Gramercy Park keys about to become a little less rare

Zeckendorfs’ 18 Gramercy Park expands elite group by 16
By Leigh Kamping-Carder | August 01, 2012 02:00PM

A key to Gramercy Park is one of those few Manhattan real estate assets – like a rent-controlled apartment or a pre-war “classic six” — that is not only rare, but finite. With access restricted to those who live on the blocks bordering the gated enclave, no amount of wealth will buy a key without the proper address. But the supply of keys will expand slightly in September, when 18 Gramercy Park — the 17-story luxury condominium conversion developed by the Zeckendorf brothers and Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer — officially hits the market.

Sixteen new keys will be created, one for each full-floor unit.

“This is definitely a big selling point,” said Jill Mangone, the building’s director of sales. “Buyers are delighted to have access to Manhattan’s only private park.”

All told, there are currently 398 keys to Gramercy Park, according to Arlene Harrison, a park trustee and the self-styled “Mayor of Gramercy Park,” who also oversees the creation of new keys.

Though they are no longer made of solid gold, the keys are still numbered, dated and apportioned according to a 181-year-old system devised by Samuel Ruggles, the New York attorney who founded the neighborhood. (Harrison described them as slightly larger than a regular house key and silver in color.)

In 1831, Ruggles divvied up the land surrounding the park into 63.5 lots, each of which is allocated two keys, Harrison explained. In addition, any individual who lives in one of the roughly 1,200 residential units in the 39 buildings that front the park has the option to lease a key for $350 per year, said Harrison, who is also president of the Gramercy Park Block Association.

About 250 keys are in the hands of individual residents and about 127 are owned by buildings, Harrison said. Larger buildings, such as 18 Gramercy Park and the Gramercy Park Hotel, can get four keys or more, depending on how many lots they occupy.

At 18 Gramercy Park, residents will get their keys courtesy of the developers for the first year – a benefit that was written into the offering plan, Mangone said. The property’s doormen will oversee the four keys allotted to the building, where condos are priced between $9.25 million and $42 million.

The Zeckendorf building is the third new Gramercy Park-front development since the mid-2000s, following Mann Realty’s 2010 conversion of 36 Gramercy Park East from rent-stabilized apartments to 51 condos, and the condos at 50 Gramercy Park North, Ian Shrager’s 2006 reimagining of the Gramercy Park Hotel.

While these developments can increase the overall number of keys out there, the park trustees are serious about security. Every year, the group changes the locks to the park – most recently this past February – and the keys cannot be duplicated, Harrison said. In the past, the trustees bought the custom-designed keys from a factory in Europe, Harrison said, but they switched suppliers after learning the company had sent “blanks” of the keys for use in other cities.

The group now deals exclusively with an American supplier that operates outside the city. While Harrison would not reveal the factory or its location, she did let slip that the keys bear the logo of the Salem, Va.-based key maker, Medeco. A Medeco representative did not return a call seeking comment.

The trustees are also in regular contact with the managing agents and board presidents of all the park-facing properties, which must provide updated resident lists semi-annually or risk losing key privileges, Harrison said.

While the group keeps track of sales around the park, it does not have a formal policy to take back keys from residents who sell and move away, she said.