Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A. Fine Blog's Year End Awards

It has been one heck of a year, 2009. We've had plenty of ups and downs and vice versa. We saw titans fall, projects stall, and towers soar. It was a year of big swings in fortune and a test of fortitude. 2009 started with the slowest Quarter in decades and the biggest price drops since the early 90's. We stared the biggest economic collapse in a lifetime right in the eyes, and somehow avoided it. It was a rocky year where the Dow Jones plummeted, and rebounded. Banks faced systemic failure and then came out ahead. Residential real estate froze then quickly thawed with greatly reduced prices. Well, that's just some of what happened, here is a recap of some of the rest:

Least Recessionary Neighborhood: Lincoln Square including the Upper West 50's. Early in the year when it looked like the economy was in complete collapse, I could always take a step back in time in this neighborhood. Between the multiple Extell Buildings filling Riverside Boulevard, John Jay College construction, The Kalimian rental tower on 66th, and the numerous new condos and construction between 58th and 61st Street, this area was, and still is, abuzz. There are actual jobs there folks, jobs!

Favorite Diversion: The Rat. Oh yes, the rat! We saw that rat in all shapes and forms this year and even saw the union's favorite blow up pet with a Yankees cap. Hey, they built CitiField union too! I saw the commercials! The rat turned out to be a real internet hit. My favorite shot, left, was taken by contributor Neil Mori.
Biggest Hero This Year: Sully!

"2nd Favorite Building of the Year": Jean Nouvel's 100 Eleventh Avenue. This building really surprised me. Before they started glassing it up this summer, I though the idea was ill-conceived at best. But then, magic! With it's eight gazzillion panels of glass providing an exceptional dazzle, and multiple hues at night, this building can be branded an instant classic. Gehry's Beekman Tower still takes the cake though.

Favorite Park Renovation This Year: Union Square Park. Yes, yes, I know, the High Line was awesome and a game changer, but I work in Union Square, so I am totally biased! Okay, sure, they did a great job on phase one of Washington Square Park too, so both get honorable mentions. However, the north end makeover of Union Square was spectacular. The triple-sized playground is a hit and the Farmer's Market with new pavers, Japanese pagoda trees, and Bishops Crook street lamps, not to mention drainage, was a huge improvement. Speaking of Union Square Park....

Greatest Lost Fixture In Union Square: Joe Ades, Potato Peeling Pitchman. Ah Joe, rest in piece! Your deep voice with Australian accent that echoed throughout the park will be sorely missed. I was always amazed how many of those peelers you could sell. I was less amazed, but extraordinarily amused when your obituary noted that you lived on Park Avenue and frequented the fanciest of restaurants. The Times noted when asked what he did for a living, he'd bluntly respond "I sell potato peelers on the street for $5", and people didn't believe him.

Best Fast Food Expansion: Shake Shack. CitiField, The Upper West Side, and soon East 86th Street. Thanks, Danny!

Oddest Resident On Park Avenue: Hello Kitty. It was supposed to be a limited installation (ending 9/08), but apparently nobody had the heart to tell Hello Kitty, or perhaps they just decided that they liked her. Whatever the case, last I looked, she was still there.

Biggest Bust: Stuy Town. That one was easy! One of the biggest real estate loans ever and it is on the edge of catastrophic implosion. Second place: The Emirate of Dubai and any number of highly leveraged developers who hit the skids big this year.
Best Fed Moment: March 18th. Stepped into markets to by mortgage-backed securities and drove down mortgage rates by 16% in 24 hours.

Biggest Thing To Happen To The Upper East Side: Madonna! Ah, the material girl, such a trend setter! Despite being poo-pooed by a bunch of whiny brokers who were probably bitter about not making the sale, Madge made the big move East, gasp, East of Lex in the 80's. And alas, people thought Madonna overpaid for the triple wide 12,000 sq ft mansion at $48 Mil., but, the woman knows business; it was later revealed that she paid $32 Mil., considered a bargain to many. Welcome to the hood!
Most Annoying "Improvement": The Pedestrian Mall At Times Square.
Slowest Project Ever: 2nd Avenue Subway.

