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Mentioned in this Article:
Stephen G. Kliegerman

Stephen G. Kliegerman
President of Development Marketing

The Real Deal

316 11th Avenue Pioneering Spirit In West Chelsea

Luxury rental rises in far West Chelsea, while High Line finish on hold

By Steve Cutler

One day, when they renew their leases for perhaps the fourth or fifth time, tenants of the 34-story luxury rental building under construction at 316 11th Avenue at 30th Street will have a bird's-eye view of the northern end of a freshly landscaped High Line park. Just beyond that, they will see the towers and parks of the Hudson Yards, a massive redevelopment of the last sprawling, vacant parcel of land in Manhattan.

Until then, they might be a little lonely.

Rising fast and due to hit the market in less than 12 months, the building can expect to have neighbors such as a freight forwarding operation, office building, self-storage warehouse and a Con Ed facility.

Still, developer Jeff Levine, head of Douglaston Development, said, "We feel very upbeat about this project because we think it's a growing neighborhood in close proximity to the employment centers in Midtown."

Levine is also optimistic because Douglaston landed financing for the project in July 2007, just before credit for new construction dried up completely. Competition for renters among new buildings will be limited, he figures.

"The lack of construction financing that has followed the subprime meltdown has made it virtually impossible to create new rental products," said Levine.

The project is coming up under New York State's 80/20 program, which helped the developer secure financing and mitigates the risk.

"Under the 80/20 program," he explained, "for creating 20 percent of the units at the low-income level, you get the benefit of not only a tax-exempt bond rate, but the benefit of a 20-year tax abatement, both of which make economic sense for the project. As a developer, you still have to assume the market risk of rent-up and cost, but the lower the taxes and bond rates, in concert with the tax abatement, the more viable, and therefore more financeable, is the project."

Projected rents are $2,400 for studios, $3,000 for one-bedrooms and $4,000 for two-bedrooms.

Levine is using his own Levine Builders for the construction and commissioned the husband-and-wife team of architect Stephen Jacobs and interior designer Andi Pepper to design the building, as he has with 325 Fifth Avenue, 555 West 23rd Street, the Gansevoort Hotel and the Edge in Williamsburg.

The rectangular building runs long on West 30th Street, and Jacobs said, "We knew we would most likely have no more information about the High Line when the building started renting."

With the completion date of the third and last phase of the elevated park uncertain, those involved with the tower are expecting the High Line to remain in a dilapidated condition for a number of years along the stretch of 30th Street. "So we made a decision to put the lobby on 11th Avenue," said Jacobs. "This created challenges and opportunities."

For one thing, placing the elevator bank in the normal position for a lobby, near the front entrance, would have required some tenants to walk the interior corridor for almost the whole length of 30th Street to get to their apartments.

"Our solution was to place the core where it is most efficient," said Jacobs, "and to create a three-story space that would be kind of semi-public — make the trip from 11th Avenue to the elevator core a spectacular experience."

The lobby will be a pleasant diversion for the tenants and workers in the area until the neighborhood takes shape — the only game in town, really.

"It's a big space," said Pepper, the interior designer. "We wanted to make something like a concert hall that had a multi-functional use, where sometimes you have café tables and you can stay in and have coffee, hang out and socialize, and other times, you can set up a concert there."

Pepper called the lobby theme "fun" and said it's "kind of a Mondrian-type design." It is aimed a young audience — fashion, media, entertainment and IT professionals — whom the architects and developer expect to take a chance on the area.

The floors in the lobby will contain granite in different colors — large stones in the public atrium-like space on the western side, and smaller stones with a more intricate pattern on the residential side.

The public lobby will be lit, said Pepper, by "hanging spheres of fun, pop lights — not chandeliers." The public area will be covered with giant multicolored panels of suede, which, beyond fun and pop, will serve as an acoustical damper.

The residential lobby will have horizontal lighting panels flush to the wall that diffuse the light to present a more subtle ambience.

The building will contain two garages, one at ground level for tenants, and a larger public garage underground. Getting permits for the parking was a chore.

"New York is the only city which discourages you from building parking," observed Jacobs. "Everywhere else in the world, they make you build parking." The garages will be largely obscured by the 4,000 square feet of retail at street level.

The third-floor amenity space looks down on the lobby and contains a gym, computer area and a large lounge with pool table, fireplace and a separate party room.

The building will have 369 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments. The interiors are contemporary. "We're trying to do what we did in the 2000s in condominiums, with stainless steel and white cabinets in the kitchen," said Pepper. A pendant light will hang over the countertop.

The finishes are pricier than the typical rental, but "since you're buying so many kitchens," said Pepper, "you have buying power, so you can up your design element."

A few residential projects are scheduled to come up in the area within the next few years, the first being Extell's Towering S, a 50-plus hotel/condominium under construction on 10th Avenue and 30th Street designed by Steven Holl. The near-full-block Avalon West Chelsea is just about to begin construction. +Art, a condominium at 240 West 28th Street, is scheduled to open in 2010.

But generally, new development is on hold now in West Chelsea, as it is all over the city. "We don't believe there will be any new products financed until the housing market is deemed to be healthy," said Levine, "which I think will probably take at least another year."

Meanwhile, he concluded, "We think we have an uncontested marketing opportunity to lease up without many [construction] jobs in our wake."

Thursday, January 01, 2009