The Week in Real Estate: 8.7.09

Joe Moinian was once said to have a Midas touch with new developments. That golden touch may be fading.

A few years ago, Mr. Moinian went on a buying spree with plans to redevelop the likes of 1775 Broadway, 95 Wall Street and 475 Fifth Avenue. (Mr. Moinian is pictured above, left, with designer Philippe Starck at the launch party for the redeveloped 95 Wall, now a high-end rental. The party was held, ominously enough, on Sept. 15, 2008, the date of Lehman's bankruptcy.) But a number of his properties—mostly in the Financial District, but with a couple in midtown—have run into financial trouble. He has defaulted on loans and has informed lenders that he’s expecting to default on more. Mr. Moinian had to return the keys to 475 Fifth Avenue.

Now the question is whether he can retreat from costlier ventures but maintain his empire’s core. More here.

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Pouring rain: bad for walking in the park, but apparently good for apartment hunting. Broker William Landhauser said that he had seen noticeably more people than usual at his Sunday open house, a Chelsea condo built by Douglaston Development just a few blocks from the High Line.

The condo, at 555 West 23rd Street, falls solidly within the business improvement district being considered to support the unexpectedly expensive park. Under the proposed tax, an owner of a 1,000-square-foot property would have to pay between $30 and $90 annually. Apartment N9F, a two-bedroom asking $1,195,000, was 1,080 square feet.

Mr. Landhauser, who lives in the building and has sold 15 of its units, was skeptical about the proposed tax. He said the general response had been irritation. “I don’t need the park,” he said, although he added that he was glad to be able to use it in promoting the building. More here.

Douglas Elliman.

Poor Larry Silverstein. First the World Trade Center debacle. Now this.

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, which Silverstein Properties’ Web site touts as a marquee tenant at the nonprofit-heavy Art Deco masterpiece of a building at 120 Wall Street, has a lease out with a competing landlord.

The foundation, which specializes in funding research to cure Type 1 Diabetes (as the foundation’s name suggests, that’s the kind that tends to afflict children), has a lease out for nearly 50,000 square feet at 26 Broadway, a mere seven blocks west of the nonprofit’s current headquarters overlooking the East River. More here.

PropertyShark.

Switzerland’s largest bank—which this week posted an incredible $1.3 billion loss, its third consecutive quarter of waning profits—continues to shed excess office space in Manhattan.

Last week, UBS sublet 28,000 square feet at 299 Park Avenue to a firm called MarketAxess, which, according to its Web site, trades in exotic instruments like “emerging markets bonds” and “credit default swaps” for institutional investors. More here.

PropertyShark.

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J Brand, the jeans company that claims responsibility for the first American-made, premium-label skinny jeans (which is kind of like openly claiming responsibility for neon leggings), has signed a five-year, 3,000-square-foot lease expansion at 275 West 39th Street, a garment-district building at the corner of Eighth Avenue. Asking rent: $35 a square foot. Congrats to the Kaufman Organization’s Grant Greenspan, who repped both J Brand and landlord Britex Associates in negotiations. More here.

PropertyShark.

When Jane Jacobs died in 2006, the Silverleaf Tavern on Park Avenue named a drink in her honor. A Jane Jacobs, which costs $14, consists of Hendrick’s gin, elderflower syrup, orange bitters and sparkling wine.

Elderflower syrup: This is not an ingredient you would associate with the White Horse Tavern, a Hudson Street bar where Jacobs was famously photographed holding a beer and a cigarette. Near the apartment where she wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the White Horse was home to the kind of democratic shoulder-rubbing that Jacobs idealized. 

The problem, of course, is when you do too good a job of convincing people that democratic neighborhoods are great, the neighborhoods tend to get less democratic. More here.

A mere five months after the New York Post reported that magazine giant Hachette Filipacchi might try to save on rent by leaving 1633 Broadway for more austere, smaller digs, Hachette has begun to narrow its options, according to a source familiar with the Elle publisher’s office hunt.

