The Real Deal New York

Historic hotels, historic prices

November 16, 2007
By Tom Acitelli

It’s history in the marketing for three hotels undergoing Manhattan condo conversions.

Market watchers believe that the Plaza and Stanhope hotels on the edges of Central Park will probably set sales price records this year, with prices going as high as $5,000 a square foot. The Sutton Hotel, a few long blocks to the east, will sell for considerably less, but all three conversions are quick to use history as a selling point for these old-is-new-again dwellings.

The Sutton
When it emerges as a condominium, the Sutton Hotel wants to appear as though it arrived in a time warp. The 17-story hotel at 330 East 56th Street, built in 1929, will reopen in March as the Sutton East Condominium, but will retain as much of its late Jazz Age aesthetic as possible in the high-stakes world of 21st-century condo development.

“We wanted this to look like a 1930s hotel as much as possible,” said Kenneth Horn, CEO of Alchemy Properties, which bought the Sutton for $52 million in March 2005 from Glenwood Management.

All the Sutton’s leases – it was an extended-stay hotel – expired by last autumn, and the approximately $6 million conversion has been going on ever since. The condo is expected to open with 76 one- and two-bedroom units going for about $1,100 to $1,200 a square foot and ranging from the middle $700,000s to more than $2 million for penthouses with terraces and East River views.

The Sutton’s main selling point, though, seems to be the allure of its history as a fancy crash pad for celebrities, diplomats, and the business elite. The 1930s motif – manifested in touches like the mahogany floors, striped wallpaper and beveled ceilings – will give the Sutton a distinct look in the hypercompetitive luxury condo market, Horn says, but will also save it from being too over-the-top.

“What attracted us to this property was, first of all, the location,” Horn said. Alchemy’s previous building buys were all 34th Street or below. “But we also like the exclusivity this can provide. This is for privacy for residents, not glitz. People who are buying at the Plaza are not going to buy here.”

The Plaza
Indeed. To buy at the Plaza is to make a conspicuous statement.

Purchasers of the 182 condo units at the Plaza will pay from $3 million for one-bedrooms to as much as $33 million for penthouses overlooking Central Park, according to a spokesman for the sales office. Sales started in December at the 99-year-old hotel, when a 1,202-square foot, one-bedroom, one-and-a-half bathroom condo was going for $5.1 million – or, about $4,242 a foot – and a 2,857- square-foot condo with three bedrooms and three bathrooms hit the market for $14.65 million – about $5,127 a foot.

The prices stem from the location of the iconic hotel snug at the southeastern corner of Central Park as well as the simple appeal of the Plaza’s history itself. It is, well, the Plaza: “I think that one of the things about the Plaza is that is has so many wonderful souvenirs for so many people,” said Elizabeth Stribling, president of Stribling & Associates, which is exclusively marketing the condo conversion. “It’s just a mythic place.”

The sales office is located in a corner room, where buyers get a taste of the luxury within. The sales pitch includes an interactive walk-through, where individual condo layouts can be called up on a screen. Buyers can touch a particular window on the screen, Stribling says, and get the view from that window; they can also touch a particular room on the layout, triggering a virtual tour of that room.

At least 25 percent of the Plaza’s condos had been sold by late January, with buyer interest rolling in from such faraway locales as Alabama and Italy.

The Stanhope
About 20 blocks up from the Plaza, opposite the south wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue, the Stanhope’s 26 condos may ultimately trump the Plaza’s in price, with units starting at $10 million and going as high as $47 million. As of January, five units were listed for sale as renovations continued.

No contracts have yet been signed, says Deborah Grubman, a senior vice president with the Corcoran Group who is brokering in the Stanhope. Because of the holidays, she says, sales did not start in earnest until January, nearly three months after the Stanhope’s offering plan was approved.

For the Stanhope, the location and the size are among the biggest draws. “It’s interesting,” Grubman said, “we’re having a lot of interest from New York buyers. I think, by virtue of the location, we’re going to get a lot of New Yorkers. It’s a very residential part of the city.”

The size of the Stanhope’s condos may distinguish it from this residential part, namely the coops and rentals that dominate the Upper East Side. The Stanhope will offer half-floor units just over 4,000 square feet and full-floor units of 8,300 square feet. While she didn’t rule them out, Grubman says the size of these spreads may preclude pied- -terre buyers – and should ultimately draw families, not just from the city, but from well beyond.

“I think we’re having several different profiles [of buyers],” Grubman said. “I think you’ve got New York families. I think you have people from other parts of the country. And then you also have overseas buyers. You have people from London, the people who love art, and who want to be at the location.”

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