On a recent icy morning, a stretch limo glided up Greenwich Street to No. 497, an eleven-story luxury condominium rising behind a dramatically rippled glass exterior—an anomaly among blocks of squat warehouses mitigated only by the occasional café and dive bar. Carlo Salvi, an Italian entrepreneur with wild black hair who owns, among other less glamorous and more profitable companies, half of the modeling agency that reps Naomi Campbell, emerged from the car, trailed by a middle-aged assistant. Salvi is thinking about adding another address to his collection of homes—he’s already staked out Miami, Lugano, and London—so he’s checking out the Greenwich Street Project, where Campbell, Jay-Z, and Isabella Rossellini have toured lofts, and artist Richard Tuttle, among more than a dozen others, recently closed a deal. “I am in New York for only two months a year, so I don’t need a terrace,” Salvi says, surveying the massive wraparound glass balconies of the $6.6 million, 3,600-square-foot penthouse duplex that will be delivered raw. He guesses out loud that it would cost him another $1 million before he’d be finished, especially if he plans to take his broker’s advice to build a central glass staircase like the one in Apple’s Soho store. “I don’t need it, but I’ll buy it if I find a good deal.” Through slanted floor-to-ceiling windows, the unobstructed views of the river and the freshly renovated stretch of the $400 million Hudson River Park below are spectacular, even if a winter storm has turned the landscape into an icy tundra.
There’s a real-estate revolution afoot on downtown’s Far West Side, and it’s a revolution from above. Salvi typifies a new breed of buyers being targeted by ambitious developers who are colonizing the Hudson River shoreline from the western edge of Soho north to the Far West Village. Speculators are betting that these high-end homesteaders will shell out millions for eye-catching architecture, picture-postcard sunsets, and such luxury amenities as resistance pools and guest apartments. The ideal buyer is not dissuaded by the fact that it’s all but impossible to hail a cab on these frigid, windy corners, since he’s likely to have a car and driver idling curbside, not to mention another home at the ready in gentler climes. There are no snobby co-op boards to impress. And let’s face it: The private chef may be the only one prowling the forbidding side streets in search of black truffles or aged Gouda.
The Greenwich Street Project, brainchild of British developer Jonathon Carroll and Dutch architect Winka Dubbeldam, is just the first stop on Salvi’s neighborhood tour. On the same block, the fourteen-story 505 Greenwich Street, which opened its sales office in early January, touts a list of 400 prospective buyers waiting to look at apartments. A dozen blocks north, buyers are moving into Richard Meier’s celebrated twin glass towers at 173 and 176 Perry Street, developed by Richard Born, or eagerly awaiting a third, even more luxurious Meier tower going up next door at 165 Charles Street for developers Izak Senbahar and Simon Elias, who are, like the others, asking $1,500 to $2,500 per square foot for their new digs.
A short walk from the Meier matrix is Morton Square, developer Jules Demchick’s sprawling compound of condos, townhouses, and lofts designed by Costas Kondylis, where buyers as disparate as artist Chuck Close and the teen television-and-tabloid stars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen will be moving in. And the West Village land rush isn’t over, either: On January 15, the Related Companies (which brought us the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle) signed a deal to develop high-rise condos on the site of the Superior Printing Ink Company, a 33,000-square-foot lot about four blocks north of the Perry Street towers, at Bethune and West 12th Street. “It’s the last and best remaining site,” boasts Related’s 35-year-old golden-boy president, Jeff Blau.
The dream these developers and their world-class designers share is the total transformation of the lower West Side riverfront, an area that extends from 14th Street south to Canal Street and from Hudson Street west to the river. Until recently an industrial wasteland a little too far from the cobblestones and quaint townhouses of the West Village and Soho, the area has quickly become a status sphere replete with Park Avenue amenities—and Park Avenue sticker shock. What distinguishes the new buildings beyond their luxe accoutrements is their bold attack on the skyline, bringing airy, spacious, open residential design more typically associated with California and Europe to the banks of the Hudson.
The new condo coast owes its development in part to the Hudson River Park renaissance—Rollerblading! Trapeze school! Kayaking! Jogging trail! But it’s also a consequence of developers running out of commercial buildings to convert in Tribeca and Soho—and being unable, because of zoning, to go vertical in the meatpacking district. New buildings also lend themselves to high-tech amenities and luxury appointments (pet spa, anyone?). Embellish them with cutting-edge, brand-name architecture, and you’ve got catnip for the city’s restless buyers ever in search of the latest trophy home.
“You’re seeing a lot of your typical Upper East Side buyers moving downtown for something hipper, cooler, with better views and new modern buildings,” Blau says. “The people who are buying in this market are used to having their own drivers.”
And they’re willing to pay for parking garages, proximity to the West Side heliport, gyms with spas, and 24-hour concierges in brand-new buildings, rather than conversions of warehouses and factories like their Tribeca predecessors.
The neighborhoods into which they’re moving range from the yuppie-friendly Far West Village at the north end, adjacent to the quaint cafés and chic boutiques that line the narrow streets of the West Village, to gritty pre-gentrification West Soho at the south end, an area almost completely lacking in amenities.
Not surprisingly, current residents are somewhat ambivalent about the impending glamorization of the last stretch of viable real estate along the West Side Highway. High-rise development is allowable only because it’s outside the historic zone, which prompts West Villagers to worry that it will end up blocking the light and air—not to mention their river views.
“The major concern of locals,” adds Arthur Strickler, district manager of Community Board 2, which oversees the Far West Village, “is we don’t want to have our side of the Hudson River mirror the New Jersey side.”