affordable.  Makor’s relocation, he added, will help serve the new young population well.“

“Look at David Broza”, he added, referring to the Israeli singer’s tradition of holding a Christmas Eve concert at the 92nd Street Y.  “He sells out every year.  I think the Upper East Side is the next hip spot for young Jews and Israelis.“

The Y’s Alix Friedman concurs, offering statistics to support the claim that the East Side is awakening.  “About 25,000 New Yorkers in their 20s and 30s regularly attend lectures, concerts, workshops and other programs at our headquarters at Lexington Avenue and 92nd Street“, she said.

As the demographics change, so must programming, said Sol Adler, the 92nd Street Y’s executive director.

“The Y has been around for 132 years”, he said “and no program here looks like it did 132 years ago, 30 years ago or three years ago. They all evolve according to the population. By the time Makor comes into the building, whoever it is that’s creating the program will be designing what’s optimal for the moment.“

Adler said that the Y was looking forward to creating on the East Side a space for Makor that will include not only improved performance spaces and classrooms, but also a place for young Jews to eat, drink and congregate.

Still, selling Makor’s current property may prove difficult. Speaking to The New York Sun last week, Tim Sheehan, a senior vice president at CB Richard Ellis, the real estate company that is handling the sale, said that the property is unusual because it sits on a double-wide lot, and from the time it was built in 1904 has never been used as a private home.

Meanwhile, Adler said he was looking for a temporary home to house Makor’s programs until the renovation of the Y is complete. Adler said he has looked at more than 30 locations all over the city, and is currently focusing on six properties.

None of them have gotten to the point where it looks like we’re negotiating a lease, he said, but termed the locations he was considering places of real interest.

And what, he was asked, if the temporary location proves a hit?

“The only thing that the board has approved is to move Makor to the Upper East Side, Adler said. But I don’t know any institution that wants to run away from success. If [the temporary location] is wildly successful, if Hashem makes it happen, we’ll take a good look at it.”