Rent. Repent. Repeat: Mystery Solved at Tribeca Tower, But Are Mortgages Really a Sin?

What does it all mean? (Dan Dickinson, <a= href "http://www.flickr.com/photos/remydwd/4848965959/sizes/l/in/photostream/">flickr)</a>

Was it an anti-capitalist missive? A zen koan? Meaningful commentary on the impossibility of happiness, the disappointments of the American dream, the fact that so many of us felt dissatisfied with our apartments and our lives?

Rent. Repent. Repeat. A banner fastened to a glimmering tower facing the Hudson River.

Turns out it was just a marketing campaign.

As anyone who bothered to call the phone number connected to the banner may have learned, it leads neither to a cult leader nor an agit-prop prankster, but to the leasing offices of the luxury rental building to which it has been affixed for the past two years: Truffles Tribeca, a hip but pricey development at 34 Desbrosses Street.

“We wanted to have fun with our marketing and stand out by not using typical real estate terms like the word ‘luxury’ or speak about the finishes on kitchen appliances,” said general manager Kevin Coughlin.

(Before the Rent. Repent. Repeat banner the construction site displayed a quotation from playwright Edward Albee: “You gotta have swine to show you where the truffles are.”)

But what does the cryptic message mean, exactly?

In an email outlining the concept, the company wrote that it was a play on words (the old “rent and repent” saying, combined with a kind of commentary on the housing crisis).

“Truffles opened in one of the worst economies, with the mortgage crisis in housing doing a great deal of damage to the economy,” a company representative wrote. “With this inverted phrase, we felt like we were saying, tongue in cheek, ‘We have all sinned with these mortgages—and the economic mess we are in—seek forgiveness with the world or a higher power by renting an apartment.’ With this we were playfully announcing to the world that renting an apartment at Truffles is an answer to all prayers.”

The banner generates at least 30 phone calls a month, Mr. Coughlin said, (it’s linked to a specific 888 number), although some of them are just questions from people who want to know what it all means. At one point, the Truffles website had a huge spike in traffic from an obscure French blog where a tourist had posted a picture taken on vacation.

The motto and the concept may have appealed to those trounced in the economic downturn, even if the prices weren’t going to: the cheapest apartment currently available is a $3,495-a-month studio. Still, the building is basically full right now, according to management, so if not the sign, then something—the pétanque court, the private club (Trufflesprivé) or the roof deck are pulling people in.

Or maybe it’s the mannequins? Right before the building opened Truffles set up mannequins eating breakfast on the terraces, dressed to go clubbing in the lobby, enjoying drinks as they gazed at the river. (Mr. Coughlin said that mostly the gimmick was well-received, but every once in a while, the staff would receive calls that “people were tied up on one of the balconies.”)

The mannequins disappeared when people started moving in, although Mr. Coughlin confessed that they still live at Truffles.

“We keep the mannequins in the building storeroom,” he said. “They’re kind of itching to get out.”

kvelsey@observer.com Rent. Repent. Repeat: Mystery Solved at Tribeca Tower, But Are Mortgages Really a Sin?