Best New Development That Actually Fits In With Surroundings: 211 Elizabeth. Neighbors are thrilled. The Peter Manning-lead effort on Elizabeth and Spring looks like it has been there for a century, but it is all brand new. The gorgeous red brick condo is both in style and scale a perfect fit with it's surroundings. The inside is just as nice with unheard of features like actual wood windowsills!

Time Stood Still- Ludlow and Orchard. Absolutely nothing happened on this block with 4 frozen developments all within yards of each other. This area resembles something out of a made-for-tv disaster flick. One of the projects, The Ludlow Hotel, announced plans to convert the 170 room future hotel to rental studio that would be stabilized and rent for $1200-$1300/mo.. I'll believe it when I see it.
Trend That Never Caught On In Manhattan: Residential Foreclosures. Sure, Eastern Queens and Brooklyn took a mighty smack, but foreclosures in Manhattan never took off. Maybe those annoying board packages and actually having to put real money down has paid off.

Best Save Of A Historic Diner Despite Moving Out West And Almost Completely Disintegrating: Moondance Diner. So it's in Wyoming now and not at the mouth of the Holland Tunnel! It's just nice to see something get preserved in this day and age!

Well, that's it. Wishing everyone a fantastic 2010! See you then.

Building Of The Year: Gehry's Beekman Tower

Year end recaps- everyone is doing them, so why the heck not! I haven't done one of these in my three years writing the blog, but, it has been such an oddball year of ups and downs, that I might as well.
I'll start with my "building of the year", which for me is a no-brainer: The Beekman Tower by Frank Gehry. I revisited the tower this morning for some fresh pics. I am sure you all remember the recession infused rumors that it would never make it to it's full height of 76 stories. For a while there back in May it was assumed by many that it would be stunted around 40 stories. What a loss that would have been! Sure enough, 76 stories of glorious, gleaming, twisting stainless steel is on the way! Just can't seem to get enough!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Coming To 28th And Broadway In 2011: The NoMad Hotel

I've become a bit of a regular at Stumptown Coffee housed on the ground floor of The Ace Hotel. They have a full bodied Cafe Americano with a nice bite and a kick that only a black coffee lover like myself can appreciate. Since I have come to admire Stumptown, I find myself at The Ace Hotel, just about any time that I am in the hood. And what a hood it is!

This is an area that really needs a neighborhood name and, perhaps, there should be a contest. I have referred to the area as "Little Lagos" for a while now in honor of the African Immigrants that line Broadway peddling wholesale goods from small shops throughout the area. 28th Street itself was once know as "Tin Pan Alley" as it was the world capital of sheet music from 1885 til sometime during the Great Depression. Now a new hotel will join Ace a block away and they have a suggestion, and it is their namesake, NoMad (For North of Madison Square historic district). While the name may be debatable, the bones of this project are undeniably awesome. The hotel will be located on the southwest corner of 28th and Broadway in a gorgeous and elegant French Renaissance building built in 1903. This should prove to be the perfect canvas for French Contemporary architect and interior designer, Jacques Garcia, to go to work. It is also owned by GFI Development which built the Ace. GFI took the gamble on Ace, which now appears to be paying off handsomely, and now NoMad looks like a far less risky venture. Still the neighborhood is the question mark. Sure, it has a ton of junkie counterfeiters, but, let's face it, you cannot ask for a more central location, and there are plenty of gorgeous buildings on that stretch of Broadway that date to the late 18th and early 19th century which are ripe for redevelopment. Both Ace and NoMad take up sizable lots on 28th and 29th and The Flatiron Hotel should be opening soon on 26th and Broadway. Refreshingly, upscale shops and restaurants are taking the place of eyesores. Perhaps, just maybe, this is the turn that this stretch of Broadway has been begging for for years. Manya Duhoffman, Director of Sales and Marketing for NoMad envisions a Melrose Avenue (L.A) type of stretch with hip and unique shops lining the street. While it has a long way to go, I hope her vision one day becomes reality.

While NoMad was originally scheduled to open in 2009, according to Duhoffmann, numerous factors, including the economy have pushed the date back to sometime in 2011. I guess good things are worth the wait.

In the meantime, how about a new neighborhood name. SoHers (South of Herald Square)? TinBro (hybrid of Tin Can Alley and Broadway)? Eh, maybe NoMad will work afterall!

