Contract - Keep the Faith: Mansour Design transforms Limelight in New York into a family-friendly retail arcade

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Keep the Faith: Mansour Design transforms Limelight in New York into a family-friendly retail arcade

27 September, 2010

-By Jean Nayar


It began its life as the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in a sheep pasture in Manhattan in 1846. More than a century later, in the 1960s, it was converted into an urban community center, and then a drug rehabilitation center in the ’70s. Next it emerged as the notoriously raucous Limelight nightclub in the 1980s, living through two more incarnations as drug-infused dance clubs in the ’90s until its doors were finally shuttered in 2008 after repeated closings by the NYPD. Now, after sitting empty for two years, the Gothic Revival-style church structure once again has found new life—this time as a family-friendly destination shopping arcade called Limelight Marketplace. And its newest occupants—owners of more than 50 unique shops and eateries—may at last be the most comfortable and even wholesomely prosperous in this historic structure’s landmark skin.

Located in New York’s Flatiron District, the original 25,000-sq.-ft. church was designed by the architect Richard Upjohn, a master of the Gothic Revival style and the creator of lower Manhattan’s notable Trinity Church. Built during a grand era for churches in New York, its congregation counted among its members several prominent financiers, businessmen, and industrialists, including Cornelius Vanderbilt, John Jacob Astor and Jay Gould. Founded by the Reverend William Muhlenberg, a rector from Flushing, Queens, who is recognized today as the founder of the Episcopal religious school movement in this country, the church served as a prominent house of worship for decades until it fell on hard times in the mid-20th century. Its last minister petitioned for and was granted landmark status for the church before selling it to a community group with the understanding that it would be used to help the needy.

After legendary club impresario Peter Gatien turned the church into the infamous Limelight dance club, the Reverend’s intentions were inverted, and the historic structure served only those with the need to party—club kids and celebrities like Eddie Murphy, Cheryl Tiegs, Burt Reynolds, and Madonna, who frequented the club in the ’80s and ’90s. But, after enduring three decades of decadence, drug dealing, and even murder, the church’s neighbors gladly kissed its nightclub days good-bye and vocally opposed their return once the most recent club closed. Mindful of the community’s concerns, but eager to repurpose the iconic landmark with a new use, its landlord, Ben Ashkenazy, considered various options before agreeing to a proposal by New York retail developer Jack Menashe to turn the distinguished structure into a retail venue and restore its former luster.

Menashe enlisted New York architect James Mansour of Mansour Design to work on the redesign and renovation. But before starting the project, Mansour encouraged Menashe to join him on a tour of a series of retail markets in London, including Convent Garden, Liberty’s Dover Street Market, and Burlington Arcade, which inspired the intimate European-style marketplace of specialty stores that now characterizes the new retail venue. We wanted to develop a concept that would be entertaining and fun, something that would stand retail conventions on their heads,” says Mansour. “New Yorkers are so jaded that they can sleepwalk through most retail stores and know what to expect.”

After months of reviews with the landmarks commission and a lot of hand holding with a vigilant local community board, the multi-million-dollar renovation project took place in a fast-track time frame of 12 months from kick-off to execution. The result is an exterior that remains largely untouched, and an interior that has been transformed into an intimate yet lively three-story marketplace of small- and mid-sized shops, each with unique facades peppering the twisting and turning lanes of the maze-like layout.

“As we did the demo work to see the condition of the building, we peeled through aggregates of sheetrock 40 inches deep, including walls that had been put up in the 1960s,” says Mansour. “But behind the sheetrock and club banquettes, there were several stained-glass windows that we could see from the outside and were able to preserve. There were also structural steel mezzanine elements that were built in the 1980s, portions of which we reclaimed.” Another challenge was to improve the circulation among the three buildings—the church, the rectory, and the sisters’ house—that make up the complex.

Mansour and his team also developed the branding elements and signage for the Limelight Marketplace. “Among the brand filters were words like chic, surprising, unexpected, uplifting, witty, New York icon, memorable, and fun, and we tried to apply these ideas to every aspect of the project,” he says.

