20 Pine: The Conniption

In February, The Real Deal reported that Africa Israel USA had taken over control of 20 Pine’s management and sales. Construction on the building’s long-delayed, massive amenities space has begun again, and is scheduled to be finished by June. A tour this Sunday of 20 Pine’s 60-foot-long pool, his-and-hers sauna, juice bar and massage rooms show that they’re well on their way. The 25th-floor terrace already looks suave, with its sparkling reflecting pool and perfect view of AIG’s American International Building a few doors down on Pine Street.

But it was in the gargantuan library off the gleaming lobby that the homeowners association met last month with Africa Israel’s new CEO, Richard Marin, formerly Bear Stearns’ asset management chief. It was a chance to air complaints, and Mr. Marin listened. According to one account, an owner who had invested her savings in a 20 Pine unit and had lost her job cried.

Africa Israel agreed to cede a seat on the condo board to a representative from the homeowners association. “I recently won a special election, and will be formally joining the 20 Pine Board this month,” Robert Karicod told The Observer this week. But buyers won’t be taking over the building quite yet: The sponsor still has a majority on the board.

 

“I’VE HAD A great experience,” Anthony Berlet, a handsome, sturdy New Jersey plastic surgeon, said this Sunday in his $2.7 million apartment. He’s in the homeowners association, but he’s happy with 20 Pine, especially now that the amenities spaces are almost done. “I can tell you that my home in New Jersey is your traditional Georgian McMansion–type place, and when I went here, it was sleek and different; it fit the idea of having a different personality in the city.”

Dr. Berlet, who specializes in “noses and breasts,” put a massive Roberto Dutesco photograph of horses up in his living room, where the walls are lined in grass cloth. “Grass cloth has an Asian theme,” he said. “Armani has an Asian feel—an Asian-modern-eclectic type thing.”

Mr. Shvo would weep with pride. “The fact that the market changed, we are all aware,” the marketer said. “But that does not say that people are still not interested in lifestyle. Maybe they’re willing to pay less money for it, maybe they’re looking more for value than they were, maybe they’re not as quick to open their wallets, but in every economy, they want lifestyle.”

He shivered when asked if 20 Pine typified a kind of aspiration marketing that no longer exists, not to mention a neighborhood that’s now universally loathed. “We’re the only company out there,” Mr. Shvo said, “that still believes that luxury is still out there.”

And yet 20 Pine has those 80 units left, and only one of its nine penthouses has sold. A second, according to Shvo’s regional sales director, Marc Palermo, is in contract. One source said a bulk deal could still happen, though the price would have to be much higher than those Venture Capital numbers. Africa Israel contemplated holding a one-day sale next month with discounts somewhere between 10 and 50 percent, though that sale will likely be put off.

“There’s not going to be a one-day sale,” Mr. Shvo said. “I’m in Dubai; there are places here that I can tell you people will never go. But this is still Manhattan. Wall Street! Until they shut down the stock market people will still want to live there.” He tends to be brash in interviews, but sometimes his voice gets tender. “I truly believed in the Financial District,” he said. “And, in my mind, this is still one of the largest concentrations of wealth in the world.”

“Now that’s a view, man. That’s a nice thing to look at,” Dr. Berlet said on Sunday, looking out his window in black clogs, black Diesel jeans and a black, long-sleeve shirt. “You own it. You sit right down and you own it.”

mabelson@observer.com