Developers Transforming Century Old New York Office Buildings into Condos

Developers Transforming Century Old New York Office Buildings into Condos

A small group of developers are betting on the allure of landmark New York office buildings to draw wealthy buyers who are interested in living in an historic space. Of particular interest are the transformation of skyscrapers that were built during the golden era of architecture between 1900 and 1930. During this time period developers were in a race to build taller and taller buildings, including the  Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building and the Woolworth Building.

The conversion of the Woolworth Building into opulent residential condos is near completion and its penthouse is listing for $110 million according to Alchemy Properties. The Walker Tower, an art deco early 1920s property, has already been successfully converted since it first launched sales in 2012.  The former office building which housed Verizon, set record asking prices and sold all of its 50 units in about 14 months.

The conversion of the Crown Building is also underway, located just south of Central Park near the Plaza Hotel. The 1920s Warren & Wetmore designed building in known by its pyramid-shaped copper roof and elaborate setbacks and French renaissance details. Russian real estate billionaire Vladislav Doronin bought the top 20 floors to convert into homes.  Another developer, the Chetrit Group, is converting the former headquarters of the Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank.

The architectural detailing of buildings built in the 1900s are outstanding and the floor layout lends itself to residential conversions, according to Jeremy Singer of Woods Bagot, the architecture firm overseeing the conversion of the Emigrant building. Many of the buildings were built before air conditioning and have narrower square footage to give more air and light. Modern office buildings are usually deep, and leave a central area that is left as unused office space, which make it harder reconfigure into residential condominiums. The old style buildings provide traditional windows rather than the glass curtain wall towers which were commonly built later in the century.

Mr. Singer says the 17 story Beaux-Arts Emigrant building was easier to convert due to its H-shaped structure, which allowed triple exposure to sunlight in some apartments. The Emigrant building was formerly owned by the city of New York and used to house city agencies, and was originally build for the Irish Emigrant Society as a bank for Irish immigrants.

In recent years, developers have found it more profitable to sell units to residents rather than leasing them to commercial tenants. Recent Manhattan sales during the third quarter of this year were up by 23 percent for apartments priced between $1 million and $4 million according to the Wall Street Journal. The high end luxury market has softened over the past few months, but the market remains strong overall.

Source: Wall Street Journal, “Condos Go Business Class,” by Katherine Clarke, October, 13, 2017.

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