Saving the Planet, New York–Style

It’s a couple of weeks till the sales office opens at the Helena, a rental building on West 57th Street and Eleventh Avenue, but staff members are fielding countless requests for tours. “We haven’t even started marketing it,” says Adam R. Rose, president of the building’s management company. Some of that attention attends any high-profile new building, and some is hype—but it also may indicate that this bluest of blue states is turning green. The Helena is one of the first in a crop of high-rise towers built to be environmentally friendly.

What, exactly, does “green” mean here? Solar panels on the roof (producing an admittedly tiny percentage of the building’s power), high-performance windows that block both chills and UV, and twice-filtered air (protecting your personal environment). Small details are likewise rethought: At the Solaire, a green building downtown that opened last year, the stairwell lights are on motion detectors, so they’re lit only when needed, and the super-energy-efficient bulbs last ten years. Waste water is treated and reused; the cleansers used in the common spaces are all-natural. At the Helena, residents will have access to car-sharing boards and Zipcar (the communal rent-a-car-by-the-hour service). The net effect is quite modest but not completely negligible, and, says Cat Fitzgerald of the nonprofit group GreenHomeNYC, “it’s great PR”—for both the building and the movement.

The Helena and the Solaire are hardly alone. Developers are about to open Clinton Green in the West Fifties, 211 North End Avenue downtown, and a yet-to-be-named development on West 31st Street. Harlem’s 1400 Fifth Avenue, a middle-income building completed earlier this year, is nearly sold out and only has a few big triplexes left in its inventory. Some are condos, most are rentals, and all offer a sensibility usually associated with the likes of Portland and San Francisco. “It’s going to be the standard [before long],” says the Durst Organization’s Douglas Durst, who built the Helena.

Earnest instincts are fueling the trend, of course, but so is money. Operating costs are lower over the long term for green buildings, and their developers receive big tax credits. And there’s cachet: Apartments at the Solaire command “the highest rents in Battery Park,” from about $3,000 for a one-bedroom to $8,500 for a three-bedroom, says developer Christopher Albanese of the Albanese Organization. This being New York, the aesthetics are hardly Birkenstocky: “It’s not back-to-the-land,” says Dan Kaplan, chief architect at Fox & Fowle, which has three green projects in the pipeline. “It’s urbane.”

Photo: John Barrett/Globe Photos

Meet the Neighbors
Looks like downtown’s most famous ambassador may be thinking once again of leaving the neighborhood: Longtime Tribeca resident Robert De Niro, who last year made an offer on a $24 million townhouse on the Upper East Side, has reportedly checked out another property nearby. The Meet the Fockers actor is said to have expressed interest in a $29.5 million, nine-level, Georgian-style mega-mansion combining two townhouses at 35 and 37 East 63rd Street, which has 20,000 square feet of raw interior space, twelve terraces, and a roof deck. Other famous faces said to have toured the building include Nicole Kidman and her sometime boyfriend rocker Lenny Kravitz, as well as Coach executive creative director Reed Krakoff. Calls to De Niro’s Tribeca office, the developers, and brokers at Sotheby’s International Realty, which is repping the sale, were not returned.

Triple Assessment
365 West 20th Street
Two-bedroom, one-bath, 750-square-foot co-op.
Asking price:
Monthly maintenance: $968.
Broker: Fredrik Eklund, JC DeNiro & Associates.

Before its first open house, this apartment had an accepted offer for more than the asking price. Our panel, for the most part, agrees that it’s worth the money. It’s fashionably minimalist, thanks to the interior-designer seller, and it went for at least $100,000 less than is typical for the area—likely because it’s so small for a two-bedroom. But who can argue with the light and air provided by ten upper-floor windows?

Edward Ferris, William B. May: Although the apartment’s tiny and it has an “un-kitchen” (it’s a Pullman), Ferris says “the building is fabulous; the details are fabulous.” But unless someone falls in love with the place immediately, its smallness could make it a “tough sell.”
His assessment: $699,000.

Steven Ganz, Douglas Elliman: “Even though the small rooms aren’t as functional, the apartment is so pristine, it’s almost like a gift to the buyer,” he says. “Plus, there are open views all around”—including both the Empire State Building and the Hudson.
His assessment: $750,000.

Joel Shapiro, Halstead: The living room’s about the size of a bedroom in many other places, but “the light makes up for it,” says Shapiro. He thinks it’s perfect for a single woman who works from home and doesn’t cook a lot, since restaurants and other services are nearby.
His assessment: $690,000.

Saving the Planet, New York–Style