Port Authority Chief Economist Foresees Moderate Growth for 2012

Both the region and country have reason to expect economic growth in 2012, according to Alexander Heil, Chief Economist for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

"We’re in pretty decent shape for moderate growth between two and three percent." Heil says.

Heil warns that overall recovery will not be fast. Under the best circumstances, conditions toward the end of 2012 will feel noticeably different than they did at the end of 2011. However, he notes that he is wary that growth could be hampered by three potential hurdles, which are:  

Hurdle #1 – Worsening conditions in Europe

Heil calls the ongoing European financial crisis "a train wreck" that Americans must watch carefully in order to prepare for the outcome.

"It’s a very complicated problem. If you totaled up the volume of European debt that needs to be rolled over this year, we’re approaching a trillion Euros. And it’s tough to find buyers for that debt at the interest levels being discussed currently."

Heil is not convinced that austerity strategies are the answer.

"The last I heard, Greece was considering laying off 15,000 public sector employees by the end of the year. That’s making the problem worse. You’re crippling economic growth in the short term while the debt continues to grow relative to GDP."

Heil notes that many austerity measures have provoked civil unrest, which in turn can lead to collateral damage and the deployment of security forces, two conditions that can further exacerbate national debt.

"Workers aren’t happy when you tell them they must endure a 40 percent pay cut, lose all their benefits, and retire twenty years later than they’d planned to."

Worsening conditions in Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Greece would likely have an effect on the integrated world economy, including that of the United States.

"I see Europe as the big wildcard right now. Our financial sector is tied to that of Europe, and if I recall correctly, more than 20 percent of U.S. exports coming through New York go to the Eurozone, less than 15 percent of all US exports. So it would certainly affect our economy if one or more countries make a disorderly exit from the Eurozone or the Euro collapses."

Hurdle #2 – Worsening conditions in China

"The data coming out of China is not very transparent," Heil says. "That’s a problem in and of itself. But we’ve seen indications that China’s economy is slowing and may very well endure a hard landing."

Heil cites several factors that concern him, including China’s inflated real estate market, national overinvestment, artificially low currency, and the fact that a burgeoning Chinese middle class has begun to demand better working conditions.

For a long time, China has provided manufactured goods at a tremendously low price. By doing so, they became the number one single  trading partner with the United States. The future of U.S. import markets and the shipping industry could very well be affected by any upset in China.

Hurdle #3 – U.S. domestic policy

Heil calls the balancing the U.S. national debt while enacting short-term stimulus policies "a delicate balance."

"Our nation has accumulated $15 trillion in debt. So you can’t open the [spending] taps without planning for the future. But you also can’t say, ‘We’re already in too deep. No more spending.’ In my opinion, that’s a flawed application of economic policy."

He says the recession inflicted what he calls "very significant pain on American households." As of early February of this year, the U.S. was still down 6 million jobs from pre-recession peaks and the housing market was still paralyzed while people and small businesses found it hard to access credit.

Given these conditions, "some kind of stimulus is needed," Heil says.

He advocates for projects in infrastructure, transportation, telecommunications, health, and education.

"These projects don’t just create jobs in the year in which they’re initiated. They provide sustaining benefits for the country well into the future."

Heil notes that, if these projects are initiated correctly, they should manage short term debt while phasing in farther reaching initiatives that eventually lower the national debt relative to GDP. Ideally, Heil says, policy makers should focus on long-term projects benefitting the next generation of Americans.

"It’s not about creating instantaneous change. It’s more about changing the glide path of the nation’s prosperity."

Economic Outlook for the Port District

The 18 counties of New York and New Jersey that comprise the port district are relatively affluent and populous, and this has allowed them to weather the economic downturn more nimbly than other regions.

"When recessions hit, [our region] is among the last to feel the impact and the first to recover."

Heil’s data shows that 2011 was great for tourism and the hospitality industries. Airport traffic remained high, as did hotel occupancy rates, and new hotel inventory is being added in New York City. Education and healthcare were also strong sectors.

"Education tends to be countercyclical," Heil says. "When people are laid off, they’re more likely to go back to school to acquire new qualifications, very often on a government loan with a low interest rate."

