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In early fall there was a problem on Fifth Avenue.

In a matter of weeks, about 750,000 daily visitors would descend on the northern part of the thoroughfare to see the famous holiday windows, an uplifting, nostalgic tradition for many tourists and New Yorkers alike.

Yet there was a depressing sight: four colossal buildings that were vacant, vacant, vacant, vacant. Until recently, the buildings had been the flagship locations for Polo Ralph Lauren, Henri Bendel, Massimo Dutti, and Tommy Hilfiger.

To put it bluntly, said Michael Hirschfeld, who works in commercial real estate, it was “mood killing.”

So the Fifth Avenue Association, which represents more than 120 establishments, sprung into action, deciding to do more of what Fifth Avenue does best: Holiday windows.

The association hired the designer Mark Briggs, who has created window scenes for Harrods and Saks Fifth Avenue, to create four new displays for the empty buildings. The designs will not represent any company or brand, but rather the romance of the city in high winter, with scenes of ice skating in Central Park and skyscrapers made of gingerbread.

It was an ideal project for Mr. Briggs. “Not to have to think about a product,” he said, “is the best thing for a creative.”

The fact that Fifth Avenue tenants are teaming up to create something that belongs not to an individual retailer but to the area as a whole is a sign of what is to come. It’s time for Fifth Avenue, many local experts say, to remake itself.

“Fifth Avenue has to change and go beyond its traditional missions,” said Jerome Barth, president of the Fifth Avenue Association.

Mr. Barth is planning more for Fifth Avenue. The specifics are a surprise, but he hinted at more theatrical performances, art installations and pop-up events.

Still, many New Yorkers want to avoid the area at all costs, regardless of the cool new enticements.

Inyang Akpan, 34, who lives in the East Village and owns a game developing company, can’t imagine spending time on Fifth Avenue. “I don’t even know what stores are up there anymore,” he said. “I want to go where the smaller brands are. Everyone wants these small curated experiences instead of huge flagships.”

Clearly, Mr. Barth has his work cut out for him. In order to produce the new holiday windows, for example, he had to convince his board — a powerful group including executives from Tiffany & Co., the Trump Organization, The St. Regis New York and Rolex — of the idea.

Mr. Barth does have some credibility to his name. For many years he worked at the Bryant Park Corporation and the Times Square Alliance, where he gained experience diversifying commercial centers. It was his idea to create the “show globes” — installations housed inside igloos that are inspired by Broadway shows — currently dotting Times Square. His ideas come from all different places, he said. “I read very widely, both novels, nonfiction, magazines, newspapers, and I follow about 200 blogs,” he said. “I travel, and I think about what is good in a space when I see one.”

But transforming Fifth Avenue, a high-end shopping destination for over 150 years, into a center of interactive experiences that complement the stores, will be a different challenge for him.

The holiday windows are his first test. “People aren’t used to working this way on Fifth Avenue,” he said. “Honestly, we are trying to build legitimacy. We have to show we can produce on a high level.”

The holiday windows will be on display through January 5th.



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