It was just after 11 p.m. when a freight train rumbled by Keith Rubenstein’s South Bronx development site, momentarily drowning out the sweet hum of a grand piano outside the low-slung warehouse. Kendall Jenner, Carmelo Anthony and their A-list pals barely noticed.
Hosted by Rubenstein, head of Somerset Partners, and Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, founder of the art gallery Salon 94, the Thursday night affair was designed to generate buzz for the Mott Haven neighborhood that has become a veritable hotbed for real estate players. It’s where Rubenstein and co-developer Joseph Chetrit are planning a sprawling residential complex they say will herald in the new Soho, in SoBro.
Though real estate executives were few and far between, the artsy crowd teemed with celebrity guests — Anthony, Jenner, model Gigi Hadid, Giants star Odell Beckham Jr. and designer John Varvatos all posed for snaps inside 2401 Third Avenue, a humble one-story warehouse.
Guests who arrived at 9 p.m. for the fete walked a red carpet that blanketed the uneven concrete outside. They sampled oven-fired pizza and hamburgers courtesy of food trucks parked outside, while heat lamps and fire pits provided warmth from the wind blowing in from the Harlem River. Inside, crystal chandeliers and votive candles illuminated the space and wide strips of fabric hung from exposed wooden support beams.
The two warehouses, at 2401 Third Avenue and adjacent parcel 101 Lincoln Avenue, will soon face the wrecking ball. In their place, as many as six residential buildings will rise, with coffee shops, art galleries and restaurants soon to join, according to the developers. Thus far, Somerset and the Chetrit Group have filed plans for two towers with 1,200 units between them.
The developers paid a total of $58 million for the sites in the last year and have aggressively announced their ambitions with marketing campaigns, swank parties and billboards touting the arrival of “The Piano District,” an ode to the area’s history as an epicenter of black-and-white-keyed craftsmanship.
“This will be the most transformative project in the last 50 years,” Rubenstein said.
Conspicuous in their conservative attire, longtime Bronx property owners and landlords also swung by the soiree at 2401 Third Ave. And they seemed pleased, though many of their tenants oppose the wave of gentrification likely to follow the development.
“The minute the shovel goes in the ground here, their property values go up 15 percent,” quipped Michael Brady, director of special projects and governmental relations at the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation.
Shortly after midnight, rapper Travis Scott performed, topping off the night. For those who didn’t drive, yellow school buses shuttled party-goers back to Manhattan and Brooklyn.
The waterfront apartment complex, after all, is still just a design.