Wedged between Murray Hill, Gramercy Park, Union Square and the Flatiron District, Park Avenue South has long been home to a collection of nondescript office buildings, upscale restaurants, cell phone shops and carpet stores. It doesn’t even have a catchy moniker.
But all that’s changing. Developers are turning the neighborhood into a more modern, residential thoroughfare by converting or tearing down some old office buildings and replacing them with splashy luxury hotels and condominiums, complete with high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and the occasional light-emitting diode.
“Real estate has always been valuable in the neighborhood,” said Alan Miller, a principal with Eastern Consolidated, a real estate firm. “It’s just finally coming into its own [as a place to live].”
The trend began in 2002 when developer Yitzchak Tessler bought a complex of eight-story buildings between 20th and 21st streets that once housed the United Federation of Teachers headquarters. He converted them into 110 high-end loft-style apartments that eventually sold for $1,400 to $1,600 per square foot, Tessler said.
Three years later, Tessler bought six small commercial buildings on the northwest corner of Park Avenue South and 19th Street and demolished them. Architect Gwathmey Siegel then designed an 110,000-square-foot, 17-story building with 8-foot-high windows, a back courtyard and a rounded southeast corner that allows for expansive views. The 55 condominium apartments at what’s now called 240 Park Avenue South have all sold for between $1,600 to $2,400 per square foot, Tessler said.
The neighborhood’s central location, accessibility to transportation and proximity to some of the city’s best restaurants are just some of the reasons they’ve been an easy sell, Tessler said. But he also tried to create spaces with unique features to attract buyers.
“I relate to every building as if it has a soul of its own,” Tessler said. “And they do. I try to make the best out of whatever is available to create a building with spirit that will make people happy to live there.”
Another residential development coming soon to the neighborhood is Twenty9th Park Madison, the first U.S. project for Barcelona-based Espais Promocions Immobili ries, one of Spain’s largest developers. The company is working on the project with Miami-based developer Arcon Solutions.
Designed by H. Thomas O’Hara Architects, the glass-infused building at 39 East 29th Street between Park and Madison avenues will have more than 132 studio, one- and two-bedroom condos ranging from 536 to 1,309 square feet. It will be ready for occupancy late next year. Prices start in the low $600,000s.
About 20 percent of the condos have sold already, said Dawn Tsien, president of Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy’s new developments division, which is the project’s marketing and sales agent.
“Buyers are recognizing that this area has so much to offer,” Tsien said. “It’s been quiet, and people don’t recognize it as a neighborhood yet.”
Because the area doesn’t have a neighborhood feel yet, developers plan to market another new mixed-use development near Park Avenue South, located at Madison Avenue and 33rd Street, to younger buyers who haven’t started families.
The LEED-certified green building at 176 Madison Avenue will have a 100-room boutique hotel and 69 residences above, with separate entrances for the hotel on Madison Avenue and for the residences on 33rd Street. Retail and a restaurant will occupy the bottom floors.
The residences will range from 750 to 800 square feet for a one-bedroom, 1,500 to 1,600 square feet for a two-bedroom, and 1,800 square feet for a three-bedroom. Living rooms on floors 15 and up will feature views of the Empire State Building. Prices will be around $2,000 a square foot. The 134,200-square-foot building was purchased for about $450 per square foot by Russian developer Natalia Pirogova. Pavarini McGovern will oversee the building’s construction, and Ilan Bracha, a managing director with Prudential Douglas Elliman, will oversee sales.
Another project going up nearby will also help create more of a neighborhood feel along Park Avenue South. Gansevoort Park will be a $500-a-night hotel project by Centurion Realty and WSA Management, the same team that made the Meatpacking District one of the city’s hottest destinations with the original Hotel Gansevoort at 13th Street and Ninth Avenue. The 19-story glass-and-limestone building with 225 rooms will cost $200 million to build and should be finished in the spring of 2009. When it’s completed, neighborhood residents can enjoy 8,000 feet of bars, decks and pools on Gansevoort Park’s top three floors, which will be open to the public. A steakhouse will occupy the ground floor.
But it’s unlikely that Gansevoort Park will do for Park Avenue South what Hotel Gansevoort did for the Meatpacking District, Tsien said. The two neighborhoods are so different they’re not likely to attract the same types of businesses or crowds.
“The Meatpacking District has a charm all its own, and they were staring from a very different place,” Tsien said. “The Meatpacking District was much rougher with warehouses and clubs. This is already a fairly refined neighborhood.”
Miller said he was surprised at first that the developers chose Park Avenue South for pricey Gansevoort Park. But they were probably hoping to feed off the area’s growth, he said, and the hotel will help make the avenue a hotel destination. “Hotels are the flavor of the day,” Miller said.
There are still opportunities for developers interested in converting office buildings to residential buildings along Park Avenue South, Miller said, but not many. There are more opportunities for projects that start from the ground up. For example, a 400,000-square-foot mixed-use project is being planned at 400 Park Avenue South where a parking lot and an eight-story building are now. The developers bought 200,000 feet of air rights from Madison Avenue to do the project, which will probably be an apartment building, Miller said. Construction should start in about a year.
And Tessler said he is also looking into other opportunities in the neighborhood because he likes it so much. He’s planning to move into a condo at 240 Park Avenue South. “I just love the neighborhood,” he said.