Fashion Cafe’s Tommaso Buti Schemes to Skim Rent From Guccis

Former Fashion Cafe chief executive Tommaso Buti and his wife, Czech model Daniela Pestova, may have more to fear than their own terrible business sense. The couple holds a 10-year lease on two combined penthouses owned by the Gucci family at Olympic Tower on Fifth Avenue and 51st Street. But real estate sources have said the pair are looking to sublet the pad–perhaps to Lord of the Dance ringleader Michael Flatley –for $10,000 more than they are paying to the Guccis.

The 50th-floor duplex apartment, which boasts 18 rooms and fantastic views, was rented to Mr. Buti and Ms. Pestova last year by the Gucci family for $25,000 per month for 10 years. Since then, practically everything has gone wrong for the once-fashionable couple.

Last December, Mr. Buti settled $15 million in lawsuits filed by his partners in Fashion Cafe, the failed restaurant chain he founded in 1995; the partners claimed he had stolen funds from them and diverted corporate assets for his own benefit. Then, in early February, as part of an ongoing probe into Fashion Cafe’s business operations, State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer subpoenaed records of the couple’s dealings as partners in the restaurant. Shortly thereafter, Donald Trump bailed out of a partnership he had formed with Mr. Buti in late 1998 to start a modeling agency called Trump Models Inc.

With the state-level probe continuing, Mr. Buti and Ms. Pestova apparently decided to try to capitalize on their 10-year lease on the Olympic Tower penthouse by finding someone with even worse business sense.

Enter Mr. Flatley, who is no longer dancing in Lord of the Dance and recently wrapped a promotional tour for Feet of Flames , a film and CD rendition of a 1998 dance performance in Hyde Park, London. The dancer spent the last week in March hunting for a rental apartment on Fifth Avenue; a publicist said he is looking to buy a pied à terre . But real estate sources said Mr. Flatley might settle in the Olympic Tower penthouse while he looks for something more permanent.

A source with knowledge of Mr. Buti’s efforts to get Mr. Flatley to sign a one-year, $35,000 lease said the kinks still need to be worked out. For instance, is this kosher with the Guccis?

“Buti may or may not have the right to sublet it,” said the source, who added that Mr. Flatley is hesitant about the apartment.

Mr. Buti and Ms. Pestova could not be reached for comment.

Greenwich Village

THE MOST INTIMIDATING LANDLORD IN NEW YORK. In the last six months, supermodel Stella Tennant shelled out $1.2 million for a run-down house on Washington Place. And actor Wesley Snipes spent $2.42 million on a three-story building on West 10th Street. But Barbara Corcoran, the ubiquitous chairman of the Corcoran Group, one of Manhattan’s largest residential real estate brokerages, stole a five-story town house on East 10th Street for a mere $850,000.

Of course, the inheritance of four rent-controlled tenants played a large part in the low price of Ms. Corcoran’s five-story structure at 128 East 10th Street between Third Avenue and Stuyvesant Street–and the place needs renovations.

Ms. Corcoran’s new acquisition is 20 feet wide and sits at the tip of a charming triangular garden just above St. Mark’s Church. Naturally, the deal–which was finalized in late February–was brokered by a Corcoran Group sales agent, Sara Gelbard. The seller was asking $895,000.

Ms. Corcoran declined to comment on the deal, but sources said she intends to keep the property as an investment–meaning she’ll take over as landlord to the existing tenants and also collect rent from two new ones, who will occupy now-vacant floor-through apartments on the English basement and ground levels. For them, there will always be that lurking question: When is my landlord going to cash in?

Upper West Side

160 Riverside Drive

Three-bed, two-bath, 1,800-square-foot prewar co-op.

Asking: $635,000. Selling: $600,000.

Charges: $1,228; 50 percent tax-deductible.

Time on the market: three months.

ADMIT TWO MUSIC LOVERS. A ground-floor apartment is a tough sell no matter how you look at it. And this one, an 1,800-square-foot co-op on Riverside Drive near 88th Street, was on the market for $635,000. For 16 years, it was home to a university admissions counselor, who is blind, and her husband. Last year, as a widow, the woman put the apartment on the market and struggled to find someone else to appreciate the apartment’s charm: She and her husband had found that the walls were thick enough that they could play music in separate rooms and not disturb one another. A doctor and his wife, a book editor, who were selling their house in Hamilton Heights, didn’t even mind the street traffic and noise. Meanwhile, the woman was negotiating with the co-op board of a building near Lincoln Center over a no-dogs policy. They insisted on meeting her Seeing Eye dog, a golden Labrador named Jesse, before finalizing the deal. Broker: Corcoran Group (Dan Leone).

