New Era for Skyscrapers

Developer Michael Stern wants to build a stairway to heaven in Midtown Manhattan.

The managing partner of JDS Development Group and his partners at Property Markets Group are planning a skinny, ultra-luxury condo tower on West 57th Street, which will be about 100 feet taller than the Empire State Building. The venture’s plans for the tower submitted last month to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission call for an approximately 1,350-foot skyscraper that sets back from the street numerous times as it reaches higher—resembling tall, thin steps.

“It’s really going to enhance the skyline,” says Vishaan Chakrabarti, a partner at SHoP Architects, which designed the tower. He says the planned tower would be clad with bronze-and-white terra-cotta stripes, so the building “sparkles during the day and has a soft glow at night.”

It remains unclear whether the venture has obtained financing, a crucial element for any development, especially at a time that many banks are still reluctant to make loans for condo projects. A spokesman for JDS declined to comment on the financing, but said the developer hopes to break ground early next year.

Should it be built, the tower would be the latest entrant in the luxury condo-fueled skyscraper race that is reshaping the Midtown vista and ushering in a new era for skyscrapers in the city. Up until now, the city’s skyline has been dominated by office towers that house thousands of workers. But lately many of the new towers rising, particularly around Central Park, have been skinny apartment towers.

On 57th Street alone, two condo towers taller than 1,000 feet—Extell Development Co.’s green glass One57 and Harry Macklowe and CIM Group’s 1,396-foot 432 Park Avenue—are under construction. Extell also is planning another tower on the street.

Developers are responding to soaring prices for high-end condos, in part from international buyers who view the apartments as stable investments. Extell has said it has reached deals to sell two penthouses for more than $90 million at One57, while the builders of 432 Park have said they have signed a contract for a $95 million penthouse.

Mr. Stern has been planning a building on his 57th Street site since it was purchased in 2012, although initial schemes called for a building of less than 700 feet.

Earlier this year, Mr. Stern’s group increased the size of the project by cutting a deal for additional development rights from a nearby property owner and by buying a neighboring building—the 1925-built home of piano maker Steinway Musical Instruments Inc.’s flagship store—and its air rights. In all, the venture has spent more than $250 million on acquisitions, according to property records.

In addition to its height, the building is notable for being so thin. Its lot is just 43-feet wide, according to city records, and many of the floors would be 4,000 to 5,000 square feet in size, Mr. Chakrabarti says.

The building is slated to include many full-floor apartments with views all around. “There will be moments in these apartments where you can see Midtown to the south and Central Park to the north,” he says.

If built, the tower would be by far the most notable development by Mr. Stern, 34 years old, a relative newcomer to New York City real estate. He’s best known for converting the Walker Tower in Chelsea to condos, along with Property Markets Group. Mr. Stern has since made multiple other acquisitions, and he’s planning a pair of flashy apartment towers on Manhattan’s East Side.

Mr. Stern and Property Markets Group are planning to convert the Steinway Building into an apartment building and transfer its development rights. The new tower must get approval from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission because it’s next door to the Steinway building site, which is a city landmark.

Last week, the landmarks committee of the neighborhood community board voted to give a nonbinding endorsement of the plan. The full community board is set to take up the issue this week.


By Eliot Brown, The Wall Street Journal

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