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NY Times May 18, 2013
Sky High and Going Up Fast: Luxury Towers Take New York
By CHARLES V. BAGLI
Only 10 floors have been completed in what is intended to be the tallest
residential building in the Western Hemisphere — a slender, 84-story
tower on Park Avenue at 56th Street in Manhattan. But the top penthouse
is already under contract for $95 million.
Other buyers have snapped up apartments on lower floors for prices that
are almost as breathtaking. While their identities are not known, it is
likely that many are the rootless superrich: Russian metals barons,
Latin American tycoons, Arab sheiks and Asian billionaires.
Ultraluxury housing and construction is booming across Manhattan, which
is now beginning to rival London in popularity with the world’s wealthy.
The number of condominium buildings in the borough with apartments
selling for more than $15 million has risen to 49, up from 33 in 2009,
according to CityRealty.
And an additional 20 or so are under construction or in planning.
“There’s a great deal of interest in New York, which is seen as
relatively cheap compared to other global cities,” said Yolande Barnes,
director of research for Savills, an international real-estate firm.
The growth in high-end projects in Manhattan comes as housing for the
working and middle class is in increasingly short supply in the city.
These buildings are proving so profitable that they are warping the
local real-estate market, making it more difficult to put up
Developers have long complained that the prices of land, construction
materials and labor are high in New York, even if they are somewhat less
expensive than in London or Hong Kong.
But builders of ultraluxury apartments have much more latitude on costs
because they are securing spectacular prices for their projects.
As a result, the luxury building trend is driving up the overall cost of
land in the city. Several developers maintained that they could build
moderately priced housing only if they could get significant tax breaks.
“There are only two markets, ultraluxury and subsidized housing,” said
Rafael Viñoly, the architect who designed the tower on Park Avenue at
56th Street, which is called 432 Park.
The rush to build these towers underscores the gap between rich and poor
in New York City, said James Parrott, chief economist for the Fiscal
Policy Institute, a liberal research organization supported by unions.
He said that median family income in the city had fallen 8 percent since
“Manhattan’s superluxury condo boom, along with rocketing foreclosures
in Queens and record homelessness, present an unobstructed view of
accelerating polarization in this recovery,” Mr. Parrott said.
Still, it is not hard to see why developers are flocking to the high end.
Izak Senbahar, the developer of 56 Leonard, a 60-story tower in TriBeCa
where penthouses are going for more than $20 million, signed contracts
with buyers for 70 percent of the 140 apartments in just 10 weeks.
“We were all surprised,” Mr. Senbahar said. “This was not what we
expected. There’s a pent-up demand for condos with helicopter views.”
A decade or two ago, luxury buildings were largely confined to Park and
Today, they are rising all over Manhattan — from One57 and the Baccarat
in Midtown Manhattan to 825 First Avenue on the East Side, 150 Charles
Street in Greenwich Village and 30 Park Place downtown.
“It’s not that location is unimportant,” said Nancy Packes of Signature
Marketing Services. “But it’s now all about bigness, lifestyle and views.”
Determining who is buying many of these properties is a challenge. The
superrich often go to great lengths to shield their identities,
requiring confidentiality agreements with builders and brokers and using
anonymous corporate entities for purchases.
In an interview, the developer of 432 Park, Harry B. Macklowe, said he
and his partner, CIM Group, already had contracts for nearly $1 billion
worth of apartments at the building. Total sales are expected to surpass
$3 billion for a building that will cost about $1.25 billion to
complete, he said.
The cheapest apartment in the building, a 351 square-foot studio, costs
$1.59 million, according to the offering prospectus.
About half the buyers are foreigners, Mr. Macklowe said.
As with many of these buildings, only about a quarter of the units will
be occupied at any one time.
Mr. Macklowe bought and demolished the former Drake Hotel during the
real estate boom of 2006 to make way for the tower, before nearly losing
the property during the downturn.
Mr. Macklowe said he and his architect, Mr. Viñoly, designed the tower
around the “purest geometric form: the square.” The tower floors are 93
feet square; each side of the building has six 10-foot-by-10-foot windows.
“This is the building of the 21st century, the way the Empire State
Building was the building of the 20th century,” Mr. Macklowe said.The
penthouse has six bedrooms, seven bathrooms and a library. A sculptured
bathtub sits in front of a window, offering IMAX-like views of the city.
A buyer can also pick up a $3.9 million studio for the housekeeper and a
private wine cellar for $300,000.
The building offers residents an indoor-outdoor event space for 350 of
their closest friends.
Mr. Macklowe has sought to reach out to potential buyers with a lavish
marketing campaign developed by Dbox, an advertising and branding
agency. He distributed an oversize glossy magazine around the world that
resembles Vogue, with ads from retailers including Armani and Piaget,
and essays by writers including Ruth Reichl and Blake Gopnik.
He also produced a short film that places the tower in the context of
classic images: the ceiling of the Pantheon, New York movie stills,
fashion plates and sculptures by Giacometti.
In one film clip, the aerialist Philippe Petit walks a tightrope that
stretches from the Empire State Building to 432 Park with the aid of
computer-generated imaging, while Mr. Macklowe emerges from a King Kong
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