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This Is What $90 Million Looks Like

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A view from 57th Street, ca. 2014.  

Besides, plenty of information has already trickled out, as it usually does. A Nigerian has purchased a unit in the building, Barnett recently admitted. So have a few Europeans and two Chinese. Lawrence Stroll, the Quebeçois co-director of Michael Kors, bought a unit on the 85th floor for $50 million. His business partner, Silas Chou, who comes from Hong Kong, paid roughly the same amount for his own equivalent unit three floors below. Other buyers include Michael Holtz, a travel-agency magnate, and Richard Kringstein, CEO of the Herman Kay Company.

According to one prominent broker, only a minority of buyers will use the building as a permanent residence. “Everyone else—this is one for their portfolio,” the broker explains. “It’ll be a really great one for a while, I’m sure. These are the kind of billionaires that own in Hong Kong and London and some place in St. Barts. They’re collecting homes as they collect art.”

Catch that? It was subtle. So let us offer our own humble translation: All these aforementioned global elites, who have agreed to fork over near-unfathomable sums of cash for apartments in One57—many of these people are not actually going to live in the building. Sure, they’ll swing by occasionally, long enough to enjoy the view, but for the most part, their apartments will be an investment, a collectible item, a safe-deposit box.

It is not impossible to imagine a day when, gazing up from the sidewalk at West 57th Street, you might find the tallest ghost town in the world, a spire paid for but not actually occupied, unlit but for the flicker of shadow and the zigzag flash of a vacuum across a rosewood floor.

From the ground level, the construction elevator at One57 hugs the flank of the building for twenty floors, nestled comfortably in the grip of the surrounding landscape. Then, like a rocket leaving the launchpad, it jolts into open air, and the rooftops of midtown Manhattan drop precipitously away. The three residential elevators at One57 will travel at roughly twenty miles an hour and scale the entire height of the building in 40 seconds. The construction elevator moves much more slowly than that, and as you climb onboard, the first thing you hear is the screech of the gears overhead.

On a brisk day last month, I ride to the top of One57 with Nicholas Grecco and Ralph Esposito, executives with Lend Lease, a multinational contracting company. In college, Grecco worked in construction for high-rises in midtown, and he saunters confidently to the edge of the elevator, peering outward. Esposito, who has bronze skin and unyielding gold hair, is less sure of himself. He uses his hand to brace himself on the wall, and when a fleet of workers climb onboard, pushing a quiver of metal poles, he clings to the top posts of the pallet. He does not look down. “You tell yourself nothing can happen,” he smiles tightly.

On any given day, there are approximately 400 workers on site at One57. Those workers are all contracted by Lend Lease, of which Esposito is the managing director and president. Grecco is project executive for One57. It is a full-time job, not so different from running a particularly fractious symphony orchestra. There is a lot of talent, a lot of ego, and a lot that can go wrong. Grecco and his team of 44 supervisors and sub-managers work out of a suite of cramped offices on 57th Street; they will not leave until construction is complete. “It’s a real process,” he says.

The elevator stops at the 89th floor—the site of the record-breaking penthouse duplex. “This is what $90 million looks like,” Grecco announces. It does not look like $90 million. Tufts of twisted rebar are sprouting from the floor. The bathtub in the master bathroom is for now only a grubby basin filled with a couple of crumpled cans of Nestea. FUCK FRANK, someone has written on the concrete nearby.

Considering the scale, construction at One57 has moved relatively quickly. In 2005, this stretch of 57th Street comprised a handful of brownstones, a parking garage, and a once-grand hotel, the Park Savoy. Extell bought out the owners of the brownstones and the parking garage, and Barnett told me he was willing to pay a bit north of $10 million for the Park Savoy. The owners asked for $80 million. So Extell simply built around the hotel, which is now wedged into the dank armpit of One57. (I recently suggested to Barnett that the hotel might benefit from its proximity to his skyscraper. He waited a beat and then grinned. “Nope,” he said.)

In 2009, crews broke ground on the foundation of One57. In order to support 1,000-plus vertical feet of glass and metal, the foundation had to be dug two basement levels deep, through heavy, hard rock—a process that took more than a year. By August 2010, Lend Lease began work on the reinforced columns that make up the innards of the building. One57 grew by a couple of floors a week. For about a year and a half, office workers at the 60-floor Carnegie Hall Tower, which sits across 57th Street, watched as their panoramic view of the park slipped incrementally away; by this April, they were staring at the innards of a bustling construction site. “I think all of us knew someone in those buildings that was unhappy at one point in time,” Grecco says. (This is, of course, an abiding cruelty of Manhattan real estate: One day you’re the One57, and the next you’re the Carnegie Hall Tower.)


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