Your First $2,000 Studio: Courteney Cox Should Have Slept Here

At a quarter to six in the evening on the Thursday before Labor Day, it was quiet in the lobby of the Saranac, a red brick building that stands where a parking lot used to be on the corner of Worth Street and Broadway, on the eastern edge of Tribeca

At a quarter to six in the evening on the Thursday before Labor Day, it was quiet in the lobby of the Saranac, a red brick building that stands where a parking lot used to be on the corner of Worth Street and Broadway, on the eastern edge of Tribeca. “It’s the lull between the two waves,” said Jason Mudrick, a 25-year-old class-of-2000 Harvard Law graduate who rented a one-bedroom apartment in the 16-story building for $2,400 a month when it opened three months ago. “At 4:45, you get the post-market people, and the lawyers and bankers come home around 6.”

Mr. Mudrick, whose job as an associate in the Investment Banking Group at Merrill Lynch didn’t start until after Labor Day, was sitting on a dark patterned couch across from a mural of a fall lake scene and in front of an eight-foot-high fake stone fireplace in the Saranac’s Adirondack-lodge-inspired lobby. The shellac was still wet on the twig-constructed coffee tables, and, thanks to the weather, the supermarket-style automatic front door was kept open and no one seemed to notice that it was not working. In a few minutes, the lobby was busy. A guy on rollerblades greeted the doorman. Girls in skirts and sandals streamed in. Several young men with their dress shirts unbuttoned at the neck and backpacks slung over one shoulder had walked home. Then, about 15 minutes later, there was a steady trickle of young bodies going in the other direction, this time dressed to work out.

The Saranac is almost entirely inhabited by a class of twentysomethings that Fortune 500 firms and now developers call “new hires”: pre-professionals for whom the hyperactive economy and high starting salaries are reasons to take a job in New York right out of school. The number of 18-to-24-year-olds in the city is steadily climbing, according to the Bureau of the Census. And right now “new hires” make up about 25 percent of the rental market-the largest percentage ever seen by Nancy Packes, who founded Feathered Nest, a rental brokerage, in 1979.

“In 1999 J.P. Morgan hired 170 B.A. and M.B.A. graduates, up 40 percent” from its 1998 hires, said a spokeswoman for the company. “And the target for this year is even higher.”

Not coincidentally, an overwhelming number of rental buildings have opened in the past year and they are tailor-made to this demographic, with added sports facilities, common rooms with wide-screen televisions, pool tables, roof decks and every technological gadget. Rents in the city have risen 12 percent in the last 12 months, and studios in these buildings start at $2,000; two-bedroom apartments go for almost $6,000. “It’s kind of like a super-luxury dorm,” said Phil Walker, the executive vice president of relocation services at Douglas Elliman, about this new type of building.

Living in one of these apartments is a half-step up in the world for kids coming to town to turn their degrees into dollars, a peek at a lifestyle they want to be able to afford, but where there are still keg parties down the hall.

“The new buildings are all-inclusive,” explains Bill Kowalczuk, a rental broker with the Corcoran Group who has worked with many new hires this summer. “Your gym is there, there is a concierge, everything is wired, and some of them even have their own grocery store. It is really conducive to people working 80 hours a week.”

The developers of River Place have nicknamed their building “Your First Resort,” a Fisher Price–style tag for an adult playground with an Olympic-size swimming pool, a putting green, two tennis courts and a full basketball court. The 270-unit building is located on two and a half acres at the end of West 42nd Street, near the Hudson River. Ms. Packes, who served as a consultant to the developers, Silverstein Properties, said that these amenities-plus a billiard room and gym with his-and-her saunas-were intended to appeal to new hires. “We think that is attractive to that demographic,” she said. “We think these are the kind of sports these people want to engage in. This is not Muscle Beach; these are sophisticated people we are dealing with.”

River Place is supposed to be finished in January, but rather than miss out on the class of 2000, its developers placed ads in the newspapers of Ivy League colleges-like most of the new buildings have done-and started renting apartments in May “because that is when all the new hires come.” Rents range from $1,965 to more than $5,000. According to Rudy Gonzalez, a leasing agent for the building, 271 units have already been rented, most to investment bankers just out of school, and many have moved in amid the construction.

Also under construction but partially occupied since May, 101 West End Avenue will have 500 units, three-quarters of which have been rented. Forty percent of the residents so far are kids who have just graduated from school, according to one broker’s estimate. And the building has signed a contract with Columbia University to lease out a few floors to graduate students.

The building offers studio ($2,200), one-bedroom ($2,900) and two-bedroom ($5,000 and up) apartments. To meet the needs of students and new hires working late hours, the developers are installing an A.T.M. in the lobby, the concierge is available to do FedEx-ing and faxing for tenants, a Food Emporium opened up right across the street and there’s a 2,000-square-foot rumpus room, which right now has the feel of a high-school library without books, but with red couches and free newspapers.