The design recipe draws its unique flavor from a rich mix of sources—shopping scenes from late-night ’40s movies, Broadway stage sets, dashes of the frenetic quality of Japanese shopping districts, and touches of London’s retail scene. “In mixing-up these contrasting retail influences we intended to create a feeling of discovery and yet familiarity for consumers in the grip of a recession,” says Mansour. The designers also produced a series of materials palettes and templates for the vendors to choose from to keep the design cohesive and provide a turn-key way to set up shop with minimal effort. At the same time, they also created all of the elaborate shop façades in varied styles and established off-beat adjacencies—a candy shop next to a boot shop, for example—to wryly evoke a marketplace that has organically evolved over time and to reinforce the sense of discovery. Mansour’s team designed the interiors of more than half the shops, as well, while the remaining shops developed their own store designs in line with their branded store palettes. Some absorbed two or three of the approximately 200-sq.-ft. footprints to create larger spaces, further reinforcing the organic quality of the interiors.

“The goal was to create New York’s most exciting retail environment to date—a hybrid between a department store and a mall,” says Jessica Shier, leasing director for Limelight Marketplace, who was incredibly selective in soliciting and curating a group of vendors that were well-known but not over-saturated in the marketplace. “It wasn’t about stores, but about stories,” she says of the lively mix of vendors, including the It’s Sugar candy shop, Petrossian, Jezelins Gourmet, Olatz luxury linens and sleepwear, and Hunter Boots among others, who have leased space in the building.

Although the project kicked off in the midst of the worldwide economic meltdown and its location is off the beaten retail path, it opened this past May to a celebrity-sprinkled champagne reception, plenty of newspaper and television buzz, lively consumer interest, and positive reviews from the community. And, if all goes as planned, it also promises to inspire the creative reinvention of other neglected landmarks into innovative retail destinations.


who
Project: Limelight Marketplace. Interior designer, graphics: Mansour Design, James Mansour, principal; Melisca Klisanin, creative director; Annaminh Braun, brand director. Architect: Todd Zwigard Architects. Contractor: Extreme Mega Development. Lighting: GoodMart. Photographer: Rob Loud.

what
Paint: Benjamin Moore, Studio Metallics. Laminate: Architectural Systems. Flooring: NY Imperial Stone, Architectural Systems. Architectural woodworking: Wynwood Kitchens. Signage: City Signs.

where
New York, NY. Total floor area: 20,000 sq. ft. No. of floors: 3.



Keep the Faith: Mansour Design transforms Limelight in New York into a family-friendly retail arcade

27 September, 2010


Rob Loud

It began its life as the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in a sheep pasture in Manhattan in 1846. More than a century later, in the 1960s, it was converted into an urban community center, and then a drug rehabilitation center in the ’70s. Next it emerged as the notoriously raucous Limelight nightclub in the 1980s, living through two more incarnations as drug-infused dance clubs in the ’90s until its doors were finally shuttered in 2008 after repeated closings by the NYPD. Now, after sitting empty for two years, the Gothic Revival-style church structure once again has found new life—this time as a family-friendly destination shopping arcade called Limelight Marketplace. And its newest occupants—owners of more than 50 unique shops and eateries—may at last be the most comfortable and even wholesomely prosperous in this historic structure’s landmark skin.

Located in New York’s Flatiron District, the original 25,000-sq.-ft. church was designed by the architect Richard Upjohn, a master of the Gothic Revival style and the creator of lower Manhattan’s notable Trinity Church. Built during a grand era for churches in New York, its congregation counted among its members several prominent financiers, businessmen, and industrialists, including Cornelius Vanderbilt, John Jacob Astor and Jay Gould. Founded by the Reverend William Muhlenberg, a rector from Flushing, Queens, who is recognized today as the founder of the Episcopal religious school movement in this country, the church served as a prominent house of worship for decades until it fell on hard times in the mid-20th century. Its last minister petitioned for and was granted landmark status for the church before selling it to a community group with the understanding that it would be used to help the needy.

After legendary club impresario Peter Gatien turned the church into the infamous Limelight dance club, the Reverend’s intentions were inverted, and the historic structure served only those with the need to party—club kids and celebrities like Eddie Murphy, Cheryl Tiegs, Burt Reynolds, and Madonna, who frequented the club in the ’80s and ’90s. But, after enduring three decades of decadence, drug dealing, and even murder, the church’s neighbors gladly kissed its nightclub days good-bye and vocally opposed their return once the most recent club closed. Mindful of the community’s concerns, but eager to repurpose the iconic landmark with a new use, its landlord, Ben Ashkenazy, considered various options before agreeing to a proposal by New York retail developer Jack Menashe to turn the distinguished structure into a retail venue and restore its former luster.

