57th Heaven: How a Boring Boulevard Became the Billionaires Belt

Always lacking the cachet of better-known crosstown boulevards, 57th Street is having a moment, thanks to a confluence of decades-old zoning and newfound global wealth. While City Hall has played almost no role in the development of 57th Street in the past few years, the Tiffany-tinted thoroughfare may soon stand as the singular symbol of the Bloomberg era. All it takes is an apartment—average price: $20 million.

A big part of the appeal, of course, is that all of these buildings are condos, which don’t tend to exclude residents based on pedigree, the way co-ops do. An ill-gotten oligopoly and half a dozen divorces? Who cares! Welcome to 57th Street.

In addition to 107 and 157 West 57th Street, there is 432 Park Avenue, rising on the old Drake Hotel site between 56th and 57th streets, which Harry Macklowe has controlled for years. It will usurp Mr. Barnett’s record, becoming New York’s tallest tower, bar none, at a height of 1,397 feet. (That’s ignoring 1 World Trade’s 400-foot spire, but you can’t live on a pole.) So far, Mr. Macklowe and CIM have pegged the most expensive units at 432 Park Avenue in the $80 million range.

Not to be outdone, the brash Mr. Barnett is poised to one-up those who have one-upped him. For some time now, he has been planning a tower at 225 West 57th Street, on the corner of Broadway and West 57th Street.

Early speculation had been that the building would reach 1,250 feet, but some reconfigurations and a few more air rights deals have now yielded Mr. Barnett a tower of 1,550 feet—set to reclaim the crown of city’s tallest tower by a good 151 feet. Mr. Barnett’s 88-story tower will have New York City’s first Nordstrom in its base, a sure sign that the luxury brands clustered around Fifth and Madison will continue to migrate west.

Further down, both on the boulevard and on the skyline, is the Durst Organization’s 625 West 57th Street, the one major new rental tower on the strip. Every design magazine from here to Dubai cannot stop talking about the 32-story pyramid, which looks like a giant paper airplane crossed with an aircraft carrier, designed by Danish wunderkind Bjarke Ingels.

Among the other smaller developments on the stretch are a new brooding hotel on the southern side of 57th Street, designed by the rough-edged industrial glam outfit Roman and Williams. Mr. Barnett also controls a 50-foot-wide parcel at 16 West 57th Street that he bought last year for $80 million. The site, off Fifth Avenue, had previously been marketed as a boutique shopping spot and 28-story hotel, but given Mr. Barnett’s keen ability to assemble air rights, something much taller seems possible.

And all the way over on the corner of Second Avenue, World Wide Group is preparing to break ground on a 57-story avant-garde behemoth with 270 high-end apartments, designed by Roger Duffy of SOM. Earlier renderings showed a faceted tower, like an uncut diamond, but a source explained that the newest plans “undulate.”

The length of 57th Street has encompassed the broad sweep of humanity, the high and low, the cultured and the crass, the chichi and the chintzy. Like so much of the city in the past 11 years, its rough edges are being demolished and reshaped, fashioned anew. Manhattan is starting to look as much like Dubai as New York, and is starting to feel like it, too.

57th Heaven: How a Boring Boulevard Became the Billionaires Belt