Hachette has about 280,000 square feet at its current location, but is on the market for something less than 250,000.

Among the options it’s considering: staying put at the Paramount Group’s 1633 Broadway; relocating to Worldwide Plaza (pictured) at 825 Eighth Avenue, the enormous and largely empty edifice recently bought by George Comfort & Sons; and moving to 777 Third Avenue, the William Kaufman Organization’s 38-story rascacielos at the corner of 49th Street. More here.

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There are worse things in the world than getting $15 million instead of $23.5 million for your parents’ ancient, scruffy Upper East Side mansion after a juicier deal falls through. (Take, for example, the penthouse triplex at 895 Park Avenue, which was once listed for $29.5 million, but went to contract this summer for around $15 million after three other deals failed.)

But a $15 million townhouse sale can still be a nuisance. In March, The Observer reported on the near-deal for a 13,095-square-foot, 105-year-old mansion at 5 East 78th Street. The place, which had belonged to the late Adele Simpson, a fashion designer who dressed tidy postwar ladies like Pat Nixon, went to contract before last year’s Lehman collapse for $23.5 million, its full asking price. More here.

PropertyShark.

Tuesday happens to be the 500th day that the ailing finance titan Lionel Pincus' $35 million, 7,000-square-foot, 14-room duplex in the Pierre has been on the market, and so Wednesday's Observer takes a long, hard gander at its insanely great floor plan.

But Tuesday has turned out to be something a lot more special: Mr. Pincus' two sons and a limited liability corporation filed a suit in State Supreme Court that raises their ongoing feud with their father's companion, Princess Firyal of Jordan, to near-Astor proportions. More here.

As Nigeria deals with gruesome violence between government troops and a strict Islamic sect, one of its prominent oilmen has apparently closed on three serious pieces of brand-name New York real estate.

Last month, neighboring apartments were bought under a trio of limited liability corporation names at the new Centurion condo on West 56th Street, the first New York residential project for lordly architect I. M. Pei since his massively underappreciated Silver Towers. In city records, the buyer for all three is listed as Tunde Folawiyo, whose father, Wahab, was called an icon of Nigerian industry when he died last year. The deals add up to $10.1 million, which bought a total of five bedrooms and 3,530 square feet. More here.

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“A room full of slot machines in Yonkers has no sex appeal,” Steve Wynn told the Transom.

It was July 28, just before 6 p.m., and Mr. Wynn, of the eponymous Wynn Resorts, was relaxing in his attorney’s conference room on the 23rd floor of the New York Times building, following an exhausting day of lobbying city editorial boards.

By “a room full of slot machines,” Mr. Wynn was referring to Empire City at Yonkers Raceway, an unadorned symbol of what he will not build at the Queens Aqueduct in Ozone Park should he win the hotly contested development and slot-machine rights. The prize is worth billions of dollars over the 30-year lease, both to the state and to the developer. It would be Mr. Wynn’s first big New York City investment, and, he said, his first investment in a racino (part racetrack, part casino).

So why here? Why now? More here.

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Julianne Moore, whose late '90s turns in godly Boogie Nights, The Big Lebowski and Magnolia earned her a permanent place in the fickle hearts of film buffs, has lofty real estate aspirations. Her century-old, red-doored, six-bedroom townhouse at West 11th and Washington streets was just listed for $11,995,000, even though records show the actress got the house in 2003 for only $3.5 million. More here.

Sotheby's.

TIAA-CREF—the teachers’ insurance company—has provided $145 million in loans for the Graybar Building, SL Green’s midtown trophy at 420 Lexington Avenue, atop Grand Central Station. It refinanced $100 million in loans and provided an additional $45 million, producing approximately $23 million in net cash proceeds.

