Soft dollar makes NY real estate a solid foreign investment

Jul.July 01, 2003 07:00 AM

New York City reinvents itself with regularity, and nowhere is that more true than in the varying landscape of its streets and the architecture of its buildings. Modern high-rise condominiums share space with historic brownstones and sleek apartments with glass details live next door to lofts with their original cast iron details.

But you don’t have to choose one over the other. In today’s real estate market, it’s those perfect hybrid buildings combining old New York charm with chic, contemporary design that are the hot item, and these unique structures are being built in New York’s oldest neighborhoods without compromising the rich architectural history and original streetscapes.

At the apex of the Meatpacking District, Chelsea, and the West Village, amidst trendy bistros, fashionable shops and gourmet food markets, hybrid versions of residential lofts and converted apartments are adding variation to the old New York landscape where slaughter and storage houses once stood. The latest development here is appropriately named the Porter House (366 West Fifteenth Street at Ninth Avenue), and it will open this August, next door to the Old Homestead Restaurant.

The original, yellow-bricked, 1905 building was once a six-floor wine distributor’s warehouse with cast iron and hardwood details; the addition is a four-story zinc and glass masterpiece that cantilevers out over the original structure. Due to a well-planned design involving irregular patterns of light boxes and floor to ceiling customized windows, the building glistens in the sun and glows at night, adding to the offbeat beauty of the neighborhood.

The Porter House, thanks to the developers at Jeffery M. Brown Associates, Inc., and ShoP Architects, is a perfect hybrid of historic structure and modern hip architecture, which pays unique homage to the past.

“We didn’t want to go in and tear down everything and then rebuild,” said developer Jeffery M. Brown. “We purchased the air rights adjacent to the neighboring buildings and use the existing space with the most impact.”

The result is a 10-story, 22-unit condominium that will offers light-filled rooms in both the original building and the new addition. Loft spaces of approximately 958 square feet with one bedroom are starting at $625,000, and loft two-bedroom space with 1,942 square feet is offered at $1,345,000. The three-floor penthouse unit with approximately 1,836 square feet is offered at $1,650,000.

The apartments are packed with sleek kitchen and bathroom amenities: Viking kitchen appliances, custom lacquer cabinetry by Ferretti, fixtures by Kohler, polished chrome and wedgewood vanities by Urbinati, and Giotoba hardwood floors. Best of all, residents have everyday access to a rooftop terrace, which one can enter using the elevator and which offers incredible views of the Hudson River and the city below.

“We wanted to show potential buyers that we are giving them value, because we value them,” said Brown.

The developers used the existing cast iron pillars and original 300-year-old wooden beams in the first six floors, including the lobby, and every window has been custom cut to fit the brick window openings on those floors. The balconies begin on the sixth floor of the building and open into the apartment with double doors, creating a smooth extension from indoor to outdoor, filling the apartment not only with light but with a greater sense of space. The building is loft living along with discreet service and bedroom spaces reminiscent of pre-war apartments.

The new addition of seems to hang effortlessly out in space, but structural engineers conducted an intense study to make sure the addition was done safely; the structural steel support is hidden everywhere so residents can feel secure.

Buyers, according to both Alan J. Segan, Vice President of Rubenstein Public Relations, Inc., and Bruce L. Ehrmann, Senior Vice President of Stribling Marketing Associates, noticeably appreciated the attention to detail in each apartment and the old and new aspects of each space.

“It took us less than four weeks to sell these apartments. This would be a surprise in any market,” said Ehrmann.

“This is very exciting architecture and we’ve done so well on sale,” added Segan.

When developers are searching for properties to convert, they often turn to landmark and turn-of-the-century buildings in historic areas, where buyers can find space in stylish neighborhoods that are steeped in history.

Hal Henenson, Director of the Direct Marketing Group at Douglas Elliman, which has handled a number of hybrid buildings, said it was pretty common to see penthouse additions on traditional cast iron buildings. However, if the building is a landmark (as many are in the downtown area) the addition will have to be set back, so that it cannot be seen from the street.

The Fulton-Chambers Building (102 Fulton Street), a 14-unit condominium conversion of a historic 1896 cast iron building, is another example of hybrid design currently being offered by Douglas Elliman. This converted building has a penthouse duplex added onto the original, renovated site, blending 19th century cast-iron architecture with an interior that suits 21st century needs-all without destroying the original façde’s charm.

The original Fulton-Chambers Building was built by real estate developer John Petit and veteran skyscraper architect James M. Farnsworth, and the seven-story structure features a cast and galvanized iron front designed in the Renaissance style.

When purchasing property, the key is to procure as much space as possible, and often the only place to go is up, so air rights must be purchased. And, of course, it costs more to extend and add on than tear down, but for developers like Brown, the added expense is worth it.

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