A growth in healthcare makes sense for a densely populous region requiring many hospitals and healthcare services. Heil also points out that many pharmaceutical companies are based in the region.

But in 2012, the region’s economic recovery could lag behind that of the rest of country.

"We’ve seen seismic shifts in the financial sector in the wake of bank failures, the TARP program, and issues of executive compensation. Finance didn’t create much employment growth in 2011."

Heil also notes that 2011 saw a big decline in government sector jobs. The housing market is still hobbled, more so in New Jersey than in New York.

"In short, this makes it difficult to build up any real economic momentum. So if, for instance, we end up seeing two and a half percent growth for the country in 2012, it wouldn’t surprise me if [the region] falls a little behind, say just above two."

Additional factors

Heil offers a few closing thoughts on conditions that could affect economic recovery in 2012.

Income inequality –

Heil says we’ve just seen the tip of the iceberg on this issue.

"If you look at charts of real wage or median household income growth," he says, "it is dismal. Average wages haven’t really gone anywhere for decades but prices have kept going up. Last year we had roughly three percent consumer price growth. If you’re one of those people who isn’t getting a raise, your income is getting squeezed year after year. A sensible policy will have to be found to address this, but it will be difficult, especially in this political climate."

Corporate spending –

Across the board, corporate profits have hit record levels. At some point, CEOs and executive boards will have to make decisions about what to do with that money. They can only buy back so many shares.

"I won’t be surprised if a lot of that money eventually goes into helping businesses expand."

Heil says that when companies hire more people and buy more equipment to expand their operations, it creates "a virtuous circle." In essence, more hiring means more spending, which means more demand, which leads to more investment, which leads to more hiring. Repeat. Repeat.

"There’s evidence that this kind of corporate behavior might happen, and soon," Heil says. "When it begins, it could signal a stronger, more sustained overall recovery. But we’re not quite there yet."

Click here to review a copy of Alexander Heil’s economic report.

An Interview with Richard M. Larrabee, Director of Port Commerce

Richard M. Larrabee serves as the Director of the Port Commerce Department of The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. As such, he oversees the management and operation of the major marine terminal facilities within the Port of New York and New Jersey. Prior to joining the Port Authority, Richard Larrabee held the rank of Rear Admiral in the United States Coast Guard. He served as Commander First Coast Guard District in Boston, MA, where he oversaw all Coast Guard operations in the Northeast United States. During his thirty-two years in the Coast Guard, Rear Admiral Larrabee held a variety of operational and staff assignments, including command at sea and shore assignments. He has received two Distinguished Service Medals and three Legion Merit awards.

Recently Rick sat down with our editor to discuss "How did the Port of New York and New Jersey fare in 2011? And how might it fare in 2012". . .

EDITOR: Rick, at the beginning of last year, the trade was coming off a great year (2010) and very optimistic. How did 2011 turn out for the Port of New York & New Jersey?

LARRABEE: Our container business started 2011 with a blowout quarter. We were up over 15 percent in Q1 2011. However, as the year progressed, the year-over-year comps became weaker due to hiccups in the economy here in the US as well as abroad, and several very tragic occurrences such as the tsunami in Japan. However, we ended up 3.9 percent for the year. It’s interesting to note that our 10-year compound annual growth rate is also about four percent. So 2011 was what can be considered an average year for us. When you compare our results to those of other ports, the 3.9 percent increase was better than all but one of the top 10 container ports in North America. And 2011 was our best year ever at over 5.5 million teus.

Our ExpressRail system also had its best year ever with a 12 percent increase to 422,144 container lifts. The almost $600 million we have committed to building out our intermodal rail system is paying dividends. We now have three intermodal terminals adjacent to the container terminals in Elizabeth (APMT and Maher), Port Newark (Port Newark Container Terminal), and Staten Island (New York Container Terminal), and we just started work on construction of the fourth intermodal terminal adjacent to Global Container Terminal in Port Jersey.

We hope to see further increases in our intermodal rail this year as we continue our penetration toward Midwest, New England, and eastern Canada destinations, as well as adding new interior points like Louisville, Kentucky to the network served from our Port.

