The Real Deal New York

Barnett talks about his favorite architects, the rental boom and the art of assemblage

By Katherine Clarke | October 28, 2011 12:04PM

In the lead up to receiving his 2011 Heritage Ball award Thursday, honoree and Extell Development President Gary Barnett made an appearance the night before at the Center for Architecture on LaGuardia Place to speak about his past and present projects. It being an architecture event, Barnett revealed how he chooses which architects to work with, the cost of design in the current market and why it’s taking longer to get projects built.

“We like to spread the business around, but we do have some favorite architects,” said Barnett, who has worked with a slew of big name architecture firms including SOM, Christian de Portzamparc and SLCE on his New York City projects.
Extell’s preoccupation with layouts means that the projects often design themselves from the inside out, he added, making the architect’s role slimmer and more challenging.

“We were thinking, ‘what can he do with this?'” Barnett said of giving the specifications for his new development One57 at 157 West 57th Street to de Portzamparc, with the footprint, setbacks and floor plans already established. The developer said he was amazed by what de Portzamparc was able to do with the design, coming back with various proposals for the building. In the end, Barnett chose one of the most affordable options, He said. Meanwhile Barnett is asking sky-high prices for the units, with presale prices ranging from $3,000 to $8,285 per square foot.

While One57 is a condominium development, Barnett said the rental market is where the action is at the moment.
“Right now, it seems like there’s unlimited demand for rentals and it’s all happening when the economy is not even doing so well,” he told The Real Deal. “What happens when there’s a boom? We could really see a spike in asking rents. We’re doing a 600,000-square-foot building which will be a rental product.”

When The Real Deal asked Barnett for more information on his new rental building after the event, he declined to comment.

Architecture also brings tourists to the city, which is a boost to the economy, Barnett said during the event.
“New York City is becoming like Disney Land a little bit, which is a good thing,” he told the audience. “Tourists enjoy seeing new exciting modern design. This is what makes life better for everyone in the city.”

Challenges for developers operating in this economy come mainly from getting financing, he added, limiting the size of buildings that are breaking ground.

“Small projects are getting done because they don’t cost a lot of money. Demand is there but the question is, how do you get these things built? There is a tremendous desire to build new, but in the last six months financing has actually gone backwards… Construction timing has also gone up given the city restrictions over safety. It’s slower. Buildings are taking longer to build, maybe 20 to 30 percent longer.”

In a shocking admission, Barnett said it had taken him almost 13 years to get One57 off the ground.

“[One57] was really truly a challenge to get done. I’ve been working on it really since 1998. It’s an interesting assemblage story. At one point in the process, I decided I wanted the building next door [to where the building currently is]. I offered the owner five times what it was worth and they turned it down. So I said ‘that’s it’ and threw in the towel.”

Later, when construction had already begun on One57, the owner came back and said he would sell after all.

“I was very happy to say ‘no, we’re not interested anymore,'” Barnett recalled. “I probably shouldn’t say that.”

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