Shrewd Mike Piazza Waits Out the Market, Swings Gramercy Pad

Mets superstar Mike Piazza is finally putting some roots down in Manhattan, adding a $1.975 million Gramercy Park condo to his real-estate portfolio, which includes homes in Cresskill, N.J., and Boynton Beach, Fla.

According to real-estate records, Mr. Piazza bought a penthouse duplex in the Gramercy Park historic district, on March 13. And it’s no crash pad, either. According to an online description provided by brokerage Douglas Elliman, which represented the seller, the apartment has 2,345 square feet of interior space, 431 square feet of terraces (with a built-in barbecue), two wood-burning fireplaces, Brazilian cherry floors, and two marble baths with a double steam shower and a separate Jacuzzi tub. Neither representatives for Mr. Piazza nor Lois Lawrence, the Douglas Elliman broker on the deal, would comment.

A catcher and home-run hitter who was drafted in 1998 to save the Mets after a long slump, Mr. Piazza has never been much of a New Yorker. Having grown up in a small town in Pennsylvania, he went to junior college in Florida, then played for minor-league teams in San Antonio, Texas, Albuquerque, N.M., and Bakersfield, Calif., before winning a position with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He played in California for five years.

His first year in New York was tough. Mets fans were impatient with this swaggering California type, but Mr. Piazza was content to dodge the limelight and concentrate on his hitting, and it paid off with a seven-year, $91 million contract signed in October 1998–thanks in no small measure to Mr. Piazza’s take-no-prisoners Beverly Hills agent, Dan Lozano.

That contract might have been the incentive for Mr. Piazza to make a name for himself as a New Yorker. Less than two years later, he’d grabbed headlines for his part in getting the Mets into the New York sporting event of the century, last year’s Subway Series with crosstown rival the New York Yankees. Dotted throughout were appearances by Mr. Piazza at Fashion Week events and celebrity parties with a distinctive New York feel–like the birthday party for Howard Stern groupie Beau Dietl or the Manhattan File party in honor of Mr. Piazza and such fellow New York bachelors as Christopher Cuomo, Michael Mailer and State Senator Dan Hevesi. Then it was reported that comedian Ben Stiller was busy developing a script based on Mr. Piazza’s life, with a strong whiff of New York to it. Currently titled Go to Hell, Mike Piazza , it’s the story of a hot-dog vendor who went to school with Mr. Piazza and blames the Met for his less-than-glamorous life. With that Gotham welcome, the All-Star seemed to be here to stay.

But where exactly? For years Mr. Piazza was a fixture in the real estate market. Brokers showed him apartment after apartment, uptown and downtown, ranging in price as high as $7.5 million.

The building Mr. Piazza settled on has a much lower profile: With just five stories and one apartment per floor, it’s on a quiet block and seems quaint and homey next to the high-powered addresses he was sniffing out before. Mr. Piazza looked at lofts in Soho at 30 Crosby Street and 285 Lafayette Street–where the apartment-hunter had to dodge paparazzi alongside other famous home-shoppers like Liv Tyler, Courtney Love and David Bowie–and Olympic Tower at 645 Fifth Avenue, where real-estate sources told The Observer in 1999 that the ballplayer saw a six-bedroom spread. Mr. Piazza was also scheduled to tour the refined quarters of the San Remo, where another broker planned to show him a $7.5 million penthouse.

“He never showed up,” the broker said.

Apparently, he was in a Gramercy Park state of mind.

TRIBECA

JEAN-GEORGES VONGERICHTEN MOVES INTO DAVID BOULEY TERRITORY Back in November, celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten fêted Richard Meier’s new building at 173 and 176 Perry Street with a reception at Jean Georges, his restaurant in the Trump International Hotel and Towers. There, Mr. Vongerichten said that he had

reserved the 10th floor of the building’s south tower and had also promised to open one of his hot restaurants (see: Mercer Kitchen, Vong, Jo Jo) in the building’s lobby when it opens. Now that the building is behind schedule, Mr. Vongerichten has bought a condo at 66 Leonard Street, a new development called the Textile Building, where he is also planning a restaurant. He moved in in April, entering the territory of countryman and fellow chef-restaurateur David Bouley.

The chef had been living in a brownstone on West 14th Street and Seventh Avenue, where he’d rented two floors with his fiancée, Marja Allen, and their new baby, Chloe. On May 14, Mr. Vongerichten’s assistant, Agnes Deshayes, said that the chef had wanted to buy the brownstone, but was told in March by the building’s owner that it wasn’t for sale and had to go hunting for a new home. “He would have bought it,” said Ms. Deshayes of the brownstone. “He had been trying for three years.”

Instead, in April, Mr. Vongerichten bought and moved into a $2.622 million condo on the 11th floor of 66 Leonard Street, a converted prewar building that was completed last September. The 2,813-square-foot loft has three bedrooms, three and a half bathrooms, an eat-in kitchen and city views. (Common charges are $1,057, and taxes are $1,402.) Mr. Vongerichten’s brother Philippe, who buys cheese for the chef, and his wife Jenny live just four floors below him.

