Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with Daria Siegel from the Downtown Alliance. In part we discussed our work at SWARM, though the majority of our time was spend discussing one of the Alliance‘s programs – branded as LaunchLM. A relatively new initiative that is seeking to diversify the types of companies that exist in the lower part of manhattan.
For those unfamiliar with the City, for a long time this area was home to the banking industry and is still, for the most part, known as the Financial District – or FiDi. In 2001 when the World Trade Center was hit, many of these financial institutions moved to MidTown or New Jersey changing the industry landscape for good. Then in 2012, when things were finally on the up and up, hurricane Sandy hit the city and added insult to injury. All of a sudden, the Financial District wasn’t so financial any more.So what’s a city to do? Make the financial district a vibrant multi-use neighborhood. Enter the Downtown Alliance and LaunchLM, an initiative trying to bring the ever growing number of creatives, developers and tech companies into Lower Manhattan.
This neighborhood has been waiting for an initiative of this caliber for sometime. As someone who at one point worked down here, and now lives here, FiDi has a lot to offer – though I’d agree with the sentiment that it doesn’t quite know who it is. So while at a café in MidTown late last week, my business partner and I got to thinking about how we’d handle the branding for the “tip” of the City.
Branding – This is LoMa
Our first step was to change the name – we both agreed the area should sound casual, not forced, and be simple to say. With that we felt that rebranding the Financial District / FiDi / LowerManhattan to LoMa was more in tune with the rest of the city, i.e. SoHo, NoHo, TriBeCa, DUMBO, Nolita. It rolls of the tongue. As for the similarity to MoMa (for the nay sayers here – think – the NBA and an MBA).
Next we considered who the Downtown Alliance is trying to bring here, those same creatives, developers, and new tech companies mentioned before. From our experience these are people who enjoy community – one that is driven by socializing – be it through meetups, art, get togethers, and/or other social lubricants.However, the image of LoMa is still wholly FINANCIAL. When I first moved here, and people asked me what the area was like, I described it by saying – “It’s cool, it’s right next to Chinatown, and the LES.”
But the truth of the matter is that office buildings tower over streets that have actual names instead of numbers and guys in suits are still the most common type of wild animal in the neighborhood. After 7pm the fauna changes, and the region can seem mostly dead to the outsider apart form a few isolated pockets. In short, Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will is LoMa, but what we found most interesting was that the Downtown Alliance was keeping this corporate image.
Yet living here – coming from the Lower East Side – one of the best features was the relative lack of noise, especially the screaming drunk girls on any given night. “OMG JENNIFER YOU HAVE TO GO TO THIS BAR. JENNIFFEERRRRRRRR. OMG ITS A BAAARRRR, BAAAAR(F)!!!”That doesn’t mean the area is dead, not at all – aside from the mass of tourists by the seaport if you stumble in at the wrong times – the area has a pretty unique nightlife.
There’s an outdoor beach bar overlooking the water with glowing chairs and yes – a sandy beach floor (which – for the ladies out there – my partner would like you to know is not high heel friendly). It also has what some consider the worlds best cocktail bar, Dead Rabbit, and what feels like open container law doesn’t apply on Stone street, not because anything illegal is happening, but because the majority of the street is filled with outdoor restaurant seating and friends toasting beers.
Being a current resident – I looked at all the benefits of the area for myself and realized it’s a weird little part of manhattan. There are large buildings like the über modern Gehry with small cobblestone streets only a few blocks away. There’s an artisinal farmers market alongside the chain stores of the seaport. It’s a quick ferry ride to Ikea and a short walk to department stores like Century 21. If you ever get lost you only need to look up for the World Trade Center and you can find your way around. And the new (and very awkward) Bitcoin center just opened up across from the Stock Exchange.
This area really is a melting pot of oddness. And with almost all the subway lines running through or around Fulton St, it’s pretty central to the ever expanding landscape of the city – Brooklyn – is two stops away – about 5 minutes. The PATH train ride to New Jersey is only 20 minutes.Looking at all this, we felt the current LM branding didn’t address how diverse this area is. Though maybe that isn’t necessary for a successful campaign.
Maybe the questions is, what do tech companies look for? Having worked for years with startup, at startups, and advising startups we got to know the tech feel of things. At tech companies across the board, work/life balance is key. Ease of transportation, delicious food, places the company can go after work for drinks are all nice-to-haves. Community, like those provided by co-working spaces, helps significantly. The other thing tech companies look for is low cost space to leave their macbook pros, work with the team, and meet investors. In fact – that sounds exactly like LoMa.