EDITOR: What was the import/export mix of your container traffic?

LARRABEE: Due to the robust consumer market in which we are located and the money we have invested in the Port’s infrastructure, the Port of NY & NJ is predominantly an import port with loaded imports and exports accounting for 49 percent and 29 percent respectively of our overall container cargo. This runs contrary to most of our fellow container ports on the US East Coast in that their cargo mix has turned heavily towards exports. It’s not just coincidence that we have more first in calls in New York/New Jersey than all other ports on the coast combined. Our consumer market is the driving factor for cargo on the East Coast. The first in allows importers to get their products to market quicker than through other ports.

That’s not to say that our exports aren’t growing – in fact loaded exports were up over six percent in 2011. We see a growing interest in the exportation of agricultural commodities through our port due to the fact that, because of our large consumer market, we have an inventory of empty containers which is not available in the interior agricultural growing areas or at competing ports. We presently have three agricultural product transloaders near the port, and we’re looking to expand that market substantially in the future.  

EDITOR: As a port whose major business is the importation of consumer goods, what do you think of the discussions regarding the movement of production out of China and the potential for near sourcing in the NAFTA countries?

LARRABEE: China and Hong Kong now account for 36 percent of our import container business. There’s no doubt that major manufacturers and importers are constantly analyzing their manufacturing and sourcing locations as to where they can obtain the best quality product for the best price. Obviously transportation costs play a role in that analysis.

While we do see some anecdotal signs of movement of production back to the US or to Mexico, we don’t see this turning into an avalanche. The east coast of China will remain the manufacturing capital of the world due, if for no other reason, to the extensive manufacturing logistics network that has been built there. Yet we do see westward migration of manufacturing to Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinent.

For instance, our imports from China and Hong Kong were relatively stagnant in 2011 while our imports from India increased 10 percent. We think this is a trend that’s here to stay, and one from which our port will benefit. Because of our large consumer base, the infrastructure that we have built, and the excellent intermodal connections to the interior that we have, we’re the logical port of first call for vessels coming through the Suez.

EDITOR: It’s interesting that you mention the Suez Canal instead of the Panama Canal.

LARRABEE: Right. As I mentioned, China is and will probably remain our main trading partner. However, we see growth coming from South East and the Indian Subcontinent. Carriers don’t currently have the size limitations imposed by the Panama Canal and are bringing vessels as large at 9300 teu into our port through the Suez. However, we do see the new set of locks at the Panama Canal as a very positive development for our port. Carriers will be able to scale up their vessel size on the Panama route and reap the economy of scale benefits from the larger vessels.

All things being equal, the cost of doing business on the East Coast of North America will be reduced, and every time the cost structure changes, businesses re-evaluate their sourcing and routing decisions. An analysis we believe that will be beneficial to us.

EDITOR: You mentioned earlier that one reason for the Port’s success is the investments the Port Authority has made in infrastructure. Can you give us some examples?

LARRABEE: Sure. Let’s start on the water side. We will complete the 50 foot channel to our container terminals in Port Newark, Elizabeth and Port Jersey by the end of this year. The 50 ft. project will reach New York Container Terminal by 2014.

We’re in the middle of the permitting process to raise the Bayonne Bridge from its present air draft of 151 ft. mean high water (mhw) to 215 ft. mhw. Our engineers have developed a very elegant solution to raise the bridge’s roadway that will obviate the need to take any additional property for right of way.

On the terminal side, our container terminal operator partners have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade their equipment and terminal operating systems in order to productively and efficiently handle future cargo growth. Two terminal expansion projects are currently underway at Port Newark Container Terminal and Global Container Terminal.

The Port Authority has invested more than $500 million in our on-dock ExpressRail intermodal system, and we have a very aggressive $400 million roadway capacity expansion project over the next 10 years.

EDITOR: In closing, how do you think the port will do in 2012?

LARRABEE: As a policy, we do not believe in crystal balls. But if the economy continues to expand, the job and housing markets continue to improve, and we don’t have any hiccups, we hope to have another average or better year.

