Loved or loathed, Extell leading UWS in new projects

Nov.November 05, 2007 11:17 AM

The Upper West Side isn’t fertile ground for an ambitious developer. It’s what builders call a mature neighborhood, packed with buildings and full of high barriers to construction.

“It’s hard to find sites that make sense to replace what is there,” says Gary Barnett, president of Extell Development Corp.

Extell grabbed a few headlines last year when it took one of the few possible options for a developer looking to build in the neighborhood, spending $1.76 billion to buy 77 acres of Hudson River-front property from Donald Trump and partners. The parcel, which stretches from 59th to 72nd streets, was the largest piece of vacant land in the area.

Extell became a major player on the Upper West Side with that purchase and now has a half-dozen projects under construction or completed in the area since last year. That figure places Extell ahead of even Trump in terms of number of projects on the Upper West Side. In the last five years, Trump has built five buildings as part of his Trump Place development on Riverside Boulevard; the towers are a bit larger than Extell’s projects.

Filling big, expensive shoes

But the upstart is doing just fine, thanks: Sales are solid at the Avery, Extell’s first building on the riverfront parcel. Groundbreaking is imminent for the Rushmore at Riverside Boulevard and 64th Street.

The buyer took over Trump’s existing plans for the Avery and the Rushmore, but Barnett says the Rushmore will bear more of Extell’s stamp. “There’ll be larger family apartments there, as well as ones and twos,” he said. “We see a strong market in our buildings for families where the kids are away at college or got married and moved out, so the parents want to take two or three bedrooms to have a bedroom available when they come back. Plus, they have a room for an office.”

Costas Kondylis, architect for many of the Trump buildings in Trump Place, designed the Rushmore.

Though Extell representatives said pricing and other details about the project were premature, an ad in a recent issue of Quest magazine indicated prices at the Rushmore will range from about $1 million to over $6 million. The building will feature a swimming pool, atrium with adjacent reading room, Grand Salon with catering facilities, billiards room, children’s playroom, La Palestra Spa & Fitness Center and Abigail Michaels Concierge services. The building will have twin towers over a seven-story base.

Construction on the Rushmore begins this summer, the sales office opens in the fall and the building is expected to be completed in early 2008.

Riverfront sales solid

The Avery, meanwhile, opened this winter and sold about 100 apartments in less than three months.

Designed by SLCE Architects, the 32-story Avery has 274 one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments, priced from $850,000 to more than $3 million. Expected to be completed in the fall of 2007, the tower will have a 30-person screening theater, game room, landscaped private courtyard, library with Wi-Fi, entertainment lounge, onsite parking, fitness area overlooking a children’s playroom and hotel-style concierge service also provided by Abigail Michaels.

“We are building a brand-new neighborhood,” says Barnett. “Several thousand apartments have been built in Riverside South or are in the stages of being built. The necessary retail services will be coming — we’re planning for that as well.”

Barnett says turnaround time hasn’t been as fast as it might seem, despite the number of Extell projects under way. “A number of projects that are under way now have evolved over the last five to seven years,” he says. “We’ve tried to grow step by step.”

The company last year sold out a more modest project at 330 East 72nd Street with 13 full-floor condominiums before moving on to some of its current, bigger projects.

A beacon of UWS discontent

Barnett said the publicity from these projects has mixed rewards. “It helps us in terms of sales when people know we have a reputation for quality and integrity,” he says. “But other than that, who needs publicity?”

Surely, the early publicity surrounding the Ariel East and Ariel West condominiums on Broadway between 99th and 100th streets was the kind Extell probably would have preferred to do without. A building collapse during demolition of a supermarket to make way for the structures injured several people last July. And the buildings have come to symbolize overbuilding and encroaching gentrification to some long-term Upper West Siders.

Extell bought air rights from low-rise properties surrounding the Ariel, allowing the buildings to soar to 37 and 31 stories high, more than twice the height of any construction between 96th Street and 110th Street, with the exception of the prewar Master Building on Riverside Drive and 103rd Street.

Once word of the project got out, community board meetings drew crowds and petitions circulated.

“I think a lot of the reaction was people’s fear that everything would get developed on Broadway and this was the vanguard,” says Barnett. “But you can’t really do any other tall buildings unless they upzone Broadway. And, to be fair, those two blocks were decrepit.”

John Cetra, designer of Ariel East along with Nancy Ruddy, his wife and partner in Cetra/Ruddy Architects, sees the relationship of his skyscraper to its neighbors as one of give and take.

“Gary did an interesting thing. He bought the air rights from the landmark Metro theater next door and St. Michael’s Church around the corner [which touches Extell’s site], so these buildings are, in a sense, preserved,” he said.

Ariel East, at 2628 Broadway, the taller and more slender of the two buildings, has seven setbacks and offers 64 apartments, some full-floors. Ariel West, at 245 West 99th Street, is designed by Cook & Fox, with interiors by Cetra/Ruddy, and has a larger footplate with 73 units.

“We’ve worked with both Cetra/Ruddy and Cook & Fox,” says Barnett, “and felt it would be interesting to see how both architects could use the same principal but do somewhat differing buildings.”

Except for a handful of one-bedroom units at Ariel East, starting at $1.2 million, the buildings have large, family-size apartments with many four- and five-bedroom units. The 4,570-square-foot, six-bedroom penthouse with a terrace at Ariel West sold for $7.7 million.

“It’s really going to change the 96th Street West corridor — not only visually and physically change the landscape there, but also what will come into the neighborhood as a result of this kind of living,” said Iva Spitzer, executive vice president of new development marketing at Corcoran, the sales agent for the project.

Extell’s next plans involve splitting the geographical distance between its projects on 64th Street and 100th Street by undertaking a project in the 80s. The developer recently purchased four buildings at West End Avenue and 86th Street that it is demolishing for a new residential project.

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