Condo Boomlet Blurs Northern Borders

Nearly half of all new Manhattan condo projects proposed by developers so far in 2007 have been for above 86th Street. And the vast majority of those are planned for north of 96th Street—not too long ago the bedrock southern border of much of Harlem.

Developers must submit all condo plans to the State Attorney General’s office for approval. An analysis by The Observer of all plans submitted from Jan. 1 through May 7 shows that 46 percent of the 65 condo projects up for approval (and most of them will be approved) are planned for above 86th Street. Of those, 90 percent will go up north of 96th Street—and, of those 27 projects, 19 are slated for above 110th Street.

It’s probably fair to say at this point that new condo developments spell the future for “hot” neighborhoods in New York now. Buyers who can afford the average Manhattan condo sales price of $1,100-plus per square foot move in; their presence spurs changes in retail, much of it street-level; that change fuels fluctuations in market-rate rentals in the area; people move out, and others move in; and the area—gradually, subtly, inexorably—changes.

“You just didn’t go above 86th Street,” a top-producing broker at a top residential brokerage once told this reporter. Why not? “It was hard to get people to buy up there.”

No longer. These lifestyle totems, bathed in antique-sounding marketing—Get every thing you could ever want without even leaving the building!—have drawn buyers to places where the neighborhood might not have been a draw before, and so now they are pulling them north.

A duplex penthouse at the still-under-construction 111 Central Park North—a moniker made for marketers; you know the street better as plain old 110th Street—sold for a Harlem single-residence record of over $12 million in late 2006, according to the New York Post.

And developers have confidence in continued buyer interest uptown, especially on the East Side.

The traditional southern edges of Harlem on the West Side have morphed in recent years, with 125th Street abdicating its border status to the northward encroachment of Morningside Heights, the neighborhood around Columbia University that’s heavily influenced (and largely owned outright) by the Ivy League school. Even Manhattan Valley, a densely populated collection of blocks east of Amsterdam Avenue from roughly 96th to 110th streets, has seen itself subsumed into either the Heights or the Upper West Side, depending on whom you ask.

For the East Side, however, a hilly, heavily trafficked 96th Street remains the palpable border between the Upper East Side and East Harlem.

North of that border creeps a sizable amount of likely condo development, much of it luxury, though amenities and marketing have rendered that adjective impotent in the Gotham real-estate universe. With this creep comes all the socioeconomic implications for current residents, and perhaps for New York City as a whole, where prices are unabashedly high and many who buy here live merely part-time.

Much of the proposed uptown development remains on the smaller side, measured by the dozens (or much less) rather than by the hundreds, like condo projects south of 86th Street and in western Brooklyn. Still, the amounts matter less than the reality.

A conversion of a walk-up at 104 East 98th Street would create 10 condos for what’s dubbed Park 98 Condominium. The Aura condo at 328-330 East 109th Street will create from scratch 28 units, according to a plan filed with the State Attorney General’s office. A conversion at 668 Riverside Drive will create a 64-unit condo, one of the biggest projects filed for approval.

Developers won’t build all of these condos, but the plans filed with the attorney general display a barometer of confidence in the vibrancy of the uptown market—a vibrancy on keen display throughout the rest of Manhattan. In 2006, more than 4,100 condos changed hands in the borough, according to the appraisal firm Miller Samuel; in the first quarter of 2007, 1,703 condos sold—a quarterly high going back to at least 1988.

Uptown sales figures for condos alone weren’t available, but sales have been brisk as of late among condos and co-ops taken together.

In the first quarter of 2007, 148 condos and co-ops traded hands uptown (meaning north of 116th Street on the West Side, and north of 96th Street on the East Side), according to Miller Samuel. That’s the second-highest quarterly total since at least the 1980’s; the fourth quarter before was the third-highest such total.

Condo Boomlet Blurs Northern Borders