But at the Belnord

HFZ is seeing stronger sales on the Upper West Side as buyers flock to the prewar conversion

Mar.March 01, 2019 12:00 PM

The Belnord on the Upper West Side

While early sales for HFZ’s under-construction Downtown development — the XI — may be off to a slow start, the firm’s Upper West Side project, the Belnord, is offering a rosier view of the market.

“There definitely seems to be demand for that building,” said Compass President Leonard Steinberg.    

Feldman picked up the landmarked, century-plus-old building, which occupies an entire city block between West 86th and 87th streets and Broadway and Amsterdam, for a cool $575 million in late 2014 — 30 years after he and different partners first acquired the property for just $15 million.

Related: HFZ vs. the market

He then hired Robert A.M. Stern Architects to “reinterpret” the 213-unit building for modern times, performed a gut renovation on a portion of the rentals and added a host of amenities.

Sales opened on the first 95 of the Belnord’s condos last spring. And at least 38 units were in contract as of last month, according to StreetEasy. The listing prices on those units averaged $5.7 million, or $2,562 per square foot, but final prices won’t be disclosed until the units close. A penthouse is currently listed for $23 million.

Brokers said HFZ has offered discounts of at least 10 percent on some of the units. And Feldman told Bloomberg in June that he’d consider covering closing costs for some buyers and will negotiate prices on a deal-by-deal basis.

A portion of the building is still occupied by renters. But Feldman is aiming for an eventual sellout of $1.37 billion, according to an offering plan filed with the attorney general.

While many would argue that bringing $3 billion-plus worth of condos to the Manhattan market right now is risky, Feldman said being able to develop two square Manhattan blocks at the same time is “definitely the pinnacle of anyone’s career.”

And the Belnord is a property with a very colorful history.   

Upon its completion in 1908, the building, which has a large center courtyard, was believed to be the largest apartment building in the world.

But by the 1990s, it was noteworthy for a different reason — for almost 20 years, the building’s elderly owner, Lillian Seril, was locked in an epic battle with the tenants. The standoff resulted in the longest rent strike in city history, a halt to all maintenance and a string of court dates.

Feldman eventually brokered the deal that ended the misery.

In 1994, he persuaded Seril to sell. Then, before the deal closed, he got war-weary tenants to end their rent strike by promising to invest more than $5 million in improvements.

Feldman sold his stake five years later to Extell Development’s Gary Barnett, who continued to run the building as a rental until selling it back to Feldman in 2014.

Feldman’s new vision seems to be working.

Recently, Westbrook Partners converted its debt into an equity stake in the project, which is “an extremely good sign,” said Andrew Gerringer, managing director of the Marketing Directors, which is not involved with the project.

He said the Belnord has an advantage because today’s buyers are hesitant to be the first ones in new buildings.

At the XI, Gerringer noted, it’s going to be “a while before they deliver the project, and people know you have hundreds of units there, so they’re not running like they’re going to lose something.

“There is no urgency,” he said. “At the Belnord they can see it and touch it. And if it’s there and you like it and can close on it, somebody else might like it and you might lose it.”

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