Port of New York and New Jersey Leads Panama Expansion "Arms Race"

A $5.2 billion project to widen the Panama Canal is scheduled to be complete in 2014. The old canal offered passage to vessels capable of carrying 5,000 containers while the refurbished canal will allow vessels carrying 12,000 containers to pass.

How will this affect the balance of trade? Opinions vary, but one thing is certain: everyone’s scrambling to get ready.

The governor of Georgia recently proposed selling approximately $47 million in bonds to partially finance the deepening of Savannah's harbor and channel. Baltimore has nearly completed work to deepen its berths and install larger cranes in order to handle cargo from the larger, forthcoming Panamax vessels. In January, South Carolina’s Governor Haley said the state needed $300 million to dredge Charleston harbor’s channels to 50-feet, again to accommodate the newer vessels.

"It's a virtual arms race in the port industry," said Allison Skipper, a spokeswoman for South Carolina's Port of Charleston, recently in the Bellingham Herald.

Planners for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey agree.

"We saw this particular issue coming a while back," says Pete Zantal, manager of strategic analysis and industry relations for the Port Authority. "And we very carefully built a capital plan which ensures that our port will not only remain competitive, but preeminent among East Coast ports."

Zantal is referring to a menu of projects designed to prepare the New York/New Jersey region for the increased cargo brought by Post-Panamax ships. These projects include:

  • raising the Bayonne Bridge, which will allow taller, Post-Panamax ships to enter the Port of NY and NJ. Forecast price: $1 billion. Preliminary construction could start as early as Spring of 2013.
  • dredging the port’s harbor channels to a depth of 50 feet, which is expected be completed for Port Newark, Elizabeth and Port Jersey terminals by the end of 2012 and to New York Container Terminal by 2014.
  • overhauling key roads that service the port, which will benefit goods shipped by truck. After widening McLester Street in the Elizabeth-Port Authority Marine Terminal, and widening/realigning Port Street and Brewster Road, the Port Authority has now committed $39 million to design and reconstruct a section of Corbin Street along with the wharf and culvert at Berth 3 in Port Newark.
  • expanding the port’s ExpressRail system, the on-dock rail system that moves cargo quickly throughout the region and beyond. While setting a relentless course of expansion and attracting partners in major rail lines like CSX and Norfolk Southern, Express Rail continues to set new records for volume. In 2011, it handled 422,144 containers, a 12 percent increase over 2010.

In late February 2012, the Port Authority announced that the Port of New York and New Jersey set an all-time cargo volume record of 5.5 million 20-Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) in 2011. The previous record was set in 2007 before the most recent economic downturn. Loaded TEU imports rose 4 percent to 1.6 million, while loaded TEU exports increased 6.6 percent to 918,316.

The port’s 2011 cargo volumes represented a nearly 4 percent increase over the previous year during a period when nearly every other port in the country posted flat growth or volume declines.  

Said Port Authority Chairman David Samson (Dredging Today, 2/20/12): "These records demonstrate that, despite these challenging economic times, our commitment to establishing stronger import/export trade relations, retaining and attracting the highest quality operators, and investing in state-of-the-art facilities with the latest technology is working . . . [the capital works plan will] ensure our continued status as an industry leader and primary source of jobs and economic activity for the region."

The Port of New York and New Jersey is the largest U.S. East Coast port and the third largest in the country behind the West Coast ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

According to a recent report filed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (December, 2011 updated February, 2011), the Port of New York and New Jersey "provides more than 269,900 full-time jobs and $11.2 billion in personal income in port related activities." The same report cites that cargo valued at $175 billion passed through the port in 2010.

Port of New York and New Jersey Gains on West Coast Ports

For many years, the adjacent ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in Southern California have ranked as the nation’s top two busiest ports. However, recent figures show a continuing shift in market share. Traffic at East Coast ports has risen while West Coast traffic has waned.

In 2011, total container volume at the Port of New York and New Jersey rose nearly four percent to 5.5 million 20-Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs). This volume set an all-time record.

To view the most recently-posted statistics on TEUs, click here.

Will East Coast trade continue to rise while West Coast trade declines? Opinions vary.

