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In a city that never stops reinventing itself, office buildings become luxury rentals, flea markets give way to towering condominiums, and sleepy brownstone enclaves gentrify overnight. Five neighborhoods where change is in the air.

Columbus Circle
Girding for the future: The AOL Time Warner building rises over Columbus Circle.

From an office on the fifty-second floor of Carnegie Hall Tower, Dolly Lenz peers over her glasses at the construction site for One Central Park. "Homeless people used to live around here," she says with a shudder. "Now it's going to be the No. 1 neighborhood in New York -- and therefore, the world!" Lenz, a top broker at Insignia Douglas Elliman, is not known for her rhetorical restraint, but this time, she may be onto something. When finished, the two 80-story towers now under construction will contain 191 luxury condos, a Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the headquarters of Jazz at Lincoln Center, a 14,000-square-foot Cartier store, AOL Time Warner's headquarters, CNN's studios, a new Jean-Georges Vongerichten steakhouse, and a retail complex. Four of the ten penthouses have already sold, at prices ranging from $25 million unfinished to $40 million with the works (that's $4,000 per square foot), even though the apartments won't be finished for another two years.

PAST IS PROLOGUE: Named for its statue, which was donated to the city by an Italian-American group in 1892, Columbus Circle was once a chic urban plaza ringed by theaters and cafés. Over the years, however, the area became best known for automobile dealerships and the mammoth 3.4-acre Coliseum convention center, which was eventually pushed into obsolescence by the Javits Center.

SHADOW WAR: Developers have eyed the site for years, but community activists beat back a succession of proposals, including Moshe Safdie's plan to build a skyscraper there in 1985. (Jackie Kennedy Onassis and other neighborhood activists opened hundreds of umbrellas in Central Park to illustrate the shadow the building would cast across the grass.) Ultimately, developers Stephen M. Ross, Kenneth A. Himmel, and William L. Mack were awarded a contract to build on the site in 1999, on the condition that they maintain a "view corridor" down 59th Street.

COMING ATTRACTIONS: Donald Trump just completed work on his fourth structure at Trump Place on Riverside Boulevard. And the Park Imperial is nearing completion on 56th between Seventh and Broadway; Deepak Chopra just bought an apartment there, and the building will also be headquarters to Random House. ("That makes the southern border very secure," says Lenz.) Residents who own apartments in the area can expect to see their property value skyrocket, and Ian Schrager's Hudson Hotel will finally have a Zip Code to be proud of.

THE NUMBERS: Rents for studios start at $2,300, one-bedrooms range from $2,900 to $3,200, and two-bedrooms from $3,800 to $4,500. Co-op prices for studios range from $150,000 to $350,000, one-bedrooms from $300,000 to $650,000, and two-bedrooms from $450,000 to $1 million-plus.

THE FALLOUT: The beloved Coliseum bookstore, in business for close to three decades, closed in January because of rent hikes. Some in the neighborhood worry that that's only the beginning.

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Photo: Pak Fung Wong

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