Rounding out Museum Mile

<i>African art venue heads to 1280 Fifth Avenue, and brings along a condo</i>

1280 Fifth Avenue
The building under construction at 1280 Fifth Avenue weaves together two story lines: a museum finally finding a home and a new Fifth Avenue condo in Harlem.

Designed by starchitect Robert A.M. Stern, the building’s basket-weave skin recalls an aesthetic of some African art, an element meant to speak to its future occupant, the Museum of African Art. And the building sits along a roundabout at 110th Street and Fifth Avenue, a spot certain to lure in buyers eager to live near Museum Mile and across the street from Central Park.

The developer understood “that it was extremely important that [the building] have extraordinary architectural integrity,” said Nancy Packes, president of Brown Harris Stevens Project Marketing, which was brought on to sell 1280 Fifth Avenue. “It’s a museum in the base of the building; it’s not an Equinox.”

While the museum isn’t slated to open in the building until April 2011, Packes and her team were scheduled to open the building’s sales office on May 1. The goal is to have a temporary certificate of occupancy by October of this year.

The 115 residences will include alcove studios of around 800 square feet, one-bedrooms about the same size, two-bedrooms at around 1,400 square feet, and three-bedrooms at 1,700 square feet. Prices will be about $1,000 a square foot, with alcove studios starting at $729,900, one-bedrooms at $828,935, two-bedrooms at $1.379 million and three-bedrooms at $1.748 million.

“We’re just beginning, but the initial interest has been very high. It’s Fifth Avenue on Central Park, by Robert A.M. Stern, and it has the museum. [Plus] it has extensive amenities, including a pool. We are anticipating a very good sellout and no rentals,” said Packes.

The largest percentage of the units will be two-bedrooms, a decision that was made after the economy changed.

“At one point, we had many more three-bedrooms,” said Roderick O’Connor, a principal at Brickman, the New York-based developer. “[After the collapse] we wanted to offer a wider selection. With a wider selection, you open yourselves up to more buyers.”

It was fortuitous that the land on the east side of Frawley Circle, the roundabout that pins down the northwest corner of Central Park (which at one point was a gas station), remained underdeveloped for as long as it did. When Elsie McCabe Thompson, the president of the Museum of African Art, first laid eyes on the site, she knew immediately that after 14 years and three temporary locations, her museum had finally found a permanent home.

“We were so lucky to get the site, because it speaks to our mission,” said McCabe Thompson, who has led the 26-year-old museum for 12 years. “It’s where Museum Mile meets Harlem. Doesn’t every museum want to be on Museum Mile? It’s iconic New York City. And where else could you hope to put a museum for African art than into a community with a large African-American presence?”

After setting their sights on the location in the late ’90s, the museum worked with two mayoral administrations to assemble five pieces of land. When the museum finally put out a request for proposals, Brickman responded with a plan that included the museum at the bottom with condominium units on top. Its proposal won.

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Taking a cue from two of its predecessors, 111 Central Park North and 1200 Fifth Avenue, the developer seems to have a pretty good idea who its buyers will be.

“We know from both of those buildings who the demographic is,” said Packes. “By and large, the locale appeals to people who are already residents in Manhattan. They understand evolving neighborhoods and the value that sits on Fifth Avenue and Central Park. They are largely young families, professional and urbane and urban, with small children.”

The team likely tore a page out of the 111 CPN and 1200 Fifth Avenue pricing books as well.

“This is a gateway market, it’s a market in its infant stages of being discovered, and we priced it in a way that we wanted people to look and say, ‘That’s an attractive offer,'” said O’Connor.

The $1,000-a-foot pricing is attractive when compared to the prices at 1200 Fifth Avenue, which has sold units for $1,500 a foot and above $2,000 a foot. But it’s right along the lines of the last units on the market at 111 CPN, which were priced around $1,100.

“We thought we might get higher pricing, but the market is the market,” said O’Connor. “We were fortunate that when we started our construction the bubble had burst, and so we got good construction pricing — so we are building for cheaper than we thought we would in 2006 and 2007.” The budget came down $20 million between the beginning of 2008 and the end of the year, when Brickman made the majority of its buys, O’Connor said.

Patrick Smith, director of sales of 1280 Fifth Avenue and senior vice president for Brown Harris Stevens Project Marketing, points out that on co-op-heavy Fifth Avenue between 86th and 110th streets, there are only two condos, which will be a boon for the sales team.

Other amenities in the building include a rooftop pool and deck, a gym, terrace and game room. There will be a residents’ lounge, children’s room and a “teen room,” as well as on-site parking and cold storage for grocery deliveries.

The building is also aiming to achieve LEED certification, counting proximity to the subway (the 2/3 line is a block away), bicycle storage, 2,500 square feet of green roof surface, low-flow fixtures and dual-flush toilets among its eco-friendly features.

And then, of course, there are the amenities within the museum, where lectures, workshops and classes for children and adults will be offered.

“Museums [and] cultural institutions have the unique ability to bring money from outside of the community in,” said McCabe. “People come from other countries, other cities and states to see our exhibitions because they won’t be up forever. They bring buying power with them, they shop in our store and go to local restaurants.

“Harlem is already an amazing neighborhood, as is Fifth Avenue; we hope to add to that in a positive way.”