New York’s Beau Monde Finds Downtown 

Jul 05, 2013

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Michele Kleier Discusses the Park Avenue Set Moving Downtown


For a select group of New Yorkers, having dinner at Harry Cipriani on 59th Street is considered “going downtown.”

But the dynamic between New Yorkers who live on the Upper East Side and those in Lower Manhattan is shifting, with many uptown adherents now embracing downtown neighborhoods that would once have been considered unthinkable.

“Downtown is livelier — we feel as though we have been in Milan for the weekend,” said Brooke Garber Neidich, a chairwoman of the Whitney Museum, a founder and chairwoman of the Child Mind Institute and a trustee of Lincoln Center Theater.

Ms. Neidich, who owns the Chicago-based jeweler Sidney Garber, has spent much of her married life living on exclusive East End Avenue. But a few years ago, she stunned her well-heeled friends by buying a pied-à-terre on West 12th Street in the Village. “When we come home at 10:30 in the evening,” she said, “we can sit outside at Sant Ambroeus and the streets are crowded and it’s not even a Saturday.”

Such a rarefied perspective may particularly rankle longtime downtowners, and portend the end of Manhattan’s few remaining bastions of bohemia. But just as flocks of young New Yorkers who might once have lived in the East Village are now in Brooklyn neighborhoods like Williamsburg, and those who had once lived in Williamsburg have moved on to Bushwick, it is perhaps inevitable that gaggles of Muffys and Thurstons wearing Lilly Pulitzer are invading neighborhoods below 14th Street. The cool crowd has long been on a southward migration.

And the numbers back it up. At the end of last year, for the first time since such data have been tracked, the average price for luxury condominiums downtown superseded the uptown average. The trend persisted into this year, with condos priced above $2,000 a square foot averaging nearly $5.9 million downtown in the first quarter, compared with $5.6 million uptown, according to the Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group. Meanwhile, supply has exploded, with the number of luxury condo sales downtown surging 325 percent during the past year.

“You are seeing people ask themselves: Do I have an affair, get a divorce or get a downtown apartment?” said Michele Kleier, the president and chairwoman of Kleier Residential, a brokerage with a large uptown clientele. “It has become a very sexy thing to do, especially for those people living a sedate Park Avenue lifestyle.”

Ms. Kleier, herself a resident of Park Avenue, only recently began representing buyers interested in looking downtown. “I used to send my daughters,” she said, “but now so many clients are looking for expensive places downtown that I have had to learn the market there.” (She was referring to Sabrina Kleier-Morgenstern and Samantha Kleier-Forbes, both brokers at the firm.)

Ms. Kleier recently represented two Upper East Side families who are warehousing downtown apartments for their children. One couple bought two two-bedroom apartments for their high school-age children in Battery Park City; the other bought a three-bedroom for their son at 150 Charles Street in the West Village, which won’t be completed until 2015. Asking prices there are averaging nearly $4,000 a square foot. “By that time he will be in college, so he can live there if he’s in New York or they can rent it out,” Ms. Kleier said.

More than a dozen families, or as many as 15 percent of the buyers at 150 Charles, are relocating from uptown, according to Darren Sukenik, a managing director of Douglas Elliman. While many buyers from countries like China and Russia have been snatching up condominiums in the city, they are mostly focused on new high-rises under construction in Midtown. At 150 Charles Street, “uptown buyers are our version of foreign buyers,” said Mr. Sukenik. “That’s as foreign as it got for us. With all due respect to uptown.”

The new luxury developments downtown are drawing an uptown crowd in part because many of them are condominiums, and so are easier to rent out or keep as investments than co-ops, the housing stock that dominates the Upper East Side. Many of the downtown buildings are also offering extensive amenities. The Schumacher, for example, a relatively small, 20-unit condominium under construction on Bleecker Street, is offering perks like a 24-hour lobby attendant, a library and a children’s playroom with a giant pirate ship.

“Uptown buyers are spoiled; there is just more space uptown, more services,” said John Gomes, a managing director of Douglas Elliman, who represents the Schumacher. “And for so long, downtown never offered that kind of luxury. The uptown-downtown effect is so major, it is actually changing the way we are designing buildings.”

The developer Izak Senbahar has benefited firsthand from the trend. His new construction, the 60-story 56 Leonard Street in TriBeCa, has seen many buyers relocating from uptown, he said, although he declined to give the exact number. “I think there is a big romance about living downtown,” Mr. Senbahar said. “It is much more diverse, it isn’t all fund managers, but artists, literary people, then some Wall Street sprinkled in.” For those fortunate 1-percenters, “you can live in a building downtown now that has Upper East Side amenities, and still put on your flats, walk into small shops and live that easygoing lifestyle.”

Linda Lambert agrees. “You can go out to dinner and you don’t have to be dressed,” she said; “you don’t have to wear jewelry.” Ms. Lambert lives with her husband, Benjamin, the founder and chairman of the commercial brokerage firm Eastdil Secured, in a loft on Laight Street in TriBeCa. The couple had lived in a town house on 82nd Street between Park and Madison Avenues for decades before moving into the loft, which has 4,000 square feet and a 3,000-square-foot wraparound terrace. “Downtown feels urban — from my office I can see the Freedom Tower, and I look over Canal Street — yet there is also an unbelievable sense of space and light.”

For Suzanne Cochran and her husband, Robert, a founder of the Build America Mutual Assurance Company, it was a downtown soiree some years ago that persuaded them to buy a pied-à-terre in TriBeCa. “We were at a friend’s party,” Ms. Cochran recalled. “She is a very downtown girl, and it was all my favorite kind of people: artists — cool, hip people. And we were the only ones who lived on the Upper East Side.” At the time they were living on 84th Street and Park Avenue.

The couple, who have grown children, soon bought a 5,500-square-foot loft and began alternating on the weekends between the loft and their home on Long Island. Last year, they sold their uptown home to move downtown full time. “The idea of doormen or service, that doesn’t really exist down here,” Ms. Cochran said, “but I love taking the subway and being able to walk everywhere.”

In addition to empty-nesters, families are embracing downtown, said Kelly Kennedy Mack, the president of Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group. “Instead of their kids getting to a certain age and then automatically moving uptown” to attend the private schools clustered along the Upper East and Upper West Sides, “more are deciding to stay downtown. And now the grandparents are coming downtown to join them.”

Avenues: the World School, a new for-profit school that opened this past year in Chelsea, has been a major driver of this, Ms. Mack added.

But while it is fast becoming the latest fad for uptowners to dip a toe into downtown, the trend is still largely untested. “I am not sure that once they get down there, they are all going to love it,” Ms. Kleier said. “They may find themselves constantly going uptown to get their nails and hair done. It could be that the excitement wears off.”

Still, even if some decide to move back uptown, “the downtown luxury market has become one of the most talked-about and the most desirable to live in the city for buyers of all ages,” Ms. Mack said. “There is a renaissance of super-prime luxury developments pioneering in the downtown market right now.”


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