ARCIS, is a new art tax-free fortress-like storage, in NY but Outside USA.

People entering in it, are like in a Bond movie:  everyone first must submit to an iris scanner, followed by a vascular scanner, while waiting in a mechanized holding vestibule, and that’s just to get to the greeting desk. Once inside, however, you’ll be welcomed by a serene, hotel-like lobby, even if you’ll have a check more to undertake, as ARCIS officials must check the visitor’s government-issued ID before issuing a temporary access badge, whether it’s the first visit.

But all is quite reasonable: It’s all part of standard security to be in a space where hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars worth of fine art and cultural property will eventually be stored.

>> Try to guess where is this futuristic art fortress? Geneva? Luxembourg? Singapore? No, Harlem.

Owned by real estate giant Cayre Equities, this new art-storage place recently opened Upper Manhattan, in a quiet unexpected street,  across from a block-long Metropolitan Transit Authority bus depot. Yes, the location can be very surprising, but the building’s legal status is even more striking:  The custom-built, five-story, 110,000-square-foot warehouse has been designated a foreign trade zone (or FTZ). Translation? New York City now has its very own freeport for duty-free art storage.

Namely, The FTZ designation creates a kind of country-less zone: Once you’ve stepped off 146th street and inside the ARCIS building, you’ve officially left the United States. (And there are several signs outside the building to remind you this, promising fines of up to a quarter of a million dollars and up to 10 years in prison for trespassers.)

ARCIS’s FTZ Warning

A warning posted outside ARCIS storage facility in Harlem.

In addition to the tax advantages of storing artwork in ARCIS’s freeport, the new building offers all what an art collector (or art dealer) need for his 7 figures masterpieces: art transport, climate-controlled storage spaces, and fire, flood, and theft protection systems that are among the most cutting-edge in the world. Padlocks to individual storage spaces are kept in a “21st-century key control box” that tracks every movement of a key.

ARCIS executive director Tom Sapienza and director of operations Kevin Lay drew on the expertise of engineers involved in constructing the new Whitney Museum in New York, as well as the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. So, what prompted such an ambitious undertaking?

One of the things that’s extraordinary about this building is that it was built post-Hurricane Sandy and at a time when the art market has exploded,” Lay explains. “In the 25 years that I’ve been doing this, it’s just astonishing that what used to be commonly available at commercial galleries now constitutes premiere auction lots,” he says, noting the uptick in seven-, eight-, and even nine-figure prices in recent years. “We’re here to protect that.”

“This facility is outside the post-Sandy flood zone and the surge zone,” Sapienza said to Artnet journalist, while taking him visiting the building  “That’s something that was very important to the underwriters.”

They reported  that backup generator, which runs on natural gas as opposed to diesel, is capable of operating 100 percent of the building at any time, and its  gives ARCIS the ability to switch seamlessly between electric and natural gas power, which could come very in handy during power outages, according to Lay.

Climate change is real, no matter what the politics are. People are expecting hotter summers,” he says. “Let’s say Con Edison needs us to come off the grid at any moment, such as a brownout situation. We could do that without any risk.”

The ARCIS leaders expect the building to earn both LEED and BREAM certifications. That’s because the structure, they say, goes above and beyond the organizations’ checklists for environmental friendliness:  The humidity control system, for instance, involves a process called “atomization,” or reverse osmosis, which filters regular tap water, then dechlorinates and softens it. “We use reverse osmosis so we have pure water in this tank,” he says, gesturing at a futuristic set up in one of the mechanical rooms. “This atomizer crushes the water at a molecular level and distributes it into the building for humidity.

ARCIS, inside

This highly advanced process, indeed  has a significant impact on energy use, which lowers costs:  Sapienza says to Artnet  that steam humidity that costs $100 is $10 using atomization Aside from all of the green features and technical advanced features , the building also facilitates the showing of artwork: Clients can take advantage of five viewing rooms on the building’s first floor, vary in size, but all look like Chelsea galleries with poured concrete floors and plywood backed walls. ARCIS’s team of art handlers can also customize display and lighting as needed:  The LED lights, a requirement in all new New York City buildings, can be arranged to “the exact spectrum that we need and with interchangeable lenses,” Lay says. (The special bulbs cost $1,000 each; ARCIS has 100 of them.)

At nearly 1,000 square feet, the largest viewing room also boasts a two-ton sculpture hoist on a trolley. “Not only could I hang a Calder up on that—which is fantastic—but this allows you to bring the hook down so you can hang it at waist level and then very gently raise it up,” Lay boasts. Aside from the standard viewing rooms, Artnet reported that there’s also an “aperture” room on the first floor, a small-office size chamber which has its own floor-to-ceiling sliding door: Sapienza and Lay realized the space was too valuable not to offer. “We can rent this room,” Lay says. “[Galleries] can put their registrar in here with a room full of artworks and laptop computer, and this is like an office.” That way, they said, “they don’t have to pay the big price of a viewing room”—a plus in the age of the “virtual” dealer or those without permanent gallery space.

If there is little doubt that ARCIS offers a state-of-the-art option for storage, however,  how much this FTZ tax break will save collectors, or whether the savings will offset the costs of using the facility, remains almost unclear.  And as for ARCIS costs, Sapienza and Lay would only say that they are “within market”, and that viewing rooms cost you extra, they made clear how : “We’re not really selling price. We’re selling the science that went into this building.” And, obviously , science and advanced technology  never come so cheap.


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