Menashe enlisted New York architect James Mansour of Mansour Design to work on the redesign and renovation. But before starting the project, Mansour encouraged Menashe to join him on a tour of a series of retail markets in London, including Convent Garden, Liberty’s Dover Street Market, and Burlington Arcade, which inspired the intimate European-style marketplace of specialty stores that now characterizes the new retail venue. We wanted to develop a concept that would be entertaining and fun, something that would stand retail conventions on their heads,” says Mansour. “New Yorkers are so jaded that they can sleepwalk through most retail stores and know what to expect.”

After months of reviews with the landmarks commission and a lot of hand holding with a vigilant local community board, the multi-million-dollar renovation project took place in a fast-track time frame of 12 months from kick-off to execution. The result is an exterior that remains largely untouched, and an interior that has been transformed into an intimate yet lively three-story marketplace of small- and mid-sized shops, each with unique facades peppering the twisting and turning lanes of the maze-like layout.

“As we did the demo work to see the condition of the building, we peeled through aggregates of sheetrock 40 inches deep, including walls that had been put up in the 1960s,” says Mansour. “But behind the sheetrock and club banquettes, there were several stained-glass windows that we could see from the outside and were able to preserve. There were also structural steel mezzanine elements that were built in the 1980s, portions of which we reclaimed.” Another challenge was to improve the circulation among the three buildings—the church, the rectory, and the sisters’ house—that make up the complex.

Mansour and his team also developed the branding elements and signage for the Limelight Marketplace. “Among the brand filters were words like chic, surprising, unexpected, uplifting, witty, New York icon, memorable, and fun, and we tried to apply these ideas to every aspect of the project,” he says.

The design recipe draws its unique flavor from a rich mix of sources—shopping scenes from late-night ’40s movies, Broadway stage sets, dashes of the frenetic quality of Japanese shopping districts, and touches of London’s retail scene. “In mixing-up these contrasting retail influences we intended to create a feeling of discovery and yet familiarity for consumers in the grip of a recession,” says Mansour. The designers also produced a series of materials palettes and templates for the vendors to choose from to keep the design cohesive and provide a turn-key way to set up shop with minimal effort. At the same time, they also created all of the elaborate shop façades in varied styles and established off-beat adjacencies—a candy shop next to a boot shop, for example—to wryly evoke a marketplace that has organically evolved over time and to reinforce the sense of discovery. Mansour’s team designed the interiors of more than half the shops, as well, while the remaining shops developed their own store designs in line with their branded store palettes. Some absorbed two or three of the approximately 200-sq.-ft. footprints to create larger spaces, further reinforcing the organic quality of the interiors.

“The goal was to create New York’s most exciting retail environment to date—a hybrid between a department store and a mall,” says Jessica Shier, leasing director for Limelight Marketplace, who was incredibly selective in soliciting and curating a group of vendors that were well-known but not over-saturated in the marketplace. “It wasn’t about stores, but about stories,” she says of the lively mix of vendors, including the It’s Sugar candy shop, Petrossian, Jezelins Gourmet, Olatz luxury linens and sleepwear, and Hunter Boots among others, who have leased space in the building.

Although the project kicked off in the midst of the worldwide economic meltdown and its location is off the beaten retail path, it opened this past May to a celebrity-sprinkled champagne reception, plenty of newspaper and television buzz, lively consumer interest, and positive reviews from the community. And, if all goes as planned, it also promises to inspire the creative reinvention of other neglected landmarks into innovative retail destinations.


who
Project: Limelight Marketplace. Interior designer, graphics: Mansour Design, James Mansour, principal; Melisca Klisanin, creative director; Annaminh Braun, brand director. Architect: Todd Zwigard Architects. Contractor: Extreme Mega Development. Lighting: GoodMart. Photographer: Rob Loud.

what
Paint: Benjamin Moore, Studio Metallics. Laminate: Architectural Systems. Flooring: NY Imperial Stone, Architectural Systems. Architectural woodworking: Wynwood Kitchens. Signage: City Signs.

where
New York, NY. Total floor area: 20,000 sq. ft. No. of floors: 3.
 


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