Felix G. Rohatyn, the titantic Lazard banker, has been much in the news in recent years, as he reflects on his specialities, profligate bankers and broken public finances. Mr. Rohatyn is most often remembered not for the usual business of big deals, though there are those–KKR and RJR Nabisco, Sony and Capital–but his hand in helping save New York City from bankruptcy in the 1970s.
Now, Mr. Rohatyn is saving his palatial Fifth Avenue home for future generations.
According to city records, the octogenarian Upper East Sider recently transferred ownership of his full-floor co-op at 810 Park Avenue to a trust composed of himself, his wife Elizabeth, son Nicholas, and his long-time attorney, friend and fellow Wall Street titan Martin Lipton. Mr. Rohatyn purchased the home in the 1980s for $2 million, according to a broker who showed the apartment at the time. (As with most old co-op deals, there is no public record of the original purchase.)
Mr. Rohatyn has just transferred the four-bedroom to the trust for $11.25 million, a princely sum but also well-below the going rate in the prestigious building at the corner of 62nd Street. In December, Charles Bronfman paid $21 million for a similar full-floor spread on the sixth floor. The last sale before that was the duplex penthouse, which David Geffen bought for $31 million in 2006 before selling to Pete Peterson a year later for $37 million.
Uptown impresario A. Laurence Kaiser IV of Key Ventures, on the phone from “lovely” Palm Beach, told The Observer that Mr. Rohatyn’s was far superior because it clears the Knickerbocker Club across the street, giving its large windows unobstructed views of Grand Army Plaza and the Park. “The library, on the corner, is just spectacular, you can see all the way to the Empire State,” Mr. Kaiser said. “It’s a lovely building and a lovely layout.”
Still, why pay anything when establishing a trust and other title transfers typically requires no money? A broker consulted by The Observer suggested the board would never allow, say, a $1 million transfer, as it could dilute the quality of the building. In fact, such transactions, the creation of trusts and other holding corporations, was forbidden until a decade or so ago. “The first concern was always getting to the maintenance money,” one broker said of co-ops’ reluctance to trust trusts. “Anything that gets in the way of that creates a problem.”
“God bless the board for letting him do it,” another broker said.
Yet, as with many things concerning the stratospherically wealthy, the price seems to have to do with but one thing: taxes. “It would be impossible to know without seeing the actual trust,” a sage real estate attorney said, “but this seems like a tax deal and a probate deal. It’s a very smart thing to do, and Felix Rohatyn is very smart.” (The Observer contacted Mr. Lipton but has not heard back, nor is likely to: When trying to give his secretary a cell number, this reporter was told tersely, “I don’t think we’ll be needing that.”)
The fresh filing listed a transaction date of Dec. 7. That was days before Congress finally managed to work out a new plan for the estate tax, and the attorney believed that could have had something to do with the deal. “But they may have done 25 different things already,” the attorney said. “It’s hard to know with only part of the information.”