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NEW YORK CITY-The Consumer Price Index was up, prices rose in June and there was increased production for autos and electronics. All are glimmers of hope that the economic outlook is getting better. And in Manhattan, brokers are seeing the signs that it just might be true.

“Consumers are back shopping,” says Faith Hope Consolo, vice chairman of Garrick-Aug Worldwide Ltd. “It’s been very active all over the city and in the tri-state area. Vacancy rates are down. Those that were sitting on the sidelines are expanding in the market.”

In fact, average asking rents for retail space in Manhattan have risen to $88 from $85 per sf in the past six months according to The Real Estate Board of New York May retail report, a semi-annual, comprehensive collection of retail market data from a broad cross-section of the city’s top real estate firms. During the same period, available square footage has decreased marginally by 0.5%.

“The report shows a snapshot of a market that seems to offer opportunity for retailers looking to establish or expand their presence in New York City,” offers Steven Spinola, REBNY president. “There is premium space available on some of the most sought after retail venues in the world. Retailers should take note that while space is available, asking rents are relatively stable, and in some cases edging slightly higher.”

Burger Heaven is one retailer that is expanding it presence in Manhattan. The 60-year-old eatery, which boasts five New York City locations already, is about to make its Third Avenue debut. The chain recently committed to a 15-year lease with a five-year option for a new 1534 Third Ave/ restaurant, slated to open in the fall. Formerly home to the Wiz, the space, situated between 86th and 87th Street, is comprised of 2,200 sf on the ground floor and another 1,800 sf each on the mezzanine and basement levels.

Lansco Corp. director Tom Duke and executive VP Mike Antkies represented the tenant and negotiated the lease directly with the landlord, Howard Mcgee. “Burger Heaven has been looking for a location in this area for several years now,” notes Duke. “The lease for this space was negotiated within a week, enabling the landlord to start receiving cash flow once again and the tenant to move their contractors from a remodeling to this new build-out.”

Lansco recently negotiated a 10-year lease for 700 sf of retail space at 7 East 14th Street on behalf of Subway, the world’s largest submarine sandwich franchise. Located between University Place and Fifth Avenue, on the west side of Union Square Park, the eatery will feature the chain’s new “Tuscany décor” and premium copper signage to conform with the building’s upcoming façade renovations. Subway plans to open at this location in October. “There is an overwhelming amount of pedestrian traffic in the area, which draws tourists and businesspeople alike who want quick, quality food at a reasonable price,” says Duke. The owner, Rockrose Development, was represented in-house in the negotiations.

Garrick-Aug is exclusively marketing a number of Soho area retail spots include 70-72 Wooster St. In addition to this assignment, Consolo and managing director Joseph A. Aquino are currently representing six prime retail properties in Soho. “With new stores and galleries opening practically every single day, Wooster Street is fast becoming one of the most exciting shopping corridors to explore in Soho,” adds Consolo.

However, this retail increase is not just concentrated in particular neighborhoods. REBNY’s breakdown of the data by market shows that asking rents for ground floor space in high-end retail corridors, such as Fifth Avenue between 48th and 59th streets and Madison Avenue between 57th and 67th streets, rose –22% and 38%, respectively. Overall, the average asking rent for ground floor space along the primary retail streets increased 4.9%.

Meanwhile, average-asking rents for all retail space in Midtown South declined 1.4 percent. Major retail corridors Downtown also fell. For instance, Hudson Street in Tribeca had a 1.6% decline and Broadway in Lower Manhattan had a 7.4% decline for ground floor space. REBNY advisory group member Robin Abrams, vice president at Lansco, suggests favorable lease terms offered by landlords should be encouraging to tenants. “We have found that a lot of potential tenants have been hesitant to pull the trigger over the past few months due to uncertainty in the economy, the war in Iraq and tax increases in New York, among other factors. But, after some coaxing on the part of landlords, tenants can find a lot of opportunity out there right now.”

Consolo believes the recent tax cut gave consumers a psychology boost that the government wants to work with them and that the next key factor to show signs of an economic turnaround will be the unemployment rate.

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