Collectors reserve space as New York’s first art freeport prepares for summer launch

New facility offers museum-quality environment and cutting-edge security


Soon the burgeoning Harlem art scene will boast one venue where the works will pointedly not be on view: Arcis, a 110,000 sq. ft, purpose-built art storage facility within a federally designated Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) that is insured to hold up to $3bn in art.

Tom Sapienza, executive director, Arcis Fine Art Collection + Care. Photo: Richard Mitchell, 2016

Scheduled to open in July, Arcis is the fruit of nearly two years’ work by former executives of the art logistics firms Crozier and Dietl and developer Cayre Equities to create storage to serve the needs of international collectors in Manhattan. As in international freeports in Geneva and Singapore, works of art held within the facility will be exempt from US duty and excise tax until they exit. (New York state sales tax may apply; Arcis advises clients to seek legal advice on tax implications.) Collectors are already reserving space.

“While the FTZ designation is receiving a lot of deserved attention, the foundation of Arcis is providing real, museum-level sustainable storage to the private sector,” Tom Sapienza, Arcis’s executive director, says. He and the director of operations, Kevin Lay, partnered with the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and Vidaris, the consulting firm used by the Whitney Museum for the envelope of its new building, to create a sustainable microclimate system that filters the air three to six times per hour (LEED and BREEAM environmental assessment certifications are in the works).

Comparing Arcis with other storage facilities he has worked in is, Lay says, like comparing “apples and oranges”. The building has ceiling heights of up to 16ft in one of its viewing rooms and “robust, 21st-century” security features, such as retinal scanning.

Kevin Lay, director of operations, Arcis Fine Art Collection + Care. Photo: Richard Mitchell, 2016

The proprietary business model was a key factor in obtaining the FTZ nod—the first of its kind in New York—while the West 146th Street site, formerly a parking lot, allowed for the highest possible insurance rating from broker Willis Towers Watson, which saw no “accumulation risk”, in contrast to ­locations in the city’s Chelsea area.

“Manhattan lost 165,000 sq. ft of traditional art storage capacity in the summer of 2016,” Sapienza notes. “The art market was ready for an upgrade.”

It is hard to overstate that upgrade when coupled with the option of tax-free status. Freeports have come under scrutiny as tax shelters, particularly for works of art. While Arcis contracts put the onus of disclosure on the client, Lay says: “This is not a place for subterfuge or malfeasance. If the FBI or Interpol should come along, assuming there is a warrant or our lawyers tell us it’s OK, we will comply.”