The Real Deal New York

What do the workers building Billionaires’ Row towers think about them?

“It’s a sign of progress, I guess. I don’t give a rat’s ass.”

September 21, 2015 06:00PM
By Isabel Schwab

432 Park Avenue

From left: 432 Park Avenue upon topping out last year and the building’s 75-foot indoor pool

From Luxury Listings NYC: A promotional video for 432 Park Avenue from 2014 has a sped up time-lapse video of the construction progress. From a hole in the ground, the building grows, higher and higher as if by magic. And befitting a fantasy tower, when finished, it will have the highest roof in New York City at 1,396 feet and will be the tallest residential tower in the world. That is, until 217 West 57th Street (aka the Central Park Tower), right down the block, wraps up construction in 2019 at 1,550 feet.

Magic, of course, is not how 432 Park — or any of the mega-expensive, supertall towers on the stretch of Midtown from Park to Eighth Avenue around 57th Street — are being built. Hordes of construction workers have been toiling diligently for long hours in the summer heat to erect them on time and on budget. But what do they really think about them? I went to find out.

“It’s a sign of progress, I guess,” said a worker at 220 Central Park South. “I don’t give a rat’s ass.”

Another worker on 432 Park was a bit more appreciative, saying about his building, “Construction-wise, it’s amazing. There are great features, the design is not standard,” and, no surprise, “the view is everything — there’s nothing you can’t see.”

The average salary for a construction worker in New York City is $54,120, according to U.S. News and World Report, a tiny fraction of the cost of homes they are building. The penthouse at 432 Park Avenue sold for $95 million in 2013 and the penthouse at One57 just down the block sold for $100.5 million back in January.

Many of the workers I spoke to, though, are just happy for the steady income, and didn’t seem particularly concerned about the glaring inequality. “The rich are building whatever they damn well please. I just put them up,” said one worker on 220 Central Park South. Another expressed a similar sentiment: “I’m glad they’re building stuff and I have a job.”

Some of the workers had no idea how much the apartments cost or who is moving into them. “My daughter told me what this was,” said a worker at a project at 217 West 57th. When I told a worker at 220 Central Park South that the penthouse was asking between $150-$175 million (there were rumors in June that a combined apartment in the building might sell for $250 million), his mouth formed a perfect “O.” He was silent for a few seconds, and then shook his head, muttering, “The rich want everyone out of here. That’s what they’re doing.”

“It’s New York,” said another at 432 Park Avenue, shrugging his shoulders. “I don’t have time to tell you everything I feel about this.”

Many of the workers do not live in Manhattan, but in the boroughs or suburbs — and said they had no interest in living in these apartments. “I like my backyard,” said one worker on 432 Park Avenue. “I guess it’s a nice building, if that’s what you like.”