"It used to be that everything (from Asia) landed on the West Coast and got (to the East Coast) by rail," said Michael Morrow in a recent interview with the Star Ledger. Morrow is vice president of the Judge Organization, a trucking and warehousing operation that loads and unloads cargo at Port Newark.

Morrow said that the slated opening of a widened, refurbished Panama Canal in 2014 could tip shipping trends toward the East Coast. (East Coast ports appear to agree. See article: Port of New York and New Jersey Leads Panama Expansion "Arms Race").

James Devine agrees with Morrow’s assessment, though he adds some caveats. Devine is President and CEO of Global Container Terminal.

"[The increase in trade volumes is] not going to be night and day — maybe four to five percent more."

Devine agreed that the Post-Panamax era will "be driven by the economy of bigger ships (and) the efficiency of the terminals." He also noted that Global has spent millions of dollars the last several years "to evolve my handling capacity to accommodate what’s going to happen in the next three years."

Ultimately, the choice between shipping through the East and West Coast ports could boil down to several factors, including:

  • How much less will it cost to bring a container from Asia to the East Coast through the canal?
  • Will the Panama Canal Authority increase tolls?
  • Will West Coast ports and railroads respond with lower rates?
  • How quickly do retailers need their cargo?
  • Will labor stigmas effect the equation one way or the other?

Regarding the question of speed, it takes about 12 days to travel at 20 knots from China to the West Coast. Compare that duration with a 22 day itinerary at the same speed to reach the East Coast (this trip also costs larger vessels about $1 million more).

Regarding labor stigmas, most port professionals still remember the 10 day labor dispute that froze West Coast ports nearly a decade ago. That incident caused what many still consider a seismic shift in the reliance of shipping through West Coast ports. Still, many consultants think the potential benefits from the Panama Canal’s expansion have already been "baked in" to East Coast volume surges. One port consultant, John Martin, quoted in a recent edition of the Bellingham Herald, called the notion of a more business heading east an "urban myth."

Officials from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey do not appear to be taking any chances. The agency just committed $1 billion project to raise the Bayonne Bridge, thereby allowing the taller, post-Panamax ships access to Port Newark. And in recent years, the port has relentlessly expanded its ExpressRail system to move cargo quickly throughout the region.

"We’re certainly making that kind of investment," said Port Authority Chairman David Samson. "That message has been sent to shippers around the world, and to some extent they have already changed their thinking about how they want to deal with the Port Authority, ports and harbors along those lines."

According to Samson, the ease of traveling to the East Coast will affect which ports will dominate the substantial Midwestern market, where goods can arrive by train or truck from either coast. Some analysts argue the "line of demarcation," the point where shipping costs equalize regardless of which coast they arrive from, will move west, therefore driving more business east. But again, this view is contested.

In a recent interview, Samson predicted, "[The Port of New York and New Jersey] will win the Midwest in general, and Chicago in particular, by rail . . . that is our objective."

Two New Engines Mean Cleaner Air at Port

The air near Port Newark and Elizabeth will be a little cleaner today and for many days to come thanks to a Port Authority-supported green technology partnership to retrofit two switcher locomotives with ultra-low-emitting engines.

These two GENSET locomotives will join three other GENSET locomotives, which were retrofitted using funds provided by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and are now serving the port.

The retrofits are an action item within the Port Authority’s Clear Air Action Strategy for the Port of New York and New Jersey. Each new GENSET engine is expected to:

  • reduce the current fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions of the locomotives by approximately 25 percent;
  • reduce ozone precursors (NOx and volatile organic compounds) by approximately 79 percent;
  • reduce particulate emissions by approximately 44 percent; and
  • lower fuel costs.

"The Port Authority teamed up with CSX and the Norfolk Southern Railway to create a matching grant package where each railroad provided $300,000 apiece," says Robert L. James, a Principal Transportation Planner for the agency. "The PA added $600,000, and together, these funds qualified for a matching $1.8 million in federal Congestion Management Air Quality Funds."

James notes that these funds were made available through the air quality program sponsored by the North Jersey Transportation Authority (NJTPA) with grant support provided by the New Jersey Department of Transportation.

