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Late Converts

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The real-estate recovery may be roaring, but it's stopped short of two of the highest-profile redevelopments in town. At 455 Central Park West, the fortresslike former Towers nursing home at 105th Street that's being converted into luxury condos, construction was quietly suspended last November. "It will start again in the next four weeks," insists Andy Gerringer, of Insignia Douglas Elliman, who will be handling the sales. "We're just beginning to market the tower to outside brokers," he adds, referring to the high-rise that will stand behind the landmark -- or, rather, the portion of it that hasn't been sold to Columbia University for faculty housing. Space in the "castle" portion on Central Park West won't be marketed until late fall.

Some of the development's troubles may stem from its fringey location -- fringey, at least, for such a luxe project. "It was always going to take some spinning of the neighborhood to sell those units," says Halstead's Susan Evans, who often sells apartments above 100th Street. Where the Towers, finished or not, have already made their impact: As soon as the revamp was announced, says Evans, "neighborhood prices started changing."

At the other end of town, the conversion of the Woolworth Building's upper floors -- which, some speculated, would command a record $2,000 a square foot, thanks to their fourteen-foot-high windows (some are even twenty feet) -- is also in remission. The location, four blocks from ground zero, isn't the only reason. "The tragedy only made the area more of a neighborhood," says Elliman's Helene Lutchnick, who sold the apartments in 114 Liberty Street four years ago. "Two-seventy Broadway, just two blocks north, is already 45 percent sold" after four months, she notes, "and 150 Nassau Street is doing well." The difficulty here seems strictly financial: Woolworth's prices are -- or were -- ranging up to $20 million. "This building was a huge ultraluxury project," says Stribling's Bruce Ehrmann, who's handling 270 Broadway. "It's not like 270, which is mostly in the $1 million or $3 million range."

Unsurprisingly, rumors have been swirling that developer Steven Witkoff, who recently leased nine of the Woolworth's lower floors to the SEC and the New York City Police Pension Fund as office space, was looking to sell his rights and dump the project. "We've had multiple offers, but ultimately, this is the partnership that's going to convert it," Witkoff insists. "I cannot tell you the amount of calls I get from luminaries asking permission if they can go up to the observation deck. If we don't convert today," he says, "we'll convert in a year."


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