Tuesday Morning Links

The 15 Coolest Features At New Union Square Playground (New York Mag)
Shinnecock Indians See Boom Times Ahead (NY Times)
NYC Homicides On Track For Record Low Year (NY Times)
REBNY Prez Sees Stable Prices In 2010 (NY1)
Curbed Awards 09': Best Floor Plan (Curbed)
Curbed Awards 09': Biggest Price Chop, Biggest Shit Show And More! (Curbed)
Case Shiller Index Shows Improvement, Flattening (The Real Deal)
Luxury Architect O'Hara Files For Bankruptcy (The Real Deal)
LIC Library Should Start Construction In 18 Months, Size Still In Flux (Queens Chronicle)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Monday Morning Links

It's a real snoozefest for real estate news this time of year, so I won't bore you with a bunch of lame articles, just a few of note:
South Harlem Gains Momentum Along Frederick Douglas Blvd (NY Times)
Living With Mom In The Same Building (NY Times)
"Dubai On The Bowery" Facing Dubai Style Debt Problems? (Curbed)
StuyTown Denied TALF Funds (NY Post)
Hunters Point Park To Be Funded By Apartments (NY Post)
Estate Of The Day: The Osborne (Luxist)
Sunday Nation Luxury RE Wrap (Luxist)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Grading Manhattan's Snow Response: "C", At Best!

There was a little luck involved, with relatively warm streets and major accumulations late on a Saturday night with ample warning, but, the response by the Department of Sanitation was mixed at best. With 11 inches reported in Central Park, sanitation had a tall task, and it was clear that the plows were on the street in numbers and early, but their actions sometimes left people scratching their heads. Sunday afternoon, for instance, East 57th Street was plowed westbound, but not eastbound. I was on a bus to an open house and it was clear that the driver was extremely challenged. The plows did a great job on Third Avenue in the 90's, but expediency clearly took priority over rational thinking. Between 91st and 92nd Street, a bus stop was fully plowed in (a pile 3'-4' tall), and there was no gap in the snow for over a block. The result that passengers, many seniors, were forced to disembark in the second lane of traffic and were forced to walk in the street with slush icing over for quite a distance. It was equally challenging catching one of Third Ave buses as, if it were just arriving when you were, you would have the choice of hurdling the snow bank or running a block to access the street and then running back a block in traffic. I spoke with a couple of riders who where aghast with the situation. "Unbelievable" commented one ride, "idiots" decried another. Such a situation makes you thankful for being young-ish and able-bodied- seeing an elderly man exiting a bus with the help of a well worn cane made me cringe.
The other major problem was corner crosswalks. While it was clear that many merchants and building workers diligently cleared corners, others remained completely untouched. So, on some blocks it was clear sailing and others required an unstable climb or slush in your boots. My understanding, I could be wrong, is that building owners and/or merchants are responsible for clearing the corners. If this is the case, enforcement was asleep on the job.

In short, most major thoroughfares were cleared efficiently, but there is room for major improvement in planning.

Nordstrom Racked Gets More Glass

I always wondered why there wasn't greater use of windows on the 14th Street frontage of the former Virgin Megastore. Aside from the marquee above the door and a couple of underutilized windows, the Virgin was much like a large cave. Not so with the new Nordstrom Rack that is scheduled to open on May 11th, 2010. Behind the plywood erected a couple of months ago, construction crews have been busy blowing out walls and replacing them with a tall wall of glass. The addition of windows will not only make for a more logical retail space, but add life this busy, yet formerly stark block.
Update: For those of you who have been asking, I spoke to the owner's rep for 10-17 Jackson last week and the jury is still out in regards to condo vs. rental. The rep mentioned that he believed that the LIC market was "strong" and indicated that he thought it would do well as a condo. The issue will be revisited in the new year. I will keep on top of it.

