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As New York Landscape Evolves, Columbus Circle Emerges as City's Gold Coast

Amid New York City's condominium boom, two types of residential developments have dominated the landscape: The boxy, glass tower, and the pre-war conversion of commercial spaces such as hotels or office buildings.

And then there's 15 Central Park West — a stately, neoclassical limestone apartment house that cost $1 billion to build on the cleared Columbus Circle lot long home to the decaying Mayflower Hotel. Construction is nearly complete, and the residents of the sold-out building will begin moving in to their multimillion-dollar units in July, according to Zeckendorf Development, which along with a financing partner, Goldman Sachs, bet and won big with this project.

Residential sales of the double-towered development totaled $1.8 billion, with some units commanding more than $3,000 a square foot — driving up already high apartment prices in and around Columbus Circle.

In the past decade, the neighborhood has been transformed into one of the most desirable residential neighborhoods, home to some of the city's wealthiest residents, from a honky-tonk transit hub. Notably, eight of the 25 priciest-ever residential sales, not adjusted for inflation, were in the nearby Time Warner Center towers, according the New York City Department of Finance.

Although the prices paid for individual units at 15 Central Park West are not yet publicly available, some sales are sure to smash records. Hedge fund magnate Daniel Loeb reportedly paid $45 million for his 11,000-square-foot penthouse there, making it the second most expensive recorded residential sale in New York City.

The least expensive apartment at 15 Central Park West, a one-bedroom facing West, was scooped up early on for $2 million, though a similar unit went on to sell for $2.9 million.

When brothers Arthur Zeckendorf and William Lie Zeckendorf, along with their investment partners, purchased the lot of Mayflower Hotel lot for $401 million about three years ago, real estate investors and analysts snickered that the buyers had overpaid. "We all have egg on our faces right now," the managing director of Real Capital Analytics, Daniel Fasulo, told The New York Sun. "Based on what they were able to sell the finished product for, you can probably call that a home run — probably a grand slam is more appropriate for that project."

Facing the southwestern edge of Central Park, the new development takes up a full city block, running between 61st and 62nd streets and stretching west to Broadway.

Historically, New York's super-rich preferred to live in the most exclusive white-glove cooperatives on the Upper East Side, which are essentially private clubs where the boards of directors are the building gatekeepers. But real estate insiders say that 15 Central Park West, the Time Warner Center, and One Beacon Court in Midtown are the triumvirate of city buildings that has mega-millionaires reconsidering condominiums. New condominium developments going up at 220 Central Park South and 530 Park Avenue could soon join the ranks of these exclusive condominiums, experts say.

In an interview with the Sun, one of the developers, Arthur Zeckedorf, said he was always confident that the building would succeed — given the size of 1.3-acre lot, its location across from Central Park, and the ongoing transformation of Columbus Circle, with the arrivals of Trump International Hotel and Tower and the Time Warner Center. "Those were the two major anchors that helped us with sales," he said.

The financing of 15 Central Park West is said to be a partnership between the Zeckendorfs, Goldman Sachs's Whitehall real estate fund, and an investment company controlled by an Israeli businessman, Eyal Ofer.

The roster of residents at 15 Central Park West reportedly includes the actor Denzel Washington, the musician Sting, and the sportscaster Bob Costas, in addition to a slew of banking and hedge fund executives, each worth hundreds of millions of dollars, or more.

Many buyers were drawn to architect Robert A.M. Stern's "modern classical" design, with its façade made from 6,000 tons of limestone, the same material that fashioned some of New York's most exclusive pre-war cooperatives, such as 834 Fifth Ave. and 740 Park Ave.

Fifteen Central Park West has 202 residences with grand, gracious proportions similar to their pre-war counterparts. Yet they offer the modern kitchens, plumbing, and conveniences older apartments often lack. The development comprises two connected buildings, a 20-story tower along Central Park West, and a 43-story tower that backs up to Broadway.

"It you look at 15 Central Park West, it's not super-modern — and it doesn't have glass walls, or look like it's made of plastic or like it's going to have gold fixtures in every bathroom," the author of "740 Park: The Story of the World's Richest Apartment Building" (Broadway, 2005), Michael Gross, said. "They are certainly trying, in terms of the physical presence and image-making, to create the first apartment building of this century that consciously pays homage to and advances on the great apartment buildings of last century."

Like many of the city's new condominiums, 15 Central Park West offers an ample amenities package that includes a screening room, wine cellar, lap pool, and around-the-clock concierge. And like a handful of established Upper East Side cooperatives, the building boasts a private dining room, where residents and their guests can purchase lunch and dinner on weekdays.

"Country club" attire is expected in the 60-seat dining room, with men required to wear a sports coat in the evenings, the building's director of sales, Richard Wallgren, said. Those not inclined to dress up can order room service. A private chef, provided by Corporate Culinary Services — whose specialties include "Wild Mushroom Bisque" and New York Sirloin Au Poivre With Sage Demi Glace" — will cook meals on-site.

Monthly common charges range between $1,200 and $12,000.

The building has proved attractive to New York-area families, who made up 82% of buyers, Mr. Wallgren said. Those include defectors from Upper East Side co-ops, as well as those living in suburban communities like New Canaan, Conn., and Bedford, N.Y. Some 10% of buyers are Americans living outside the metropolitan area, and the remaining 8% of buyers are foreign nationals.

About 60 children will reside in the building, according to Mr. Wallgren.

"New Yorkers generally have different tastes than foreign buyers," an executive vice president at Prudential Douglas Elliman, Jacky Teplitzky, said. "New Yorkers are looking for space; they're looking for high ceilings and amenities. Foreigners are not so into amenities. They want to enjoy the city while they're here, but whether the building has a children's playroom is irrelevant to them."

Ms. Teplitzky praised the design of 15 Central Park West, but said she was surprised to discover that there were direct views from one tower into the other. "They could see right into your bedroom," she said.

A real estate broker who in late 2005 spent $2.5 million on a two-bedroom apartment on the seventh floor of the back tower, Dorothy Somekh, may simply opt for curtains. She said she could probably sell her unit for $3.6 million today — but she has no plans to flip it. "I had a sense this was going to be a top-notch building," Ms. Somekh, a senior vice president with Halstead Property, said. "The ones who were too scared, who don't understand the urgency, or the people who said the market would go down, they lost out."

The one thing she says she would change is the building's anchor retail tenant, an electronics store. "I'm not crazy about a Best Buy going in that beautiful building," she said. "I'd like to see beautiful boutiques there, something chicer, like on Fifth Avenue."

Fifteen Central Park West is situated at a crossroads of sorts. To its south are two distinctive, shiny glass high-rises: the twin-towered Time Warner Center, and the Trump International Hotel & Tower. To the north lies 30-block stretch of mostly older, Art Deco and Beaux-Arts apartments buildings that make up the iconic West Side skyline.

Mr. Stern, told the Sun that he drew inspiration for 15 Central Park West from that skyline, and also from River House, a hulking co-op erected on West 52nd Street in 1931, among other great apartment houses of that era. "I thought our building would succeed best as the gateway to the Central Park West façade, which is stone," he said.

Mr. Stern said he considered employing a mix of limestone and brick, but the developers approved an all-limestone design — even though it added significantly to the cost of the building. "You can either have a mink coat, or have mink cuffs and a mink collar," he said. "The wonderful thing about having limestone all the way up, is that it takes the light in the most magnificent way. Even on a gray day, it pulls the light out of the sky."



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