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Vu.

Prince Street Prince

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A rendering of the exterior of 40 Mercer Residences, which will be completed in 2006. Right, One Kenmare Square, which will be completed this year.  

“For my thesis, I checked into the Bowery Mission,” he says. “I lived there for a week, as though I were homeless. There was one guy who had been an accountant, became an alcoholic, and his very bourgeois and seemingly secure life changed into complete abandonment and loss. Despite everything that the shelter could offer—shelter, food, clothing—all people wanted was a woman, a place of their own, and a job, in that sequence.”

Balazs decided against journalism, though he worked briefly for David Garth on Bess Myerson’s Senate campaign. Then father and son founded Biomatrix, a Ridgefield, New Jersey–based biotech company, and Balazs was able to secure his nest egg. It was the mid-eighties, and he was living in a fifth-floor loft in a Greene Street building otherwise occupied by rag merchants. He went to nightclubs. He met Eric Goode, who was founding the legendary M.K. “Eric approached me and said, ‘Do you want to do a nightclub? We need more money,’ ” says Balazs. “There was a big dichotomy between the life I was leading in New Jersey and everything I was interested in. I had a desire to merge the work and private life.”

Today, sitting in a red chair in his jewel of an office in the Puck Building, Balazs is surrounded by well-thumbed design books and mementos, like a candid photo of Helmut and June Newton (Balazs was at the hospital when Newton passed away, after a car accident outside the Chateau Marmont). A faux–Egon Schiele drawing leans against a wall: Balazs had it commissioned as a lark, collaborating with a group of artists to produce a show of fake masters at a gallery in Japan. It was performance art—they estimated the cost of materials to make the painting, an hourly wage for the artist, and expenses like the cost of a six-pack of beer, then calculated the difference of a real Schiele. Balazs calls this spread the “fetish value.”

“It’s sad, in some ways, what happened to Soho,” says Balazs. “It is still the most complete and yet most unique neighborhood in the city. It is missing the art world. That’s one of the sad and inevitable evolutions. But it is an evolution, and instead of it comes something else.”

Earlier, in the bustle of Mercer Street, with its new cobblestones and aging bistros, high-stepping models and sauntering tourists, Sunglass Hut and Yohji Yamamoto, he says, “I like to think of 40 Mercer as the last artwork in this neighborhood.”


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