Monday Links

Top 10 Crazy Things That Didn't Get Built In The Last Decade (Joey/Curbed)
Another Atlantic Yards Suit Fails.........(The Real Deal)
........And, Drinkers Chain Themselves To Bar In Eminent Domain Protest (NY Post)
Bust: "Topless" Bike Lane Protesters Outnumbered By Cops, Keep Clothes On (Gothamist)
Developers Reconsider "Condotel" Concept (NY Times)
Ponzi Pad Purchase Bounces Back After Rare Use Of Right Of First Refusal (NY Times)
Bidding War In Greenwich Village Before Apartment Even Hits The Market (NY Times)
Hilary Swank Signs At Superior Ink (NY Post)
Glenn Beck A Loser, Oh, In Real Estate Too (Realestalker)
USA Weekly Luxury Real Estate Wrap Up (Luxist)
More On StuyDie: The Biggest, Baddest Real Estate Loan (NY Mag)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Oh Yeah! Setai At 400 Fifth Ave Is Looking Good!

The timing may not be great, but the building looks great! On 36th Street and Fifth Avenue, an oft neglected, somewhat rundown stretch of Fifth, rises the 57 Story Setai Hotel and Condo. This Gwathmey Siegel product really perks up the area with interesting architecture that includes "expressed" facade with billowy windows that form a pattern that nods to Art Deco landmarks in the nearby area, a stainless steel crown, and a masculine limestone base. The angles of the windows and abundant use of stainless steel give the building a reflective shimmer which exudes energy and life. If you are in the area make sure to have a look.
There is a fantastic thread on Wired NY with 28 pages of pics and commentary:
400 Fifth Avenue @ 36th Street (Wired NY)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Shake Shack Coming To East 86th Street, Plan To Dominate The Globe!

(Photo courtesy

Wow! Shake Shack is coming to the hood! Yorkville that is! A new Shake Shack is scheduled to open this Spring on East 86th Street next to the new Barnes and Noble! Not only that, Shake Shack has an expansion plan that includes far flung spots like Kuwait. Little chance I'll make it there any time soon, but welcome to Yorkville, Danny, welcome!
The Accidental Empire Of Fast Food (NY Times)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Monday Morning Links

Slim pickins on real estate news this weekend. The best content seemed to be on The 4th link has Luxist's weekly wrap up of the National luxury market. It is a great synopsis of high end properties trading and plenty of it is in NYC. Enjoy.
Lower Prices Lure Stabilized Tenants Into Buyers Market (NY Times)
Bike Access Law In Office Buildings Takes Effect (NY Times)
David Tutera In NYC, "The Most Stunning Renovation Ever", You Be The Judge (Luxist)
Superb Round Up Of All Luxury Moving And Shaking This Week (Luxist)
Reasons To Love New York (New York Mag)
Living Small In NYC: 105 Square Feet And Less (NY Post)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Union Square Playground Opens To Rave Reviews

"Love it", "awesome", and "fantastic" were typical of the reviews from the few parents braving the arctic cold today at Union Square Park's new 15,000 square foot playground. I totally agree. The playground, which triples the size of the old one, is modern, unique, and attractive. Divided into three sections and intended for ages 1-12, the playground has rugged rock features, the dangerous looking metal orb dubbed "magic mountain", swings, sandbox, jungle gym, and a wide range of things that spin and would make your average adult more tipsy than a dozen $7 warm Coronas that were served up there during a previous incarnation. An email response from Jennifer Falk, Executive Director of the Union Square Partnership, indicates that it's not just the parents and kids in the area that are excited.
"We could not be more thrilled that Union Square Park's expanded play space is finally open," said Jennifer Falk. "The kids who have visited the new playground have given the space a huge thumbs up, and the feedback from parents and caregivers has been overwhelmingly positive, which is truly gratifying. We hope that this new amenity will provide endless hours of enjoyment to all that visit for many, many years to come, and can't wait for spring when the water features, including spray shower and sandbox water table, can be activated."

It was a long time coming, but this feature of Union Square Park has turned out to be worth the wait. The Park renovation is now 92% complete. Last up, the nearly finished bathrooms and finishing touches to the pavilion.

