Big Deal | 15 Central Park West, Success Etched in Stone

When the developers set out to build 15 Central Park West, which has become something of a personality in its own right in a city obsessed with real estate, they were gambling that the rich and famous would embrace an aesthetic that evoked New York of the 1920s and 1930s.

It was 2005. And 15 Central Park West was going up as architects like Richard Meier were being celebrated for designing shimmering glass towers downtown.

But the developers, working with the architect Robert A.M. Stern, went out on something of a limestone limb, paying homage to Rosario Candela-designed buildings like 740 Park Avenue and other traditional residences on Fifth Avenue. The 201-unit condominium, which actually includes two buildings, is often referred to as “limestone clad.” But there is clad and then there is clad: the exteriors of the buildings, one with 19 stories and called “the house” and the other a 35-floor tower, are covered with 87,000 pieces of Indiana limestone.

The Web site refers to 15 Central Park West, between 61st and 62nd Streets, as the “Limestone Jesus.” For any broker sweating it out in this market, a listing at 15 Central Park West is nothing short of a coup, and a sale can indeed be a savior.

A look at the transactions that have taken place in the last month — in one of the sleepiest seasons on the real estate calendar — shows that 15 Central Park West has sustained its status as a real estate success story at a time when “real estate” and “success story” rarely appear in the same sentence.

Besides the location — with many of the units having panoramic views of the park, and the draw of having celebrity neighbors like Sanford I. Weill, the former chief executive of Citigroup, or Sting — 15 Central Park West is where Hollywood meets hedge fund moguls. It “seems to have hit all the hot buttons well-to-do people were looking for,” said Richard Wallgren of Brown Harris Stevens, the condo’s original director of sales, and a resident.

When Brown Harris Stevens, which manages the condo, produces its quarterly market reports for the Upper West side, it publishes two: One that includes 15 Central Park West and one that doesn’t. The condominium’s prices skew the picture. (The brokerage no longer separates from the reports the Plaza Hotel residences, a project that along with 15 Central Park West was considered one of the most ambitious residential developments in the city’s history, because it has since stumbled.)

Late last month, one of 15 Central Park West’s 24 maid’s suites, which are available for purchase only to residents, sold for $2.6 million. The sale price for that suite, a 900-square-foot one-bedroom on the park, is not shocking. But consider that the same apartment sold for $1 million in 2008, according to city records.

(The sale of the maid’s quarters was first reported by Curbed.)

Then there is the penthouse owned by William Lie Zeckendorf, who, along with his brother, Arthur W. Zeckendorf, developed and reside at 15 Central Park West. William Zeckendorf paid $10.7 million for his apartment, according to property records, and recently signed a contract with a buyer who is paying about $40 million. (The transaction was first reported by The New York Post and confirmed by brokers briefed on the deal.)

That amounts to slightly more than $9,000 per square foot, according to the brokers. (He has made an offer on an apartment at 927 Fifth Avenue for a four-bedroom listed at $27 million by Brown Harris Stevens, according to brokers familiar with the offer. It is being sold by the estate of Bruce Wasserstein, the chairman and chief executive of Lazard until his death last year.)

A three-bedroom at 15 Central Park West went into contract on Dec. 9, having been listed by Brown Harris Stevens in mid-October at an asking price of $16.5 million; a four-bedroom there went on the market last month for $31.5 million. Flipping for a profit in this market seems archaic, if not impossible, but the practice is alive and well at 15 Central Park West, several brokers said.

Its sale prices are leaving neighboring residences like the Time Warner Center in the dust. Properties at the Warner Center are closing at an average of $3,339 per square foot, a drop of almost $1,000 since just before the fall of Lehman Brothers in 2008, according to data from Property Shark. The average asking price per square foot is $5,629. Units at 15 Central Park West are closing at $4,712 per square foot, while the average asking price is $5,024.

“Flipping is 2007 thinking,” said Mark Chin, a broker with Citi Habitats who specializes in high-end properties but does not have a listing at 15 Central Park West. “It’s really only happening in this building.”

There is no flip tax, but any resident who sells in the condominium is required to pay two months in maintenance fees into a working capital reserve fund, Mr. Wallgren said.

In an interview, Arthur Zeckendorf said he wanted to look at classic buildings like the Dakota, or 834 Fifth Avenue or 740 Park Avenue, “and figure out, analyze what is so nice about the building. You take the apartments, you dissect the apartment, the foyers, the relationship of the kitchen to the dining room to the library to the living room and the children’s wing. And you try to design a product that today’s buyer will pay a premium for.”

The brothers have begun a new project, a conversion of the former Salvation Army building at 18 Gramercy Park South, also with Mr. Stern.

They can only hope to retell the story of 15 Central Park West.

Highlights from this week’s Real Estate section: When it comes to measuring the square footage of New York City apartments, the tale told by the tape can be exaggerated, massaged, misrepresented and manipulate; on Staten Island, George Burke fell in love with a mansion when he was a youth and eventually became not only the grand old house’s owner, but its protector.

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