SL Green acquired a leasehold for the 31-story, 1.5-million-square-foot, Class A building in 1999. It also took in several loans, two of which were quite hefty: $35 million from Deutsche Bank and another $35 million from Lehman Brothers. SL Green, led by CEO Marc Holliday, refurbished the tower to attract wealthier tenants, spending $84 million to upgrade the lobby, repair the façade, and add new storefronts. More here.

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The only bad thing about New York’s monstrously plush and gargantuan real estate is that it tends to land in such unworthy hands. So it's a relief that a two-bedroom suite on the 16th floor of the Carlyle belongs to someone David Foster Wallace once described as "both flesh and, somehow, light."

The Roger Federer Suite, which costs $3,075 per night, is where the celestial champ has stayed during the U.S. Open since 2007, and he'll rest his head on its custom R. F.-monogrammed pillows again later this month. A very nice woman who’s connected to Rosewood Hotels, which owns the Carlyle, agreed to give The Observer a rare look inside last week. "We need to update," she said at the front door, where an introductory plaque says Mr. Federer has won 13 grand slams (June’s French Open was No. 14 and July’s Wimbledon was No. 15).

On the plus side, the suite has a sleek little kitchen with a 24-bottle mini-bar and an espresso machine; a long living room with a white orchid, a gargantuan quasi-Picasso, two giant shiny black vases, a giant antique-mirrored disc that looks vaguely cocainey and a book on Jacques Helleu; two hefty closets in the foyer, where there's also a horn-handled metallic tray; and a master bedroom with a leopard-print rug, four mirrored bedposts and a comfy-looking tub. (As it happens, the apartment was designed by a musical theater actor named J. Cameron Barnett.) More here.

In 1995, Gwathmey produced a big, brawny modernist tower for the bank’s headquarters. Interior Design’s 1996 praise—“confident, confidence-inspiring”—remains on the Gwathmey Siegel Web site as a reminder of bigger, brawnier days in the world of investment banking. More here.

gwathmey-siegel.com.

Young Woo and his Youngwoo & Associates were awarded the development rights for West Chelsea's Pier 57 on the afternoon of July 30. Here's a slideshow of what might end up there. (And here's a profile of Mr. Woo after he went to contract to buy AIG's two Lower Manhattan skyscrapers earlier this summer.) More here.

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The beer list started with $3 PBR, but there was no advice on the menu for a PBR demographic at the Curbed/92YTribeca rental panel on July 30.

“What should you be paying for your place?” asked the event’s promotional materials, promising a discussion of “the fast-changing New York City rentals market, with an eye on new buildings, hot neighborhoods, how to find deals and strategies for coping and staying sane during the apartment search.”

But the evening’s primary piece of advice to curious tenants: Don’t rent, buy! More here.

“Oh, my God,” Denise Dell'Olio shouted, pointing to the pink, curtained window across from Teri Karush Rogers' kitchen, “I'm looking at a butt!” Ms. Rogers explained that her neighbor’s fashion tastes sometimes included an apron, though not underpants.

The two women considered the spectacle for a viral video on their blog, BrickUnderground.com—“where NYC homeowners talk.” About everything, particularly their neighbors.

Venturing onto the two-month-old blog feels much like checking out a new apartment. As you analyze the décor and layout, you consider, “What can this offer me?” Along the tabs lies a curious option titled, “The Good Neighbor Policy,” which asks visitors to exercise civility in voicing their opinions/complaints/advice; underneath are discussion links, many of which echo the more modest economic concerns of current New York homeowners; there's a link to a page of experts, including acoustic consultants and conflict resolution specialists. Surfing a few minutes, you begin to realize the blog isnt so much an apartment—the sensation to appraise the value of everything somewhat diminished in the last several months—as it is a glimpse into the current state of affairs, a forum where residents, perhaps more homebound as of late, seem in need of help. More here.

Residents of Sheffield57, perhaps the most ill-starred condo conversion in recent history, are "europhic" that developer Kent Swig and his junior partners on Thursday formally lost control of the project they began four years ago.