Goldman Sachs Top 30 To Get Stock Instead Of Cash Bonuses

After a seemingly never ending string of bad PR, Goldman Sachs seems to have finally gotten one right. Facing the potential for never-ending scrutiny over paying out $19 Billion in bonuses this winter, the firm has decided that the top 30 beneficiaries will be paid only in restricted stock that cannot be sold for 5 years. Additionally, the bonuses will contain "claw back" provisions should any of those executives take extraordinary risk (at least risk that results in losses). I know this move has created a stir in the real estate community with unfounded concern that this move will effect the market. But really, what are we talking here, 30 people? Sure, they are very rich people, but how many of them need a new place? End result, a few, and I mean maybe single digits here, that won't be in the market for a place at 15 CPW.
Goldman Sachs Scraps Cash Bonuses For Top 30 Execs (L.A. Times)
Goldman Blinks On Bonuses (WSJ)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thursday Links

Madonna Buys Horse Farm On Mitchells Lane, Bridgehampton (NY Post)
Plans For Hunters Point Park Pass CB2 (NY Post)
US Home Values Drop Half Trillion Dollars, But Decline Slows (Huffington Post)
NYC Passes Big Energy Efficiency Bill (SF Gate)
Recapping A Topsy Turvy Year In NYC Real Estate (NY Post)
Good Riddance! 2009 Saw NYC Real Estate Market Get Crushed (The Real Deal)
Buyer Confidence Begets Market Strength (The Real Deal)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wednesday Links

Quiet on the blog front, yes. Quiet on the business front- far from it. There must be an inverse relationship at work here! Following the theme of the past several months, the sub-$1 million market continues to be, dare I say it, hot.
SL Green's Sale Of 485 Lex Goes Up In Flames (Crain's)
W Union Square Laden With Dubai Debt Gets Auctioned Off (The Real Deal)
Interview With Dottie Herman (The Real Deal)
Landmarks Approves Big Changes To East Side Porn Palace Mansion (Curbed)
Gisele Finds Buyer For West Village Townhouse (Curbed)
The Laurel Drops Prices And More (NY Post, 4th Item)
Macklowe Guns To take Back 510 Madison (Observer)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Monday Morning Links

Condo King De-throwned (Crain's)
New Real Estate Search Tool Inspired By Cult Brainwashing Methods (WNBC)
What $2000./mo. Will Get You In NYC (NY1)
Landlords Convince Bloomberg To Drop Green Energy Initiative (NY Times)
When An Apartment Choice Turns Into A Big Mistake (NY Times)
Stephanopoulos Shops For $40k/mo. Rental (Huffington Post)
Estate Of The Day: 960 Fifth (Luxist)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

UWS: "The Laureate" Gets A Foundation

My camera, which has served this blog very well, picked the wrong day to quit! Nonetheless, I managed to spit shine my blackberry to get this shot of the foundation flowing into the massive lot on the south east corner of 76th and Broadway. It was refreshing to see teams of men wrangling re-bar and cement trucks lining up, one after another, to feed the crane which was filling the foundation with cement as fast as they possibly could. Flashbacks filled my head of a better time. In this spot, a number of lots cobbled together in better times for $111 Million, will rise "The Laureate", a luxury condominium with all the bells and whistles. Total square footage of the 18 story, limestone clad project, is expected at 300,000. While completion of Fall 2010 may seem ambitious, they are certainly giving it the full court press at the moment.
For a more renderings, floor plans and more, click here for architect SLCE's full rundown.

Union Square: From Zen Palate Rises....Donuts?!?!

This strikes me as a disappointment, and a pretty big one. On the site of what was the massive and tasty vegetarian "Zen Palate" (16th and Park), I spotted signage and crews working feverishly to complete a Tim Horton's Doughnuts (yes, they spell it differently up there). Now, don't get me wrong- everyone needs a good donut every millennium or two, but this is a downgrade and really counter to where we would like Union Square to be going. Also, unless Horton's is paying an exorbitant rent, doubtful in this market, the landlord is painting himself into a corner by giving up prime frontage unless he has made a deal for the rest of the space.

Update (thanks to my friend Joey over at Curbed): Turns out that Riese Organization, the fast-ish food giant, bought the former Zen Palate building, and initial plans call for not only a Tim Horton's, but possibly a TGI Fridays on the spot as well. Note to self, the burbs are invading, the burbs are invading! Ouch!
TGI Fridays And Tim Horton Come To Union Square (NY Serious Eats 8/17/09)