Vivendi Universal Guy Buys Out Bronfmans, Then $17.5 M. Duplex

Jean-Marie Messier, the chairman of Vivendi Universal, has bought a $17.5 million apartment at 515 Park Avenue, proving that he’s officially become a player in New York.

Last June, Vivendi, the French water-utility company turned entertainment and telecommunications conglomerate, bought the Seagram Company for about $34 billion in stock, leaving the Bronfman family richer but on the sidelines. (One business reporter said that the new corporate structure makes Mr. Messier “the ruler of their world.”) At the time of the deal, Seagram owned 42 percent of USA Networks, as well as Universal Studios and Polygram Records. Vivendi owns a 24.5 percent stake in Rupert Murdoch’s British Sky Broadcasting; 59 percent of French telecommunications company Cegetel; all of SFR, a French wireless telephone net, and Havas, the publishing and advertising company; and an Internet portal with Vodafone Airtouch. Vivendi also owned 55 percent of AOL France until March 23, when it exchanged its holdings for junior shares in AOL Europe.

According to a broker involved in the deal, the Paris-based Mr. Messier bought a 5,300-square-foot duplex on the 38th and 39th floors of 515 Park on March 21. The apartment has four bedrooms, four bathrooms and stellar views, but no terraces. Other residents include Broadway producer James Nederlander and his wife Charlene; François Pinault, the owner of Christie’s; and Craig Goldman, the chief executive of Cyber Consulting Services Corporation, a firm that advises companies on networking and technology, and his wife Pamela.

The duplex was sold by Sidney Kimmel, chairman of Jones Apparel Group. Mr. Kimmel had paid $15 million for the apartment last year, but quickly put it back on the market for $20 million without ever moving in. A number of other buyers in the building also flipped apartments, including the wife of Senator Jon Corzine and Alain Levy, the former president of Polygram Records. (Mr. Kimmel is supposed to move to the Ritz Carlton Hotel at 50 Central Park South, where he is buying an apartment for $29 million.)

While a spokeswoman from Vivendi denied the purchase, broker Vanessa Kausman, president of Andrew Emmet & Company, confirmed that it was one of her clients who bought the apartment but would not reveal whom. “It’s a corporate apartment; he plans to live there,” she said of the buyer, who she identified only as “the head of a major company.” She confirmed that the apartment was last on the market for $18 million and that it had sold for $17.5 million. Mr. Kimmel’s broker, Alice Mason, who owns her own firm, didn’t return calls.

The new 43-story building, at the southeast corner of 60th Street, features private wine cellars, staff apartments on the lower floors, a residents-only gym, a library off the lobby and an in-house dining room with a caterer’s kitchen.

Mr. Messier may also come to appreciate his new address’ proximity to the Four Seasons and the Harry Cipriani on Fifth Avenue.

UPPER WEST SIDE

WRITER DAPHNE MERKIN ON CO-OP REJECTION AND DEPRESSION Daphne Merkin has a new personal essay in the making: The author was rejected by the co-op board of 1075 Park Avenue in January.

Describing her career as writing “the unsayable,” the author had settled into a phone conversation to explain her real estate saga to The Observer . She had just come from her therapist’s office and was fuming as she argued that the board of the co-op, which is located on the corner of East 88th Street, had been scared off by the often uncomfortably personal nature of her work. Ms. Merkin, who comes from a prominent New York family, said her broker, Eve Gittelson of Gumley Haft Kleier, told her that being rejected “supposedly had something to do with the nature of my writing … . ‘Sado-masochistic,’ or something like that, came up.”

Ms. Merkin has written for The New York Times , The New Yorker , the Jewish Forward and Nerve.com on topics ranging from her upbringing in a rich family to the time she spent in a psychiatric ward to, yes, sadomasochism. She is working on her third book, Melancholy Baby: A Personal and Cultural History of Depression , which is based on a piece published in the Jan. 8 New Yorker . Her second book, Dreaming of Hitler: Passions & Provocations , published in 1997, was a collection of pieces that included a section called “Spanking and Other Sexual Disorders.”

Her offer to buy the three-bedroom apartment at 1075 Park for $2.75 million was accepted by the seller last summer, but the co-op board rejected her application to be their neighbor without even meeting her. “The fear was that I was going to open an S&M parlor,” said Ms. Merkin. A phone call to the company that manages 1075 Park Avenue was not returned by press time.

“I felt violated,” she said about being shunned by the seemingly “non-assuming” and “homey” building–” not Versailles”–where she and her 11-year-old daughter had made an effort to meet the doorman. “I was stunned. It seemed so retrograde.”

Ms. Merkin accused the building of “white-collar discrimination” and called co-op board members “people who throw around whatever power accrues to them.” But it also made her “wish I lived in Minnesota or something” and wrote more G-rated pieces.

Her broker was even more agitated. She’s from “a very, very highly regarded family,” said Ms. Gittelson. Ms. Merkin’s father, Hermann Merkin, who died two years ago, was an Orthodox Jewish financier and major philanthropist who funded the Merkin Concert Hall on the Upper West Side. He was also the senior vice chairman of Yeshiva University’s Board of Trustees; an original member of the boards of Yeshiva College, the Stern College for Women and the Sy Syms School of Business; and served on the boards of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. Ms. Merkin’s mother, Ursula, lives at 625 Park Avenue and her brother, Ezra, lives at 740 Park Avenue.

