In the Shadow of the Boom

JANUARY 14, 2009, four months into the Great Recession. A black-clad Ira Shapiro poses for a photograph during the opening of the sales office for Rem Koolhaas’s 23 East 22nd Street, behind One Madison Park. He is of average height, balding, with a ruddy face. He’s standing next to a shiny silver model of the 22-story Koolhaas tower. It’s a beautiful, cantilevered building, one that seems to lean over and peer out from behind the tall, slender One Madison Park. The latter is already under construction. (In September 2008, architecture critic James Gardner, then at The New York Sun, wrote, “Mr. Koolhaas’s contribution will be Lou Costello or Jerry Lewis to the Bud Abbott/Dean Martin of its neighbor. Peeking out from behind the back of the taller building, it will deliver the impish and subversive laugh lines, while the taller building, the grown-up straight man in the equation, will preserve its unflappable rectilinear integrity. That should be interesting to see.”)

Mr. Shapiro’s photo-ready smile masked a world of financial distress. In June 2009, Curbed speculated that Mr. Koolhaas was no longer on the project. Buildings Department filings revealed that Cetra/Ruddy would now design the 22nd Street annex as well, and it would rise only to 11 stories. According to the pile of lawsuits that have since been filed against Slazer, around the same time Mr. Shapiro posed for the photo, he was scrambling for more short-term infusions of cash. Now, those who delivered short-term loans are suing for repayment. The most prominent lenders are Mr. Chu and Mr. Shapiro’s own former real estate broker, Wendy Maitland of Brown Harris Stevens, who declined to comment for this article.

But loan repayments are hardly the only accusations contained in the lawsuits. Plaintiffs allege numerous acts of double-dealing, from promising certain condo specifications but delivering others, to agreeing to sell a unit to one party and then selling it to another.

Now, the fate of the building’s buyers and investors rests with the courts. About a dozen of the building’s 90 condos are occupied. And insiders estimate that the more than $70 million in escrow from contracted buyers should cover the completion of both One Madison Park and the tower behind it, which has yet to begin construction.

The fates of the dozens of buyers in contract with the building remain unresolved. The state attorney general’s office could grant buyers a right of rescission, which would allow them to demand their deposits back. But given the prestige of the building, its powerful allure and its ideal location, buyers might well choose to stick out the turmoil.

 

AS FAR AS  Messrs. Shapiro and Jacobs are concerned, some say it’s likely they will lose control of the building entirely.

“Eventually, Shapiro will be forced into bankruptcy, one way or another,” Mr. Chang, the attorney for Mr. Chu, said. “It’s pretty clear they’ve run out of money. That all has to be sorted out in the bankruptcy court.”

Neither Mr. Shapiro nor Mr. Jacobs would comment for this story. Nor would debt holder iStar. But Burton Dorfman, Mr. Shapiro’s attorney, said of the likelihood that Slazer would lose the property, “I don’t think it’s a possibility.”

In the end, it doesn’t matter to anyone outside of the mess who owns the development. Or who owns the otherworldly condos inside, second homes for those with too much money to spend.

What does matter is that a 60-story tower has been built on the south side of Madison Square Park, and will, in perpetuity, reside there, and surely outlive those involved in its creation, including the young men from Rockland County, and those millions of New Yorkers who move beneath its shadow.

At least it’s not ugly. Indeed, on a recent springlike evening, the skyscraper could be seen rising spectrally through the branches of the London plane trees that live on the north side of Madison Square Park. The reflection of the backlit 700-foot Clock Tower on Madison Avenue—another distressed condo conversion—shimmered on One Madison Park’s reflective facade.

The tower was, in its overpowering, hubristic way, kind of pretty.

drubinstein@observer.com

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