The Albanese Development Corporation tried to go “funky” with the decor of the Vanguard Chelsea, a 300-unit building at 77 West 24th Street that opened its doors in June. “The word vanguard means ‘on the edge,'” said executive vice president Chris Albanese. “Our slogan is ‘In the heart, on the edge.’ We are marketing to a young downtown crowd.… We didn’t confirm it, but it seemed like a lot of young people enjoyed living in Chelsea.” The lobby has warm beige tones and a wall with several small, brightly colored paintings arranged in rows behind a concierge desk. They also advertised at the East Coast’s “top universities,” said Ms. Packes, who served as a consultant. “We find that only the graduates from those schools get jobs in New York.” According to a broker in the Vanguard’s on-site rental office, only a dozen or so apartments-which range in rent from $1,000 to over $5,000-are not yet rented.

In response to ads for the Chelsea Arms, which opened in June at 303 West 21st Street, broker Peter Robbins said that “70 percent of the calls we got were, ‘Do you allow walls?'” They do. Almost all these buildings do, and their ads usually include a “shares available” or “ask about our share policy” statement. The brokers are experienced at explaining how an extra bedroom can be made when showing the apartments, and often distribute flyers for temporary-wall-building companies like the Wall PPS Inc. and the LivingSpace Company. For around $800, these companies will put up a partition with no nails or heavy construction, often through a living room, in order to create another bedroom.

“We get a lot of requests for shares,” said an on-site broker of the Berkley Park, a building at 340 East 29th Street that was not marketed to new hires, but which opened in August, one month before most new hires are supposed to report to work. “Everybody just graduated,” she said, and 80 percent of the 120 apartments have already been rented. Here, studios go for $2,655 and one-bedrooms for $3,500.

A forerunner of all these young, expensive buildings is the Metro, at 17 John Street, which opened a little over a year ago with advertisements that proclaimed: “Luxury rentals for people going places.” Average rents are between $1,595 and $3,085. In the financial district, which is hardly known for its nightlife, the building houses the Metro Lounge, located on the same floor as the laundry machines. “All the kids do their laundry and then go hang out in the lounge,” said one doorman. “There’s a line for the pool tables, and all the seats are taken with people watching television or reading the newspaper.”

The Metro Lounge may in fact be a prototype. “Any kind of amenity where people can get together and meet each other becomes hugely attractive to these young people,” said Ms. Packes, “because many of them are coming to New York from somewhere else, so they wind up looking for friends where they live.”

Those new to the city also probably don’t know that many of the new buildings require renters to earn around 45 times their monthly rent or else have someone who does guarantee the lease, and they will frequently ask for a year’s rent paid up front. Sofia Cicilioni, the leasing manager at 88 Greenwich Street, another new rental building, said that in a tough housing market, “people who don’t come from New York-need someone to take them by the hand and make them feel comfortable with what they need to know about the city.”

Partly under this pretense, brokers go to schools with maps and neighborhood guides to try to convince soon-to-be grads to find an apartment with them, a practice that started about four years ago. Douglas Elliman, for instance, puts ads in college newspapers announcing that a wine-and-cheese reception will be held in a meeting room on campus to discuss the move to New York. “There are a lot of things you have to do to get an apartment in New York that you don’t have to do anywhere else,” said Mr. Walker. “So we go in and talk to them about what they can afford and help with different ideas, such as sharing and working with guarantors, or how it might make more economic sense to buy something.”

Mr. Kowalczuk of the Corcoran Group says his firm does the same thing. After explaining to students what life in New York might cost, they hand out a form for new hires to fill out to let agents know what type of apartment they are looking for. As graduation looms closer, new hires can expect a phone call from a Corcoran broker. Another firm, Citi-Habitats, started doing outreach a year and a half ago by setting up a booth at college job fairs.

According to Jonathan Felch, a man in his 30’s who works at Lehman Brothers, a lot of college kids end up at 99 John Street, a building of a similar mold and era as the Metro and in the same neighborhood, the financial district. Mr. Felch and his wife are a bit of a minority, being married and older than the just-out-of-school crowd that makes up 40 percent of the building’s population. He said that he and his wife have met most of their neighbors, who either work for investment banks or for Internet firms, by hanging out on the roof deck. “Certainly every night on the weekend people go up there, and they go for drinks and cigars most nights during the week, too,” said Mr. Felch.

The roof deck at the Saranac has not been open for most of the summer, and many of the residents said they didn’t feel like they had met enough of their neighbors yet. A young woman who just moved to New York from Texas to work in marketing said she meets people in the elevator and in the gym. “Actually, my roommate just went to our next-door neighbor’s party the other night,” she said.

And despite the roof deck’s delayed opening, at dusk on July 4, when Mr. Mudrick and a few friends took the elevator to the 16th floor, climbed the stairs and found the door open, it was as if they’d walked onto Harvard Yard.

“It was still under construction,” Mr. Mudrick said, but there were about 30 people his age watching the fireworks. He already felt at home.

Your First $2,000 Studio: Courteney Cox Should Have Slept Here