Since Ms. Merkin had already sold her apartment at 111 East 88th Street before she was rejected by 1075 Park, the jilted author’s broker encouraged her to give up on co-ops. Instead, she bought a 2,000-square-foot, seven-room condo with three bedrooms (two of which have master-style baths), a maid’s room and a wood-burning fireplace at 55 East 86th Street, a prewar building where socialite Brooke de Ocampo lived before she moved to London last fall. Ms. Merkin paid $2.8 million and the deal closed on March 13, but she’ll have to wait until June to get into the new place.

“It’s a better investment; there’s only a handful of prewar large condos,” said Ms. Gittelson, the broker.

Ms. Merkin said the price was “a big stretch, even for someone from a supposedly purported family fortune…. So far it hasn’t trickled down.”

She said she had just joked with her shrink that the millions she spent on the apartment “will cement the myth” of her family’s fortune. She said she recently asked her mother, “If there’s all this money, where is it?”

Another issue for therapy is the theory Ms. Merkin has developed that the board disapproved of her as a single mother. “I said to my broker, ‘I could have any schleppy husband, but a husband and I would have been accepted?’ And the answer was yes.”

Said Ms. Merkin, more solemnly, “My depression has deepened since the whole apartment fiasco.”

AN INTERNET BILLIONAIRE, WHO’S STILL A BILLIONAIRE, BUYS A SPARE APARTMENT Like a lot of Internet entrepreneurs, Mark Cuban made billions of dollars off the Internet over the past decade. But unlike most of last year’s Internet billionaires, Mark Cuban is still rich. So rich, apparently, that he could afford a $3.35 million spare apartment. On March 16, Mr. Cuban bought the three-bedroom apartment that is adjacent to the $13.74 million apartment he already owns at 1 Central Park West, the Trump International Hotel and Towers.

“Mark thinks New York real estate is great,” said Paula Del Nunzio, Mr. Cuban’s broker with Brown Harris Stevens, explaining the second purchase. “His fortunes are improving,” she said. The billionaire, who sold his company Broadcast.com to Yahoo for $5.6 billion in 1999, unloaded most of his stock before the company took a nose dive earlier this year.

Mr. Cuban hasn’t even begun renovations on the first apartment he bought in the building last summer: a 3,662-square-foot space on the 45th floor with his-and-hers marble baths in the master bedroom, high ceilings and a corner living room with north views. “He purchases real estate in different places, and now he’s getting to the decorating of the places,” Ms. Del Nunzio said. Mr. Cuban also owns homes in Dallas and Palm Beach.

Ms. Del Nunzio said Mr. Cuban will combine the two apartments and use his new apartment, which has three and a half baths and views facing west, as a “guest suite.” Some of those guests might include a few lucky players on the Dallas Mavericks, the basketball team Mr. Cuban bought in 1999 for $280 million and to which he now devotes almost all of his time–attending every game and answering all of his fan e-mails, sometimes 2,000 a day. Mr. Cuban did not return an e-mail or a phone call requesting a comment about his latest purchase.

If things ever do go south for him financially, though, Mr. Cuban may be holding all the right condos. Said Ms. Del Nunzio: “The space he paid $14 million for over the summer, we are now getting offers for of over $20 million.”

395 Riverside Drive

Three-bed, two-bath, 2,300-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $1.025 million. Selling: $975,000.

Charges: $1,180; 30 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: 13 weeks.

LONDON CALLING The sellers of this apartment moved in a year ago, completely redecorated and had a baby, when one of them–a journalist–was offered a position in London he couldn’t refuse. In addition to having to sell their fixed-up apartment, according to broker Victoria Terri-Cote of the Corcoran Group, the woman had to leave behind the neighborhood where she had grown up. “She was a real die-hard Upper West Sider,” Ms. Terri-Cote said. The large, ground-floor apartment was in particularly good shape, having been completely restored only a year before, so the buyers–two journalists with a pair of kids–were able to move right in when the deal closed in late February.

SUTTON PLACE

25 Sutton Place South

Two-bed, two-bath, 1,650-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $895,000. Selling: $860,000.

Charges: $1,327; 48 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: three weeks.

THE NEW RETIREMENT PLAN A couple decided they had done enough time on Long Island, but according to their broker, Marcy Stein, a senior vice president at Douglas Elliman, they didn’t want to give up the “grandness” of a house or a quiet neighborhood. This apartment, located in “the quiet suburbanness” of Sutton Place, was perfect; and with the large scale of the rooms, the couple could simultaneously feel like they’d never left Long Island and take a 10-minute cab ride to Lincoln Center, although $860,000 would buy a whole lot more where they came from. According to Ms. Stein, the apartment needed absolutely everything. “It was in very tired estate condition,” she said. The deal closed on March 15.

CHELSEA

334 West 19th Street

Two-bed, two-bath, 1,200-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $750,000. Selling: $725,000.

Charges: $1,164; 62 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: one year.

CHELSEA GOES TO THE DOGS It sounds like a dream apartment: two bedrooms on the second floor of a converted townhouse with 11-foot ceilings and a terrace off the master bedroom that faces a garden. The place even comes with its own washer and dryer and a Jacuzzi tub. So why did it take a year to sell? According to Rochelle Bass of Bellmarc Realty, it was the no-dog policy of the building. “It seems a lot of people who want to live in Chelsea, especially in floor-throughs, have dogs,” she said. Not that she and her clients didn’t try to get around the rules. She took one would-be buyer (with dog) to the board to see if they would reconsider. They wouldn’t. “It started to seem like everybody in the world had a dog,” she said. “And, of course, people do not get rid of their dogs just for an apartment.” Finally a couple was found who have two children, but no dog. The deal stuck and the sellers have moved to another place in the neighborhood, where they live with their child and their cat.