57th Heaven: How a Boring Boulevard Became the Billionaires Belt

Forget Fifth Avenue, West Broadway or Columbus Circle—57th Street is New York's new gold coast. (Emily Epstein)

Forget Fifth Avenue, West Broadway or Columbus Circle—57th Street is the new gold coast. (Emily Anne Epstein)

Michael Stern was walking to a meeting last summer when he saw the vacant site, barely wider than a townhouse, at 107 West 57th Street. On one side was the Steinway Building, an 87-year-old city landmark with an etched white limestone façade. On the other was a dowdy old SRO about to be gutted and transformed into the Quin Hotel, yet another boutique confection for the tourist masses.

Yet it was not the barren lot’s immediate neighbors that set Mr. Stern’s heart racing, but another edifice further down the block: Gary Barnett’s One57. The 1,005-foot, 90-story tower was only about halfway built at the time, but already it was on its way to taking the crown, on the skyline and in the record books, as the city’s tallest apartment building. Billionaires were already circling the units, which ranged from $5 million to $115 million.

Looking from Mr. Barnett’s site to the one in front of him, Mr. Stern knew he had to have it.

“Right now, there is nowhere else in the city like 57th Street, and it is only going to get better,” Mr. Stern told The Observer. “You’ve got so much on the horizon. You’ve got proximity to Central Park, you’ve got proximity to some of the world’s most premier shopping. I think it’s perceived to be the dead center, heartbeat of the city.”

Mr. Barnett is not alone in that belief, as a number of the city’s biggest builders have set their sights on the strip, positioning a boulevard that is equal parts grand (Bergdorf Goodman) and greasy (the Brooklyn Diner) to become New York’s new gold coast.

Barry Sternlicht, the creator of the W and Starwood hotel chains, had already planted his flag at 107 West 57th Street, having bought the vacant lot from another developer for $52 million in 2005. Last year, Mr. Stern bought into the property for $40 million, and together they’re now planning a shard of an apartment tower, all boutique luxury beauty, shooting up some 700 feet and 50 stories, but only 34 feet wide. With its pointy top, this might become the most expensive toothpick ever made.

Towers skinnier than runway models have begun to rise skyward all along this hiding-in-plain-sight strip. All seem to be in pursuit of the same thing: better views and bigger payouts. Already, at least a dozen billionaires are said to have bought into One57, where two of the units have sold for $95 million, the highest price ever paid for a home in the city, topping even the $88 million penthouse at the grand 15 Central Park West. These are untold heights in a city famous for them.

“I’ve taken to calling it the billionaires’ belt,” said author and 58th Street resident Michael Gross.

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