Raising the Roof

Photo: James Laynse/Corbis

Andrea Mercado doesn’t know Andrea Elish, who lives three blocks away from her on West 93rd Street, but she has one piece of advice for her: “Plan on staying out a lot.” That’s because a condominium tower may soon be built above Elish’s six-story building (pictured) while she’s living in it—a nightmare that Mercado went through herself a few years ago. In three years of construction, Mercado says, water and electricity service in her rent-stabilized apartment grew unreliable, dust filmed the floor and furniture, and four of her windows lost their sunlight forever. “There’s nothing much you can do but tough it out,” she says today.

Adding floors to an existing structure has become far more common as developers capitalize on unused air rights (that is, the space above a building that has fewer floors than zoning permits). “You see that happening all the time now, whether it’s a penthouse or another four stories,” says Core Group Marketing’s Shaun Osher, who has a project in Chelsea that will be cantilevered over the building next door. Usually the properties downstairs are empty, as at 260 Park Avenue South and 76 Madison. But as such sites grow ever scarcer and more expensive, “verticalizing” buildings that are still in use becomes worth the trouble; one of the first, on Seventh Avenue in the Twenties, was approved six years ago. Matthew Haines, founder of the real-estate-information Website PropertyShark.com, says that Elish’s building and the one next to it have enough air rights to double in height. (Kent Swig—the president of Swig Equities, which bought the building earlier this year—repeatedly failed to return calls requesting comment.) Established areas like the Upper West Side are favorite sites. “[They] look for opportunities like that,” says Andy Gerringer of the Development Marketing Group, which markets new construction and conversions like 260 Park. “You know you’ll sell those units.”

A developer’s opportunity like this is, of course, tough on tenants, even after the dust settles. Mercado’s neighbor Martha Grant says once work was over, an upstairs-downstairs vibe—literally and figuratively—set in, separating newcomers like her from those who survived the chaos. “But now they’re seeing the value of it,” she says. “It’s become a better building.”

Danner, Elsewhere
With daughter Gwyneth Paltrow rumored to be expecting yet again and newly ensconced in Tribeca, actress Blythe Danner has planted roots downtown as well. According to real-estate records, Apple Martin’s elegant grandmother, who recently won an Emmy for her recurring role alongside Hank Azaria in the Showtime drama Huff, has just closed on a two-bedroom apartment in central Greenwich Village. It’s likely to be a substantial change for Danner, who, with her late husband, St. Elsewhere creator Bruce Paltrow, spent many years in the Carnegie Hill townhouse where Gwyneth grew up. Listed at $1.625 million when it was put on the market, Danner’s sunny new apartment overlooks Washington Square Park and has charming prewar details like beamed ceilings and crown moldings. She’s not the only celebrated actor in the building; her new neighbors include Sam Shepard and Jessica Lange.

Triple Assesment
455 Central Park West, Apartment 20A
Three-bedroom, 31/2-bath, 2,083-square-foot condo.
Asking Price: $2.69 million.
Charges and Taxes: $2,031.12 per month.
Broker: Ruth Bader, Bellmarc.

Courtesy of Bellmarc

Many people thought this building—the former New York Cancer Hospital at 105th and Central Park West, plus the adjoining tower—would never be finished. Now it’s a showplace—but will buyers pay top dollar? Our panel says not everyone’s ready to spend that much money so far uptown. Then again, the apartment right above it did just fetch $2.8 million.

Catherine Holmes, Barak Realty: “From the moment you arrive at the circular driveway, you feel this is someplace special,” says Holmes, who also admires the park views. The layout’s a little challenging, however: “That one bedroom with the angled window is a nightmare to decorate.”
Her assessment: $2.395 million.

Lisa Lippman, Brown Harris Stevens: “This location isn’t supersafe nor superconvenient,” she says, noting that it’s pretty far from the prime West Side. “Your price has to reflect that.” Besides, “it’s a tough apartment to sell vacant. Rooms look smaller without furniture.” Lippman predicts it could fetch $200,000 more if the owner staged the space with posh furniture.
Her assessment: $2.1 million.

Brian Lewis, Halstead: “You have a ‘wow’ building with ‘wow’ services with only ‘upscale suburban’ finishes. For this level of pricing, you want a Viking, Sub-Zero, and Bosch in the kitchen,” he says. “But at the end of the day, it’s the location. Up here, it’s all about west of Broadway.”
His assessment: $2.295 million.

Raising the Roof