Sheffield hopes to appeal to “all your senses”

By Candace Taylor | August 12, 2010 01:00PM







Rendering of the building’s children’s playroom





The new owners of the Sheffield (formerly Sheffield 57) are trying to snuff out negative perceptions of the building. Literally.

They’ve designed a citrus-scented candle specifically for the Sheffield, part of a new marketing campaign aimed at changing the reputation of the once-troubled Midtown condominium conversion.

The candle goes along with the catchphrase “The Sheffield: for all of your senses,” which is printed in orange on the bright white walls of the new sales center, presenting a vivid contrast to the brown-and-green color scheme employed by the former owners. Real estate mogul Kent Swig, who purchased the 57th Street rental tower with partners in 2005, was forced to halt sales in 2009 after the offering plan had expired, with only about half of the condos in the building sold.

Current owner Fortress Investment Group, which purchased the property in a 2009 foreclosure auction, began quietly relisting units in the building earlier this year, after the Marketing Directors came on board to handle sales. (Swig’s company Swig Equities handled sales in-house.) But the official launch of the new marketing campaign will take place next month.

This week, The Real Deal got an exclusive sneak peak of the six new model units, the new on-site sales center and renderings of the amenity spaces (see photos above).

A 1,599-square-foot three-bedroom model unit on the 42nd floor has been staged by building architect CetraRuddy with careful details, like a child’s coloring book and an autograph from comedian Will Ferrell addressed to the fictional owners of the apartment. The kitchen has full slabs of Calacatta gold marble for the countertops and backsplashes, and the bathroom is lined with honed travertine. Visitors can catch a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty from the living room.

An apartment like this starts at $2.28 million, said Sophia Cicilioni, the sales manager at the Sheffield. Condos in the building range from $700,000 to $7.4 million for units ranging from 571 to 3,417 square feet. There are 296 units sold or in contract, which leaves 212 available condos for sale, said Jack Levy, a senior managing director of asset management for Rose Associates, the building’s property manager and original developer as well as one of the new owners. There are a total of 597 planned condo units in the building, but some are still occupied by tenants, he said.

Unlike the first sales go-round, a number of condo owners now live in the building, while many of the units for sale are complete and are ready for residents to move in, Levy said.

“The building has become stabilized as a functioning, ongoing condo,” he said. “We expect it to be a great success.”
The new owners also redesigned the sales center and moved it from the 22nd floor to the 44th floor, the better to show off the views, he said.

“The views are a big component of this building,” Levy said. To further emphasize that point, the north wall of the sales center is covered with a wallpaper mural taken from a photograph of Central Park.

The other walls are stark white, but the room is accented with orange — from floral arrangements to BlackBerry covers emblazoned with the Sheffield logo. The reason for the vivid color is that it “stands out,” Cicilioni explained. “It’s full of energy.”

In changing the perception of the building, the Marketing Directors has its work cut out for it.

The Sheffield, located at 322 West 57th Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues, was built in the late 1970s as a rental by Rose Associates. The 50-story brick tower began generating headlines in 2005, when Swig and partners paid $418 million for it, at a time when it was occupied by more than 800 market-rate and rent-stabilized tenants.

Swig changed the name to Sheffield57 and began what became one of the most contentious condo conversions in recent memory. Lawsuits and landmark court decisions ensued, as Swig’s financial problems mounted. By the time Fortress bought the building for a paltry $20 million in an August 2009 foreclosure auction, the epic battle between Swig Equities and the Sheffield’s tenants (and ultimately, Swig himself and his partners) had taken on a larger-than-life quality. During one tenant protest in 2007, Swig reportedly hired a marching band to drown out renters’ cries. Later, one of Swig’s partners, Yair Levy, was charged with assault after allegedly clocking Swig with an ice bucket.

Such incidents are not easily erased from public memory. But the new team says they are up to the challenge.
“We’ve done a lot in the past year to resolve many of the issues,” said Rose’s Levy. “We’ve done a lot of work in the public areas. We took care of any financial problems that existed.”

The name was changed back to Sheffield, the lobby has now been completed, the private cobblestone driveway is under construction and the team has been adjusting the layouts of the new condos, often creating larger homes. After buying up the project’s debt at a discount, they were able to cut prices.

“Our requirements to have a successful job [are] obviously much lower than the prior owner,” explained Levy.
Prices at the project were previously in the neighborhood of $2,000 per square foot. But the 25 homes sold since the Marketing Directors took over have gone for $1,200 to $1,500 per square foot, Levy said.

The new owners also met with building residents to seek approval for the amenities they planned to build. A bone of contention with Swig was that occupants said he failed to complete common spaces in the building. “The building has been waiting a long time for these amenties,” Levy said.

Plans for those amenities have now been filed with the Department of Buildings, Levy said.

The amenity space, to be located on the 57th and 58th floors, will include a 2,000-square-foot gym, a pool, a roof deck and lounge and a children’s playroom. A pet spa is already in use. A screening room is no longer in the works because of feedback that it’s an “underutilized amenity,” Cicilioni said.

The new marketing campaign presents “more of a bigger picture of lifestyle, more aspects of the Columbus Circle neighborhood,” Cicilioni said. When visitors enter the sales center, they are greeted by the words “Quintessential New York” and “Sheffield Style.” Brochures highlight nearby stores and restaurants, like Whole Foods, Bulgari and Henri Bendel.
And when it comes to combating negative perceptions about the buildings, Rose’s involvement “is a comforting thing for people,” Cicilioni said.

Levy added: “People were glad to see us come back to the building,” noting that the company had previously managed the building for 25 years before selling it to Swig. “That already goes a long way in taking care of concerns that people have.”

Through a spokesperson, Swig told The Real Deal that he is ” fully supportive of Fortress’ re-launch of the building’s sales and marketing program.”