The 12-story building, originally designed by Henry J. Hardenbergh, architect of the Plaza and the Dakota, has 46 lofts plus penthouses and offers fancy features like a library, a residents’ lounge that can be rented out for private parties, a fitness center, a massage room, a media room, a landscaped roof terrace, and a concierge who is available by fax and e-mail. Mr. Vongerichten’s restaurant is supposed to open in a few months.

But the chef is not pulling out of his promise to his friend Richard Meier. “As it is today, he will move into the Perry Street location when it will be finished and available,” said Ms. Deshayes, who wasn’t sure if Mr. Vongerichten would sell the loft at 66 Leonard Street when he moves.

EAST HAMPTON

NETHERLANDS BANKER LANDS ON LILY POND LANE Martha Stewart, Mort Zuckerman and Allen Grubman just got some new neighbors out on Lily Pond Lane in East Hampton. Age Hollander, a banker from the Netherlands, paid $6.75 million earlier this year for 2.88 acres at 29 Lily Pond Lane, one of the fanciest addresses in the fanciest of the Hamptons.

The Hollanders have rented the house out for the summer. “They didn’t have enough time to do renovations,” one source said.

Brokers agree that although the property is desirable–it has 325 feet of hard-to-find oceanfront–the house needs work. “It was pretty much like a land sale,” said Peter Turino of Dunemere Associates, who said he’d showed the place to a few people during the two years it was on the market.

Currently there are two houses on the property. The main house, called High Tide, is a seven-bedroom “cottage” with a solarium, a living room and a party room equipped with a bar. A smaller two-bedroom cottage is known as Low Tide. These houses were once rented out by the proprietor of the Sea Spray Inn next door. Then in 1978, after the inn burned down, Francis Manelski, an airline pilot, bought the place, took about one-third off the main house because it was too big, and put in the solarium. After living on the property for more than 20 years, Mr. Manelski moved to Shelter Island about two years ago.

Mr. Hollander already owns a home in East Hampton, on the slightly less fancy Jericho Road. Sources say that he intends to use both houses in the future. “He has an expanding family,” said one broker. “Lots of little kids.”

The property has no pool or tennis court … yet. “That’s in the works,” said a source close to the deal. Brokers agree that it was the fancy address and proximity to famous neighbors that made this a desirable place. “It is a rather ordinary house, but it has a Lily Pond Lane address,” said one source. “Howard Schultz from Starbucks is on the street, Carl Icahn is next door,” said another source. “It’s a really great bunch of neighbors. That is what Lily Pond Lane is about–it is a great location, but the neighbors are really great.”

UPPER EAST SIDE

799 Park Avenue

Two-bed, two-bath, 1,500-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $1.15 million. Selling: $1.135 million.

Charges: $1,843; 38 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: six weeks.

SELLERS PACE THEMSELVES The trouble with new developments is that one never quite knows when one will actually be able to move in. Sure, the developer might promise late summer, but a savvy condo buyer knows that by the time the place is truly inhabitable, it is usually closer to December or later. That’s why the family who sold this apartment didn’t put the place on the market until the three-bedroom condo they’d bought in a new development was completely finished. The trouble with this tactic is that, these days, it sometimes takes months to sell a place. It took almost two months for this two-bedroom apartment, which has a brand-new kitchen and faces Park Avenue, to snare a buyer, a couple moving to the city. The sellers, represented by Ann Macaluso of Douglas Elliman, were paying two mortgages for a while, but at least they always had a home. The 21-story 1961 building, located between 74th and 75th streets, has a full-time doorman. The deal closed on May 9.

MURRAY HILL

200 East 36th Street

Asking: $265,000. Selling: $260,000.

One-bed, one-bath, 725-square-foot co-op.

Charges: $766. Tax deductible: 59 percent.

Time on the market: three weeks.

SAFE HOUSE The buyer of this apartment fit the Murray Hill profile: young, new to the city, looking to buy a first apartment with a little help from mom and dad. And being a female buyer, she especially fit the profile of this postwar co-op on 36th Street and Third Avenue. “I’ve sold in there five times, and four of them have been to young females,” said the listing broker, Tim Carris of Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy. This apartment, formerly owned by a woman from Nicaragua who is returning home, was a “wreck,” according to Mr. Carris. “[The buyer] could easily plop another $15,000 to $20,000 into it,” he said. Specifically, the place needs to be painted, the floors need to be sanded, and the kitchen and bathroom need a complete renovation. The building has a full-time doorman and laundry facilities and bike storage in the basement. Mr. Carris believes the building’s especially tight security is responsible for attracting all the ladies.

GREENWICH VILLAGE

23 East 10th Street (the Albert)

One-bed, one-bath, 800-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $699,000. Selling: $665,000.

Charges: $1,111; 61 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: six months.

A CLIMBER’S PARADISE Camouflaged among typical Greenwich Village brownstones, the Albert is actually a neo-Georgian, 12-story former hotel, converted to co-ops in 1985. There’s nothing classic Greenwich Village about this apartment, either: The 1,100 square feet are stacked in three stories, and there’s a 200-square-foot planted terrace off the bedroom. The couple who bought it came from Soho and liked the sense of space, however vertical. The sellers liked it quite a lot, too, and postponed moving full-time into their upstate house for two years, said broker Michael Jones of the Corcoran Group. “But ultimately, this apartment had evolved into a pied-à-terre,” Mr. Jones explained. Shelly Russell, also of Corcoran, co-brokered the deal.