Lincoln Square circles back

<span style="font-style: italic;">Brokers say activity is picking up at the foot of the Upper West Side</span>

From one of the penthouse terraces at the Element, a condo on West 59th Street a block and a half from the Hudson River, marketer Shlomi Reuveni gives a bird’s eye tour of the changes to the surrounding area over the past few years.

Immediately to the north, he points out, there’s the new condo 10 West End Avenue. Across the street, John Jay College is building a new facility. A couple blocks north, the Extell Development Company has broken ground on the latest buildings in its massive Riverside South project.

Further south, Fordham University is planning its expansion. The surrounding blocks — which were largely industrial until a few years ago — are dotted with several other new condos and rentals.

“When the developer [of the Element] first looked at the site in 2004 and 2005, the area was mostly industrial and lined with garages, gas stations and warehouses,” says Reuveni, an executive managing director with Brown Harris Stevens Select who began marketing the Element while he worked at Corcoran Sunshine, and continued to do so after he switched brokerages a couple years ago.

Reuveni continues: “There was the perception of the neighborhood as being far from everything, but that disappeared as residents and buyers soon realized the close proximity to Columbus Circle, Lincoln Center and Central Park.”

The neighborhood in question — roughly west of Columbus Avenue from 59th to 72nd streets — is alternatively referred to as Columbus Circle West, Lincoln Square and the foot of the Upper West Side. Whatever its name, the neighborhood has seen a remarkable concentration of development over the past few years, and most of the new condos have sold briskly.

Unsurprisingly, sales have not been as strong in buildings that hit the market right around the fall of Lehman Brothers, but most of the projects went on sale more than a year before Black September and clocked boom-era volume and prices.

Brokers and developers say activity has picked up in recent weeks, and that, in general, the neighborhood’s future appears quite bright.

The Element, which has 184 units and went on sale mid-2006, only has a few units left on the market. Its neighboring new-construction condo, 10 West End Avenue, went on sale at around the same time and now has just two condos left that aren’t spoken for according to the projects’ developers and brokers.

Prices at the Element averaged around $1,400 a foot, while at 10 West End Avenue they averaged around $1,200 a foot.

At the Element, prices were amended on five units during the past two months, according to Reuveni. As of last month, 98 percent of the condo’s units were either closed or in contract, he says.

Similarly, the two unsold units at 10 West End Avenue were reduced in price a few times beginning in September, but the condo’s developer says it’s “in no rush to sell” the final apartments.

“Our big regret is that we didn’t do more in the area,” says Richard Mack, a partner at AREA (formerly Apollo Real Estate Advisors), which developed 10 West End Avenue.

Mack says that when Apollo bought the development site at 10 West End, “some people thought it was a very risky proposition … but long-term, you can’t stop the development around Columbus Circle. There’s proximity to the park, the water and public transportation.”

At the Adagio, a 41-unit condo at 243 West 60th Street that went on sale late in 2007, there have been 30 closings, according to Kim Shepard-Fabrizi, a vice president with Prudential Douglas Elliman, who has worked on the project since its inception.

Shepard-Fabrizi says condos in the building have sold in the $1,150- to $1,250-a-foot range, and that three contracts went out last month, ending the stagnant selling season that began last September.

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The Adagio is part of a three-building development that includes two rental towers named the Sessanta.

The Sessanta has 301 units, and rents in its first building started at $1,800 for studios and went up to $5,500 for three-bedrooms. Leasing in the Sessanta’s first building began in mid-April, according to Sha Dinour, the president of Triumph Property Group, which heads up the property’s leasing office.

Dinour says that as of the middle of last month, the first building was completely rented. Leasing on the second building, which is scheduled to be move-in ready by the middle of next month, was set to begin late last month.

The second tower’s building will have slightly higher rents than the first, says Dinour, because it has larger units.

Triumph is offering renters one month free if they sign a 13-month lease, and in some instances covering brokers’ fees.

The single biggest force in terms of getting people into the area has arguably been Extell’s Riverside South development, the mega-project running from 59th to 64th streets.

Extell’s second condo in Riverside South, the 271-unit Rushmore, went on sale two years ago.

As of last month, 172 units in the mostly complete building were either closed or in contract.

Riverside South’s first condo, the Avery, may have initially stolen some of the Rushmore’s sales thunder.

Donna Gargano, a senior vice president for development at Extell, said the company has been pleased with sales at both sites. But she noted that when the Rushmore opened, “we still had a significant number of units available at the Avery next door, offering the attractive proposition of immediate occupancy.”

“Since receiving our [temporary certificate of occupancy] earlier this year at the Rushmore, we’ve done $45 million in new signed contracts, which is probably one of the strongest showings in the city.”

Prices on remaining units in the building run from $1.025 million to $7.85 million.

Ground has also been broken on the next phase of Riverside South, which Gargano says is slated to be finished by late 2010 and will be comprised of two buildings, adding 350 rental apartments and 150 condo units to the neighborhood.

After that, plans call for a five-building complex called Riverside Center to be put up on an eight-acre parcel. Gargano says plans for the super-block include a school, retail, a hotel and a cinema, as well as 2,500 more residential units. Pritzker-prize winning architect Christian de Portzamparc is the architect for that phase, which still needs to go through the public review process known as ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure).

Several blocks south of the Extell developments, another new condo that hit the market in May has had to adjust its prices in light of the recession and deflated real estate bubble. Hudson Hill, a 67-unit building at 462 West 58th Street, reduced its asking prices by about 15 percent before launching, according to developer Kenneth Horn, the president of Alchemy Properties.

“We’ve had around 25 percent of the units spoken for in the first two months,” says Horn, noting that he isn’t dissatisfied with the project’s sales volume.

Nevertheless, “two years ago the prices would have been slightly higher, and we could have sold more off a less-completed building,” he says.