Changing a new development’s name to spur sales

Oct.October 25, 2007 05:37 PM

Last Christmas, when fans of a famed cafeacute; and dining room at the former Stanhope hotel sought a place for afternoon tea, Sharon Baum, senior vice president at the Corcoran Group, received nearly a dozen phone calls.

The hotel, which operated at 995 Fifth Avenue for nearly 80 years, was no more, Baum told the confused callers. It had been converted to 27 upscale apartments by Extell Development. But some callers still expected concierge service from the high-powered New York residential broker, who tools around town in a Rolls Royce with the vanity plate SOLD 1 and is marketing the project.

“They’d say, ‘Can you recommend someplace else for tea?'” says Baum. “Although we were laughing [at the request], we were starting to think maybe it would be better for it to be [called] 995 Fifth.”

Now it is. Realizing that the Stanhope’s legacy was not translating into real estate gold like the condos sold at the Plaza Hotel a few blocks south, developer Gary Barnett, president of Extell, opted to emphasize his project’s Fifth Avenue cachet instead.

While real estate circles keep buzzing about the Stanhope’s sluggish sales, Barnett says the pace has recently picked up. He claims that 65 percent of the total space has been sold. He has raised prices, which now range from $11 million to more than $40 million.

Installing an awning reading “995 Fifth” instead of “The Stanhope” isn’t the only reason, of course. Barnett says the main factor driving sales is the designer showcase apartments. These allow prospective buyers to judge for themselves whether the nine-foot ceilings — a big drawback for luxury units that normally have higher ceilings, say critics — are high enough in proportion to the apartments, which range from 4,100 square feet up to 8,400 square feet.

But he acknowledges that with poor results at the project’s sales office, a different name gives the project a fresh start with potential buyers. “We refocused them on the location with another emphasis as 995 Fifth so they would look at it again, and that has been the case.”

Other developers have also found that new names reignite buyers’ interest. In Riverdale, the former Arlington Suites is now called Riverstone, while the high-rise extension to City View Gardens on Brooklyn’s Fourth Avenue at Third Street, originally dubbed City View Tower, was rechristened as the Crest. Meanwhile, the Saya, a luxury development at 20 East 23rd Street, is now called One Madison Park.

In today’s overhyped, luxury-saturated residential development market, names have taken on unprecedented importance as part of a total branding package. Location remains paramount for most buyers, but a glut of luxury buildings crammed with amenities means a project’s name helps it stand out. A name has to convey the right aura, be available for use in a Web site, and not offend anyone.

Jonathan Miller, president of real estate appraisal firm Miller Samuel, says, “[The name] does have an impact on who the building attracts and how well the building is perceived by the market.”

Even when it’s the right move, however, changing a project’s name can create challenges. It gets noticed and can be perceived as an obvious marketing ploy. In the case of both 995 Fifth Avenue and the Riverstone, highly publicized beginnings under their old names mean they can’t just quietly make the change. Real estate Web site Curbed.com snarkily refers to 995 Fifth by its new name, preceded by “The Stanhope” with a line through it.

Under the Arlington Suites name, the project courted early publicity in press materials and a few write-ups, but Bill Friedlich, president of Hudson View Construction, was never happy with the moniker.

Yet when Friedlich sat down with developer Shmuel Jonas’ sales agents at Halstead Properties and ad agency representatives, hashing out a new identity proved difficult. Friedlich wanted to emphasize river views and the building’s use of rare Jerusalem stone in the bathrooms. These qualities led him to the word “cascade,” which seemed to have all the right characteristics. Then somebody pointed out that name is taken — by a dish detergent. Eventually, the group hit on Riverstone and launched an ad campaign with that name.

Friedlich says seven out of 26 units have been sold. While he cannot quantify the new name’s impact on sales, he believes it has been a positive. It conveys what he wanted, while not having any negative connotations — or inspiring mistaken requests for afternoon tea.

“Names have to meet a lot of criteria,” he says.


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