Photos of CSX inspection team

Pictured above: the first CSX GENSET locomotive delivered for inspection on by its team on February 22, 2012 prior to its operation in the Northern New Jersey Shared Assets Area. Bob James of the Port Authority is second from the left.

2012 Port Guide Now Available

The Port of New York and New Jersey is the largest port on the East Coast and the third largest port in the U.S. Last year, more than $175 billion worth of cargo passed through our facilities. As steward to this vital center of commerce, our agency began to publish a Port Guide more thirty years ago.

The Guide serves as the "go to" tool book for customers of the Port of New York and New Jersey. It is divided into three main sections.

  • The first contains articles about the maritime complex, with details regarding its various facilities including maps and tables.
  • The second contains a directory of port services such as maritime services, terminals and transportation, customs brokers, and freight forwarders.
  • The final component is dedicated to aviation and the air cargo industry, again with appropriate, up-to-date maps and tables.

But why take our word for it? Visit http://seaportsinfo.com/panynj/. Download a free PDF version of the guide for yourself and see how useful you find it!

CSX Opens Rail Service to Louisville

CSX Transportation (CSXT) announced the start of operations at its new Louisville intermodal terminal. The Louisville facility will offer international service to and from the Port of NY & NJ’s on dock ExpressRail system.

Click here for a list of both inbound and outbound schedule information.

Please pay special attention to the following important terminal information:

  • The physical address is 8021 National Turnpike, Louisville, KY 40214
  • The terminal phone number is 502-813-5700
  • Gate hours will be Monday through Friday 0600-2200
  • SPLC: 286550
  • FIRMS code: 1-399

For more information, please contact your Intermodal Sales Representative or Customer Service Specialist.

For rail schedules, please click here.

As a reminder, Norfolk Southern now offers on-dock service to Columbus.

New Gate Service at Red Hook Container Terminal

As of Tuesday, February 14, 2012, the Red Hook Container Terminal (formerly American Stevedoring) in Brooklyn, NY and Port Newark, NJ transitioned to a new Terminal Operating System.

Truckers, brokers, forwarders, carriers, and shippers can get the most up to date container status information, view vessel schedules, and check on bookings via the web.

To register for an account, please visit https://rhct.tideworks.com/fc-RHCT and sign up as a new member.

Existing accounts will not be automatically transferred to the new system.

If you have any questions or difficulty registering, please contact:

Mr. Deryck Mayers,
Manager, Customer Service
at 973-522-0999 x217 or dmayers@redhookterminal.com.

Long Island Port Industry Briefing a Success

The Port Authority hosted its annual Long Island Port Industry Briefing luncheon on March 6, 2012 at the Marriott Residence Inn Long Island, in Plainview. Seventy-two persons attended from a variety of port-related industries, including beneficial cargo owners, forwarders/brokers, NVO’s, ocean and motor carriers, and warehouse operators. 

Two members of the Port Authority’s Port Commerce department, Bill Cronin and Sharon McStine, gave a presentation that focused on a number of port issues such as:

  • the 50-foot dredging program, roadway  improvements at the Port Newark/Elizabeth complex,
  • the status of the over-pass connecting Port Newark Container Terminal and ExpressRail Newark,
  • the expansion projects for Port Newark Container Terminal and Global Marine Terminal, and
  • the status of the recently revised system of Customs Examination Stations in the port.

General manager of cross harbor programs Laura Shabe gave an update on the New York New Jersey Railroad project that will restore the link for freight rail traffic to Long Island.

Beverly Fedorko, representing the New York Shipping Association, provided an explanation of how the Association administers labor agreement and training programs. She also gave the framework for the soon-to-be started labor negotiations and the new contract, which will be effective October 1, 2012. Beverly described in detail the items covered by the Master Contract, which applies coastwise, and the Local Contract, which applies only to the Port of New York and New Jersey.

Photos of Kathleen Goulding, Dorothy Bittner, Dhonna Charron of Estee Lauder International Inc.

From left to right: Kathleen Goulding, Dorothy Bittner, Dhonna Charron of Estee Lauder International Inc.


Lucy Ambrosino

Bill Cronin

Brian Kobza

Robert LaMura

Sharon McStine

Peter Zantal

Photos of Port Activity

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