The Real Deal New York

See it to believe it: Aby Rosen’s 100 East 53rd is banking on fresh momentum

Over three years after launch, the project is trying to woo a new wave of potential buyers
By Meenal Vamburkar | January 28, 2019 07:00AM

Aby Rosen unveiling 100 East 53rd Street (Credit: iStock, Getty Images, and Foster and Partners)

For more than three years, Aby Rosen has been trying to sell his new vision of Midtown. Price tags as steep as $5,000 a square foot will grant you access to his modernist condominium building on a block he’s been working to rebrand. But even with hefty discounts and Rosen’s famed art collection, 100 East 53rd Street has been a hard sell.

“There was a time when things were slow,” said Compass’ Leonard Steinberg, who’s marketing the project.

Now, the team is hoping the project has reached a turning point: closings have commenced and the scaffolding has come down. With the project closer to completion, they’re banking on buyers needing less imagination to boost sales.

“You only believe what’s coming when you see it,” Steinberg said. “Since we’ve been able to get into the building, it has changed everything.”

Awash with options, condo buyers in New York City have been in no rush to purchase luxury properties. Add to that incomplete construction and a Midtown location? The sales cycle gets even slower. Prospective buyers often aren’t sold on amenities and living spaces they can’t see for themselves. But now that they can see Rosen’s vision, it’s unclear that they’ll buy into it.

In October 2017, Steinberg told The Real Deal that 10 contracts were signed in a matter of weeks, a pace that, if sustained, would see the project sell out in six months. Of the 94 units, StreetEasy shows 15 are in contract and 8 units are sold. Steinberg said those numbers are inaccurate because not all sales are listed, but RFR Realty declined to release sales numbers.

RFR and its partners — Hines, China Vanke and China Cinda Asset Management — are aiming for a sellout of $868 million, according to the offering plan, which was declared effective by the attorney general’s office in July 2018 when 23 percent of units were said to be in contract. The project received $360 million in financing in 2015 from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. China Cinda paid $140.5 million for a majority stake.

Current listings at the building range from $2.1 million to $9.3 million — and the closed sales have been lower-priced units selling at sizable discounts. Unit 22A, for example, was listed for $6.7 million and sold for $4.74 million, according to property records. That’s 29 percent below asking. Another unit, listed at $3.75 million, closed at $2.65 million. The $65 million penthouse was taken off the market, slated to be re-listed once it’s completed.

Sales so far, along with unit sizes, indicate that much of the buyer pool may be business professionals in the market for pieds-à-terre, said Frances Katzen, a broker at Douglas Elliman. The condos may appeal to those who work at the area’s financial firms, but too narrow an audience can also be a challenge, she said.

Beyond the flood of inventory, buyer uncertainty has also been affected by factors like the tax law change, stock market volatility and rising interest rates. In May 2018, Rosen told the Financial Times that the market was “up and flying.” That wishful thinking didn’t pan out: In the fourth quarter, Manhattan luxury sales slid 18 percent from a year earlier, according to Douglas Elliman. New development sales priced above $3 million dropped 44 percent.

“The past year was not easy for any development,” Katzen said. “It had to stick out among so many projects.”

Previously plagued by construction delays, the building now has a lobby buyers can walk through. And the sales team believes the project’s distinct aesthetic and high-end amenities will be more alluring. Since the lobby has been completed and the sidewalk has opened, showing volume has grown by about 30 percent, according to Steinberg. Plus, “several people who saw the project many months ago are now returning because the delivery date is believable.”

Designed by Foster + Partners, 100 East 53rd stands 63 stories high, clad in aluminum and low-iron glass. The lean structure and light facade are in stark contrast to the adjacent Seagram Building. The building will feature art from Rosen’s own collection — and its sales gallery is sprinkled with works from iconic artists like Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst. Amenities include a 60-foot sunlit swimming pool, a spa and a library.

Stribling’s Sean Murphy Turner said buying a home in the building is akin to splurging on a nice sports car. And those buyers are more likely to jump at this later stage in the process.

“When the wrapping comes off, you see it and you want it,” she said. “It’s like an impulse buy, something jazzy and fun. For that, maybe you don’t want to wait a year and a half.”

Rosen, who has previously said he doesn’t “want to go down as the guy who built the eyesores,” declined to comment for this article.

Midtown may not have the same charm or energy as Downtown neighborhoods, brokers said, but it’s an evolving area — and there’s a significant market of pied-à-terre buyers. For his part, Rosen has been working to rebrand his corner of the neighborhood. He’s deemed it the “Midtown Cultural District” and published a small paper touting the area’s modernist architecture, art galleries and proximity to MoMA.

Other high-end Midtown condo projects include the Chetrit Group and Clipper Equity’s 135 West 52nd Street and World Wide Group and Rose Associates’ 252 East 57 Street. The latter, which has 95 units, launched sales in 2014. Its only remaining sponsor unit is the $30 million penthouse.

Next month, 100 East 53rd will have launch a staged, full-floor unit on the 56th floor. It’ll be priced in the low-teens, Steinberg said. The penthouse is slated to be ready in the next three to four months. If it retains the lofty $65 million price tag, that would be in line with penthouse units at other high-profile buildings — including 520 Park Avenue, where duplexes have sold for $68 million and $74 million. While penthouses have long been viewed as trophy properties, they’ve faced their own inventory glut, leading to longer times on the market.

Sales at a building often take off once there are people living in it, said Stribling’s Pamela D’Arc, who’s marketing the penthouse at 252 East 57th Street. That’s the momentum Rosen’s team is aiming for.

“What was a rough construction site for several years is now a newly defined corner,” Steinberg said. “Aby is a patient guy. He has redefined buildings and neighborhoods all his life.”