Moving In, Slowly, to ‘Billionaires Row’

-July 27, 2014

Manhattan Luxury High-Rise Gets Its First Residents


As soon as Linda Phillips and her husband heard about One57, a luxury 90-story skyscraper that is nearing completion on West 57th Street, they raced from the pied-à-terre they rented at the Time Warner Center across Columbus Circle to take a look.

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The couple, empty-nesters who also own a home in Saddle River, N.J., eventually plunked down $30.4 million for a three-bedroom four-and-a-half-bath apartment, with floor-to-ceiling windows facing onto Central Park. Their lease at the Time Warner Center ends in September, and they may sell their New Jersey home to live full time in the building.

"With beautiful views and just a block from Bergdorf's, I think it doesn't get any better," said Mrs. Phillips, an interior designer.

Much attention has been lavished on so-called Billionaires' Row, the stretch of West 57th Street where a spate of spindly towers filled with luxury condominiums is under construction and listing for record-breaking prices. The granddaddy of these new towers is One57 — the first to break ground and now the first to see residents actually living there.

Since closings began late last year, 27 owners have been handed the keys to their multimillion-dollar homes. Walk by the building after dark, and it is possible to see the flicker of television screens and lights through a handful of windows. The details in publicly available documents suggest the buyers so far are a diverse bunch. There are the Russian oligarchs represented by large law firms in Midtown and the Chinese buyers whose identities are shielded by limited liability companies based in Shanghai. But there are also plenty of buyers like Leland A. Swanson, an owner of a successful vitamin business in Fargo, N.D., and Terry B. Johnson, the scion of a wealthy family that owns car dealerships in Duluth, Minn.

"One day I have to know all about feng shui, and the next I have to be able to talk to a pig farmer from Iowa," said Jeannie Woodbrey, a senior sales executive at the Extell Development Company, the developer of One57. "I'm like a chameleon."

But while there are buyers who do not often warrant mention in Page Six, there are also clear signs that One57 is home to a rarefied crowd. The building's head of operations, David M. Spector, cuts a strapping figure in his tailored suit, looking more like a fashion model than a building manager. And the doormen are outfitted with earpieces and tiny microphones attached to their sleeves, like secret service agents.

Then there are the amenities. At the base of the building is the new Park Hyatt New York, which will open to guests on Aug. 12 and is already fully booked through Aug. 19. The condo owners living above the hotel will be able to order room service or ask the concierge for backstage passes to Lincoln Center — for a price, of course. There are also a spa and the hotel pool, where residents swimming laps can listen via underwater speakers to the sound of a playlist curated by Carnegie Hall's programming team.

While there are now residents living at One57, they are still just "a trickle," said Mr. Spector, who is a senior vice president at Extell Management Services. Many owners are summering outside the city and are using these slow months to complete their designs and further customize their homes, he said. "I expect more people to move in and for things to pick up after Labor Day."

Mrs. Phillips and her husband, an ophthalmologist, for example, are installing additional bedroom closets, adding some mirrored accent walls and new hardware for the doors, as well as raising the baseboard heights — "just some aesthetic changes that I feel are important," said Mrs. Phillips, who will move in once the work is complete in the next several months.

Nikki Field, a broker at Sotheby's International Realty who has represented several buyers at One57, said, "The building finishes are lovely, so my clients are not doing a great deal of construction work, only small things. They also need to fully furnish the homes — it isn't like they will move furniture from other locations."

The condominium sits atop the new Park Hyatt New York, which will open to guests in August. Condo residents, who are just beginning to occupy the building, will have access to hotel amenities like concierge and room service. Credit Jake Naughton/The New York Times

Ms. Field said that just two of her clients will live at the building full time; the rest plan to use their apartments only part time. She noted that Extell Development may create some competition for itself when it opens a second new luxury tower just a block west.

"I do have a few, particularly those who purchased in the $50 million range, that are such fans of the developer they are considering his next building," said Ms. Field, referring to 225 West 57th Street, a condominium with at least 100 stories that will feature New York City's first full-line Nordstrom department store. That building is not set to open until 2018, "so they are going to love this building and enjoy it," she said, "but when there is a newer, shinier, prettier gal, they may decide to cash out and go for the next one."

While some buyers said they intended to live in the building, One57 has attracted its fair share of investors, and a handful of units are already back on the market with higher price tags. In some cases, the most secretive of the investors are upset by the attention the building has garnered.

"I am flipping it as soon as I close," said one buyer who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I bought it in an L.L.C. with partners, and honestly, if I had known that there would be this much attention on the building, and that my name would get out, I wouldn't have done it."

Ms. Field cautions her buyers not to re-list their apartments until the building is fully completed. "I am advising my clients that the return will be stronger if they wait until the hotel is up and running and the building is finished," she said, "so they can take full advantage of the value and the lifestyle."

The building still has about 25 percent of its units to sell, and the marketing to foreign buyers continues apace. On a recent weekday, for example, Stephen Kotler, the chief operating officer at Douglas Elliman Real Estate, was meeting Pieter van Naeltwijck, a broker based in Monte Carlo, and Natalia Kashirina, who represents Russian buyers from her base in London, in the lobby of One57 for a tour.

"These apartments represent an excellent investment, a super hedge," said George T. Constantin, the president and chief executive of Heritage Realty Services, which is based in New York. Mr. Constantin represents a Greek family who paid $30 million for a unit on the 59th floor. "Usually that $30 million would go into U.S. Treasuries, but these types of investments offer more yield and better appreciation, so it serves a purpose," he said.

As for other residents in the neighborhood, some are hoping this high-end construction could help their own real estate values. "The history of New York real estate has been one of 'rising tide lifts all boats,' " said Matthew Mazer, the president of the board of managers at the Briarcliffe, an apartment building at 171 West 57th Street, which is next to One57. "I welcome our new neighbors, and maybe I will see them at Starbucks."

But several rent-regulated tenants also live in Mr. Mazer's building, and the influx of so many billionaires next door could potentially make the area less affordable for them. And while Mr. Mazer hopes to rub elbows with his new neighbors at the local coffee shop, it just may be their drivers who are standing in line for that cup of joe.