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The Art and the Deal

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The evening would also set the all-time total sales record at Sotheby’s, where Rosen not only owned the building but was being sued by his auction-house tenant for not allowing Sotheby’s to buy its own building back at a favorable price per some prior agreement (the parties settled in January, with Sotheby’s now getting a break on the price Rosen was asking). But here he was, larking around with the boys in the stalls, Brant and Tony Shafrazi, all of them maniacally chewing gum.

In the auction room, Rosen is considered a value investor who seldom strays over a few million, as he did at Christie’s in the fall, losing out on a $6.5 million Jean-Michel Basquiat Sugar Ray Robinson. But in real estate, “if Aby wants something, he doesn’t want to come in second,” says developer Steve Witkoff, who got aced from the Lever House deal. Rosen’s money is from German investment funds. German lenders are known to accept a much lower rate of return on their loans; because Rosen’s money costs him less, he has more of it to play with. “He’ll get the property, even if it means paying 5 percent more than the next guy,” says Cushman & Wakefield executive director Richard Baxter, “because he’ll have a vision for it. He’s selling units at 40 Bond for a higher price per square foot than any other developer’s charging right now, and he can do it because there’s a concept.”

There is the occasional miscalculation: RFR and Ian Schrager had the One Madison Avenue clock tower under contract when staggering numbers came in for the cost of converting it into condominiums. “Aby and Ian started to freak out and couldn’t pull off the deal,” says a source close to the process. Over on East 55th Street, the addition of the hedge-fund-manager-stocked Core Club downstairs didn’t much help sales upstairs.

The bottom line is brutally enforced. Architect Philip Johnson helped build the Seagram Building and maintained offices there. But when his lease came up, RFR wanted to hike the nonagenarian’s reduced rent to market rate. Johnson, who was still coming into work every morning at 9:30, noiselessly packed his things.

The Guggenheim Gala now flickering to an end, a golf cart ferried Aby and Samantha Rosen back to their car down an allée of potted trees with pretend oranges. Manhattan’s skyline glistened before them, more and more of it built by Rosen. Coming online soon in New York are 610 Lexington, a Norman Foster obelisk behind the Seagram Building housing a Shangri-La hotel and condos. Also: One Jackson Square, like 610 Lex, another joint venture, this condo undulating down Greenwich Avenue and a potential neighborhood-transformer like the Time Warner Center with its mall downstairs; and a ten-story condo job set for West Broadway, a martini-olive toss away from Downtown Cipriani.

Local deals have slowed for everyone in this sludgy market, but Rosen has hotels planned for Tel Aviv, where he’s now tight with Mayor Ron Huldai, another son of a Polish Jew from Lodz. Last spring, RFR spent $186 million on a portfolio of German office buildings, $578 million on Frankfurt’s Eurotower, the 39-story skyscraper, finally giving the Rosen family a major piece of the Frankfurt skyline.

The portfolio of iconic buildings bought and now being built—the vanloads of contemporary canvases and sculpture—have crowned the controversialist developer with a halogen halo of Cool. Here in New York, he’d learned that Taste was a commodity like any other, and as he’d be the first to tell you, he’d gotten a great price on it.


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