Upper East Side

East 90th Street, near Madison Avenue

Two-bed, 1.5-bath, 1,000-square-foot prewar co-op.

Asking: $380,000. Selling: $380,000.

Charges: $1,161; 38 percent tax-deductible.

Time on the market: three months.

PARQUET COVER-UP. The selling of this two-bedroom co-op took some tough love. The broker had to tell the couple who owned it that their only chance to get the right price was to rip up the brownish, wall-to-wall carpet running through the entire 1,000-square-foot apartment. The parquet floors they uncovered interested the very first apartment-shoppers. The sellers, a couple with three young children, had been putting off moving because they loved their kids’ elementary school, P.S. 6, and Mom was “addicted to the Y,” as their broker put it. But six Elie Wiesel lectures was enough. A middle-aged couple took the apartment for the family’s asking price and the pack of them hit the road for the tree-lined streets of Westchester. Broker: Corcoran Group (Jenifer Cook).

30 East 76th Street

Three-bed, 2.5-bath, 2,480-square-foot condo.

Asking: $2.2 million. Selling: $2 million.

Charges: $2,573. Taxes: $813.

Time on the market: two months.

$600,000 TUITION REFUND. Two years ago, a couple in their 50’s paid $1.425 million for this duplex apartment in a former hospital because their son is in college in the city–even though he spends most of his time piloting planes out of Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. The parents were spending about six months a year in the 76th Street apartment with their son, and the other six in Palm Beach, until they got ideas about Lake Tahoe. In January, the couple sold their place to a young family, making almost $600,000 in the process, and bought a place on the California side of the lake. Their son has relocated to a rental, but reportedly clocks plenty of hours flying to Florida and California. Broker: Douglas Elliman (Patricia Dugan); Sloane Square L.L.C. (Anne Aransaenz).

Chelsea

419 West 22nd Street

Three-bed, two-bath, 2,176-square-foot prewar co-op.

Asking: $775,000. Selling: $682,500.

Charges: $853; 66 percent tax-deductible.

Time on the market: eight months.

END RUNS AROUND THE BROKERS ARE ILLEGAL. Last spring, market fever hit the husband and wife who owned this fourth-floor duplex and they decided to sell their co-op, sans real estate agent, for nearly $800,000. But that’s really not allowed, is it? Enter broker Margaret Heffernan, who telephoned the couple after she saw their ad in The New York Times . Two weeks later, Ms. Heffernan had herself a new client and a more difficult piece of property to sell than she’d expected: a fourth-floor walk-up, in a co-op of four apartments, with a kitchen and baths that were 20 years old. As the summer months rolled by, a doctor who was living in TriBeCa looked at the apartment. The co-op building where she was renting had recently been purchased, and she was being evicted. The three-bedroom Chelsea duplex was appealing–she has two kids–but not at $775,000. After five months, the sellers, who were planning to move one floor down, agreed to a drastic price reduction. The doctor got the apartment for $682,500, which won’t make her relationship with her neighbors any easier–especially if they don’t appreciate the pitter-patter of little feet. Broker: Corcoran Group (Margaret Heffernan, Allan Dennis and Barrie Mandel).

West Village

113 Bedford Street

Four-story town house.

Asking: $1.5 million. Selling: $1.375 million.

Time on the market: two months.

THE SURGEON WHO CELEBRATES FRIDAY THE 13TH. The superstitious surgeon who bought this house has a thing for the number 13. He and his wife and daughter had been renting elsewhere in the Village, when the address 113 Bedford caught their eye. They started the bid cycle low: Their first offer was just $1 million, for a house on the market for $1.5 million. The sellers, who had bought the house for $775,000 in 1994 and put money into improvements, were none too pleased–they countered with $1.4 million. The surgeon edged up to $1.3 million. (Again, his lucky number 13. Get it?) Since the sellers insisted on a compromise of $1.375 million, the surgeon made another request: that the deal close on Friday, the 13th of November. Cute. Broker: Halstead Property Company (Suzette Meshulam and Rosa Garcia-Murphy).

Fashion Cafe’s Tommaso Buti Schemes to Skim Rent From Guccis