"We’re going to have a number of celebrations," said Larry Wagner, a condo owner and former Nomura CFO. That series of bashes will include a celebration in September at Kennedy's across West 57th Street. (We're willing to bet that never, in the history of foreclosure auctions, have residents been so overjoyed to have their building's future placed firmly in the hands of a private equity firm.)

On Thursday morning, Fortress Investment Group paid $20 million for the project in a foreclosure auction. Fortress has also announced it will replace Swig Equities as the managing agent with Rose Associates, the well-regarded concern led by cousins Adam and Amy Rose. As these things sometimes and oddly go in New York real estate, Rose is the very same firm that sold the Sheffield at 322 West 57th Street, then a 50-story tower of 845 rentals and zero condos, to Swig and partners in early 2005 in a $418 million deal--then the biggest residential building sale in U.S. history. More here.

PropertyShark.

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Luxury: What does it mean? A few complaints, and proposed guidelines for usage.

If you use the adjective “sick,” your apartment no longer qualifies as a “luxury” rental. One cancels the other out, or at least renders it totally insufferable.

We like hyperbole as much as the next person, but: “ultra luxury”? What is? This one also gets demerits for its overzealous abbreviation. “WIC DRMN FTNSS RFTP” looks like something a monkey would type. More here.

Last year, back when the Greek pharmaceutical executive Dr. Athanase Lavidas put his full-floor, 11-room, five-fireplace apartment on the market for $43 million, it was the most expensive co-op available at 2 East 67th Street, one of the Upper East Side’s most dictatorially patrician apartment houses. But a $34.9 million sprawl two floors up now has a $45 million tag, thanks to a pair of really peculiar price increases this month.

That means Dr. Lavidas’ place is the cheaper choice by $2 million—a swell bargain! And while the $45 million apartment upstairs doesn’t have a publicly available floor plan, Dr. Lavidas’ listing with Brown Harris Stevens comes with a gem: It shows where those five fireplaces are; how to navigate from the sauna to the gym, or from the private landing to the powder room; where the maids sleep; and how the place measures up to an older layout. More here.

It's a well-known law of downtown New York City real estate that whenever one comedian or model or TV director moves out of his apartment, another one moves in nearby immediately. So it shouldn't be that surprising that a deed filed in city records Thursday showed that Saturday Night Live star Kristen Wiig bought a Soho co-op at Broadway and Broome Street from Mad Men and Sopranos director Alan Taylor.

Its listing is poetic but odd: "Let the SUN Shine in. From SUN rise to SUN set," it says. "Let the SUN start your day from this high floor corner Loft with South and East exposures. SUN pours thru 7 oversized windows." Marketing photographs show a bevy of vegetables and plants. More here.

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The Campbell Apartment’s dress code says: ‘Proper Attire Required. Absolutely No Athletic Shoes, T-Shirts, Sweatshirts, Baseball Caps, Shorts or Torn Jeans.’ Did you write that?

We started off with the simple ‘Proper Attire Required,’ but it was too open-ended. … I must say I appreciate your respect for our dress code, because there are journalists out there, who will remain unnamed, who have almost a vendetta against us because they were turned away at the door when they felt that because they were journalists that should somehow make a difference.

 

I assume you mean Times’ restaurant critic Frank Bruni, who wrote last year about being turned away from Campbell for wearing ‘a pair of very, very expensive Tod’s shoes’ that your doorman mistook for sneakers. Did you apologize to him afterward?

That wasn’t the person I had in mind, but certainly to start apologizing for our dress code starts to challenge why we have a dress code. Honestly, I can’t recall what we did, but we try to train our hostesses as best we possibly can, because it’s a very touchy subject. You walk in and, you know, I understand it, people take it very personally. It’s like—‘Max, I don’t think you’re worthy. Get the hell out of here!’ More here.

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