Taller than ever, residential buildings kiss the sky

Oct.October 29, 2007 10:44 AM

For residential builders, there’s nowhere to go but up.

Apartment buildings and hotels are getting taller throughout the city and in New Jersey as well, as zoning revisions and high-rise demand allow buildings to push to greater heights. As new projects leave the drawing board, old records will be toppled.

The highest residential building in New York is the 72-story, 861-foot Trump World Tower on East 47th Street, which was completed in 2001. Forest City Ratner’s planned 75-story, 850-foot Beekman Tower in Lower Manhattan — sited on what is now a parking lot bordered by Spruce and Beekman Streets — won’t be as high, but it will have more floors. The Frank Gehry-designed project, which broke ground in October, is slated to be completed in 2010 (see Excavation proceeds on Gehry design).

Stratospheric residential development started altering the New York skyline in the early 1980s, when Donald Trump, no stranger to a tall tale, put up the 664-foot Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue and 56th Street in 1983. With 58 floors, its height was not surpassed until he developed the Trump World Tower that faces the United Nations on 47th Street. That building is still the seventh-tallest residential building in the world, after buildings in Dubai, Australia, Russia and South Korea, according to Emporis, a buildings database (see chart).

New York City is home to six buildings that number among the 100 tallest residential buildings in the world. Chicago is the only comparable American city with many very tall buildings, counting 12 in the top 100.

These are still far fewer than steep-sloped Hong Kong, location of 40 high-rise residential buildings on the top 100 list. All were built between 1999 and 2005. Other areas of the world are quickly catching up: Dubai already has nine and is planning many more. China is also in the middle of a major high-rise building cycle.

Trump’s impulse for height is now being stretched across the Hudson River as well. In Jersey City, the 55-story Trump Plazas I and II will be the tallest residential buildings in Jersey City when they’re completed.

They’ll have a fine view of developer K. Hovnanian’s new 44-story residential tower at 77 Hudson Street, another tall project slated for Jersey City.

Tom Graham, who heads up construction at 77 Hudson, said clients have a “voracious appetite” for height. Graham said before any building’s design is finalized, company executives ride to each expected apartment level using a hot air balloon and assess the view 360 degrees around the location with a camera. These steps help determine the price, Graham noted.

With land prices accelerating all over the New York-New Jersey region, it certainly pays for developers to build as high as they feasibly can.

But the path skyward will still encounter both practical and market-driven limitations, and developers must walk a fine line to determine them.

Marilyn Davenport, senior vice president at the Real Estate Board of New York and an industry expert in high-rise buildings, said taller buildings make more economic sense because of increasing worldwide competition for new construction and the resulting increase in construction costs.

For 77 Hudson, Graham said they arrived at 44 floors only because it made sense for the project: “it could be 20 floors or 50,” he said, “but after awhile if you go higher, it becomes uneconomical,” because the extra floors cost more to build.

High-rise hotels move Downtown

When it comes to hotels, developers have been building higher for a while — New York City has 17 of the tallest 100 hotels around the world, ranging from 39 to 59 stories.

Alex Sapir, president of the Sapir Organization, is the co-developer of the Trump Soho Hotel Condominiums, which would be the tallest building in Soho at 45 stories if it gets built. The city was expected to approve construction permits last month.

“High rises have always been associated with New York, but now the trend is moving towards Downtown,” he said

Because the planned building is in a manufacturing zone, the hotel-condo’s rooms will have time restrictions on the number of days that the owner can occupy the unit, approximately 120 days out of the year, according to Sapir. The rest of the time, the owner can rent his or her unit as a fully furnished hotel room.

Because it’s a commercial building, the hotel will have to meet more extensive code requirements than a purely residential project, including an extensive sprinkler system, more stairways and higher standards for its exits.

Lower East Side and East Village

The tallest structures on the Lower East Side and in the East Village are both 21 stories — the Hotel on Rivington and the Related Companies’ Astor Place project, respectively.

But that record could be shattered. In the East Village, the Peck Moss Hotel Group is planning a 23-story hotel between Fifth and Sixth streets, diagonally across from Cooper Square.

Ecuadorian architect Carlos Zapata designed the project, which will loom above the adjoining four- and five-story tenements, allowing guests a bird’s-eye view of the neighborhood’s rooftops. Zapata’s tall, thin, glass, wood and bronze tower, reminiscent of his previous work at Soldier Field in Chicago and portions of the Miami Airport, will stand out in the formerly shabby-chic district.

Greg Peck, a principal of Peck Moss, said 23 stories isn’t high by New York standards, and noted the Four Seasons has 52 stories.

“We really wanted to create something that was architecturally significant,” Peck said. He said he knows from experience that the higher floors can fetch higher prices, and rooms in the planned project, laid out by Milanese designer Antonio Citterio, will average $500 a night.

“New York is all about the beautiful skyline and the whole idea of an urban hotel is to be perched up there with a beautiful view of the city,” Peck said.

Farther Downtown, in the South Street Seaport area, the Santiago Calatrava-designed 80 South Street would rise 835 feet, but whether the architecturally ambitious project will actually be built remains a big question mark (see Calatrava cubes headed south).

Similar changes in unlikely reaches

The skyline in Brooklyn is getting taller, too. More than 15 towers of at least 20 stories are planned for Downtown Brooklyn, along the Williamsburg and Greenpoint waterfront, and in Dumbo. Some will be more stories than the Williamsburgh Savings Bank building, now a high-rising geographic reference point in the borough. Some of the tall projects include the Frank Gehry-designed “Miss Brooklyn” tower, part of the Atlantic Yards project, and the 40-story 306 Gold Street and 35-story 313 Gold Street, sister towers being developed by Ron Herscho and Dean Palin.

Extell builds tall

On the Upper West Side, the Ariel East and Ariel West buildings being built by Extell Development on 99th and 100th streets and Broadway are the tallest structures in the neighborhood. Ariel East is expected to rise 39 stories and Ariel West, 34 stories.

Ariel East, with 63 apartments priced from $1.1 to $6 million, towers above its neighbors on upper Broadway. The taller floors have gone faster, and at higher prices, said Raizy Haas, senior vice president of development for the company. “We found the most expensive apartments, which are at the high levels, are the first to go, and that has been consistent since Sept. 11,” she said.

Haas said one of the 2,500-square-foot apartments has a view of Yankee Stadium to the north, Central Park to the east, the George Washington Bridge to the north, and the New Jersey coastline to the west.

Another Extell tower completed this year, the Orion condo building on West 42nd Street, is 604 feet tall. Its 58 stories make it the tallest residential structure in that neighborhood. It also makes the top 100 residential buildings worldwide list, coming in at No. 75, according to Emporis.

Go to chart: Tallest residential buildings in the world

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