Mr. Barnett went on to become one of the city’s most powerful developers-he of the Ariel, the Rushmore, the under-construction Diamond Tower and more-while Mr. Feldman remained comparatively small time. During the subsequent years, he would spar vigorously for assets that few cared about, such as the ambling, million-square-foot Herald Towers, which he won in a lawsuit.
Almost no one noticed when a couple of years ago he notched a tiny boom-time coup with 823 Park Avenue, a completely refurbished pre-war condo with a mere 10 full-floor units. Boasting a grand Candela layout and the rare status as a condo on Park Avenue, it wasn’t ambitious, but it was perfect. In the dying days of the boom, units sold for more than $2,000 a square foot.
It gave Mr. Feldman a taste for luxury, but it doesn’t necessarily presage success at One Madison Park.
“What 823 Park had in its favor,” said Brown Harris Stevens’ John Burger, who brokered millions of dollars of sales in the building, “was the scarcity value. There’s always a glass tower in an up-and-coming location. To me, something like 823 Park Avenue had it all: the prewar structure, albeit modernized, in the perfect location.”
In other boom-time ventures, Mr. Feldman also failed, sometimes spectacularly-for instance, on a South Carolina amusement park that he built for $400 million with a partner during the recent boom and then sold in bankruptcy court for just $25 million. But he succeeded enough to buy a Gothic mansion in New Jersey, now on the market for $15.9 million, and to move his new company, HFZ Capital Group, to a 29th-floor Madison Avenue office.
But not enough-so far at least-to make Big Real Estate’s A-list.
Still, he tries. Mr. Feldman has since November rolled the dice on the city’s three riskiest developments: with backing from a range of Israeli investors, he’s bought the infamous “collapsed-crane project” on East 51st Street; the posh, lawsuit-riddled Setai condo conversion downtown; and now possibly One Madison Park.
“He’s definitely done distressed projects before,” Mr. Barnett said. “But these have a more substantial development component.”
While Mr. Feldman was making all the right moves at 823 Park, two amateur developers from Rockland County bought a not-quite-as-desirable plot of land at 23rd Street and Madison Avenue. With barely more than spare change and plenty of financing at cheap rates, Ira Shapiro and Marc Jacobs built a big condo tower, incongruously sleek and tall for the northern reaches of the Flatiron district, but perfectly ballsy for the boom-time ethos.
Then the loans came due and the Rockland County boys vanished as players. The tower remained. Dust collected on its shimmering glass windowpanes, pyramids of cardboard boxes sat unopened inside empty units. More worrisome, interest accumulated on the sizeable debt, and the lawsuits-from neighbors and would-be residents and retailers like McDonald’s-piled up too.
Dozens of the country’s most moneyed developers are said to have toured the tower between then and earlier this year. Were it not for the lawsuits and the tower’s rep as the most troubled in the city, the shiny condo in the heart of midtown south could easily fetch well into the hundreds of millions. But in the end only two buyers lunged publicly: Bruce Eichner (who also paid $5 million for a deeply discounted four-bedroom spread in the building) offered to pay $40 million for the dubious prize and to finish the tower. He wrestled Austrian-Kurdish mystery man Cevdet Caner for months in bankruptcy court, after main lender iStar moved to foreclose. But all blinked at the ultimate $165 million price.
“It’s not a function of lost interest,” Mr. Eichner told The Observer. “It’s a function of numbers. You’re a pragmatic, thoughtful person; reasonably diligent, reasonably knowledgeable, and if you piece together a picture of numbers that’s not attractive, you lose interest.” Well, not entirely. “If this thing fell apart,” he conceded, “I’d bid at a number that’s materially different than $165 million.”
Mr. Feldman is unfazed. “Ziel is a very dynamic guy,” said Robert Knakal, chairman of brokerage Massey Knakal Realty, who worked with him on several sites. “He’s become one of the most active developers in town.”