Miki Naftali got some unexpected partners for his latest venture.
The residential developer has joined forces with comedian Jerry Seinfeld and the New York Times on a marketing maneuver to bolster enthusiasm for New York City.
On Friday night, a crane erected a giant billboard on the side of the Naftali Group’s under-construction condominium at 1045 Madison Avenue featuring an image of Seinfeld’s ode to the city published in the Times in August.
Seinfeld penned his op-ed in response to a LinkedIn post a few weeks earlier by comedy club owner James Altucher that proclaimed “NYC IS DEAD FOREVER” and explained why he, and most people he knew, were moving away.
In his rebuttal, the comedian berated Altucher as “some putz on LinkedIn wailing and whimpering,” and issued a rallying cry to New Yorkers.
“We’re going to keep going with New York City if that’s all right with you. And it will sure as hell be back,” wrote Seinfeld. “Because of all the real, tough New Yorkers who, unlike you, loved it and understood it, stayed and rebuilt it.”
In a phone interview, Naftali said the idea for the billboard came out of a brainstorming session with his daughter Danielle, the manager of marketing and design at Naftali Group, over holiday signage to put up at the Madison Avenue project.
“First of all, I love Jerry and, second of all, I agree with everything he said,” said Naftali. “I just don’t buy this story about ‘New York City is dead.’”
Their goal was to obscure the eyesore of construction for Upper East Siders and engender some goodwill from neighbors (some of whom were unhappy with the project last year).
The younger Naftali reached out to Seinfeld, who asked the Times for permission to use the image and headline of the op-ed. The Times confirmed that it approved the billboard’s display through April 31.
So far, the message has been recieved well on social media. A few of the city’s elite have shared the Naftali Group’s Instagram post of the billboard, among them actress Mariska Hargitay, Seinfeld and his wife. But the city’s real estate industry is facing major headwinds, as Covid triggers tighter restrictions and companies open offices elsewhere, especially in Florida, where Altucher moved.
Even Naftali admitted New York is facing “a lot of problems.” Chief among them for the developer is Manhattan’s residential sales market: Transactions are down 46 percent year-over-year, property values are falling and there’s a mountain of inventory dominated by luxury condos.
Naftali has a big stake in the city’s attempted comeback. The people who can afford his condos are the most likely to have left the city for beach homes in the Hamptons, Connecticut, New Jersey or Florida, among other destinations. No borough cleared out more than Manhattan when the pandemic hit.
The condo with the billboard, at East 79th Street, is dubbed The Benson and has 15 residences priced at $12.5 million and up. Sales launched in September and the developer claimed five units are already in contract for more than $84 million (Donna Olshan reported a deal was signed last week for a penthouse asking $35 million). The limestone-facade project is expecting more than $220 million in sales, according to its initial offering plan. Closings are slated to start at the end of next year, when construction concludes.
Naftali also has a second condo project underway on the Upper East Side. The developer bought the site, also along Madison Avenue, for $71 million from Vornado Realty Trust last year and filed plans in May.
But Naftali denied the billboard at 1045 Madison had anything to do with selling condos.
“If that would be the intention then I would just put a picture of a beautiful living room,” he said. “I’m just trying to, you know, help as much as I can.”
The developer appears to be enjoying his and his daughter’s handiwork. He stood beside it for an hour on Saturday, watching people catch sight of the new sign and stop to take photos.
“Hopefully it will create a little bit [of a] good vibe,” he said. “Not everything is bad here.”