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OpinionColumnistsWilliam F. B. O'Reilly

What will become of Manhattan?

Some are discussing rezoning midtown Manhattan office buildings

Some are discussing rezoning midtown Manhattan office buildings into residential units. Credit: P. Coughlin

I had quite forgotten about The Times Square Ripper.

Netflix jogged my memory with its new "Crime Scene" docuseries.

I had nearly forgotten, too, about the Manhattan it depicts, the gritty, chaotic, crime-riddled (and somehow wonderful) borough I grew up in.

It was a long time ago.

My family fled the city a few years before the "Torso Killer," as Richard Cottingham was also known, became front-page news, so I can’t blame him for our departure. I’m not sure what the final straw was, but our aged doorman, Nick, getting his teeth knocked out defending our building one night had to be a consideration.

It was a great place to grow up. For real.

One of our neighbors — another kid growing up there — was former Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance. Fancy-pants people like New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger lived in our building, too. Sammy Davis Jr. was across the street; Robert Redford up the block.

But in 1972 we called it quits. My father, who’d paid $65,000 for our five-bedroom in 1964 — a lot of money for us — surely chuckled as he unloaded the place for $135,000.

Last June, the identical apartment above ours sold for $7.4 million (whoops!). That’s the Manhattan most people know now — the one I lived in, far less grandly, as an adult.

Things seem up in the air again for Manhattan today, though. It’s worrisome. Crime is returning, and Vance’s successor, D.A. Alvin Bragg, recently announced that he’ll forgo pursuing prison sentences for all but the most serious offenses. That's not going to help. No-cash-bail is already turning accused felons back out onto the streets with predictable effect.

On top of that, there’s deep uncertainty about the future of Manhattan’s business districts. COVID-19 has done a number on them, and the jury’s out on how many office workers will return when things cheer up. Working from home could be the next dress-down Friday. Ask Brooks Brothers and Men’s Wearhouse what happened there. New York’s planned 2023 congestion pricing scheme south of 60th Street in Manhattan, something I’m working against, would put a paywall up to enter midtown and the Financial District by car. Not the best timing.

Some are discussing rezoning midtown office buildings into residential units. But who will live there if jobs have gone elsewhere? Is it worth living in a 500-square-foot apartment when you’re working from home?

When I left the city, the second time, friends were shocked. They thought I’d be the last to go. I knew better. My friend, Alexander Stephens, who grew up a few blocks from where I did on the East Side, would be the final holdout among us.

He and his wife, Tiffany, a lovely, straight-talking Texan, headed south for Florida this week.

"My fervent wish is to declare that leaving New York is the toughest thing I have ever done," Stephens wrote in his blog, "Around Six Fifty." "The fact that it isn’t is what hurts the most."

All this aside, buildings continue going up in Manhattan and rents are skyrocketing as usual. Smarter people than I are investing a lot of money on that island.

And a daughter’s boyfriend from Spain visited for the holidays. Guess where he went first — right to Times Square.

Opinions expressed by William F. B. O’Reilly, a consultant to Republicans, are his own.