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Mentioned in this Article:
Stephen G. Kliegerman

Stephen G. Kliegerman
President of Development Marketing

Wall Street Journal

Turning Old School Into New Condos

Only a few years ago, P.S. 90 on West 148th Street was a symbol of urban blight. The leaky shell of a school, which had trees growing out of the roof, sat in the center of a block of boarded-up tenements that the city had taken over because of unpaid taxes.

But now West 148th Street has been reborn, with the help of city programs and government subsidies. And in the final test of the neighborhood's resurgence, the century-old gothic school building has been transformed into 75 condominiums, including 55 to be sold at competitive market rates.

The new condominium development, known as PS90, is due to open its doors in the next few days, in the shell of a classic H-shaped public school designed by Charles B.J. Snyder, at the turn of the last century, when Harlem was a new, growing urban neighborhood. The city transferred title to the school in 2008.

The elaborate stonework, gargoyles and bas-relief have been repaired and restored. The classrooms, with huge arched window and high ceilings have been turned into unusually spacious condominiums by L+M Development Partners, one of the companies that redeveloped much of the rest of block.

PS90 has yet to pass its final exam: selling out. Ron Moelis, the head of L+M, said that even before the building went on the market last fall, he was forced to cut initial asking prices by as much as 20%, because of the eroding real-estate market.

With the reduced prices, he said L+M may barely break even on what was to be the crown jewel of the redevelopment of West 148th Street between Frederick Douglass Boulevard and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.

So far, he said, contracts have been signed for 14 of the project's 55 market rate apartments and 13 of 20 lower priced apartments, available only to buyers who meet strict income limitations.

The prices work out to under $520 a square foot on most apartments, an unusually low figure even for the new condominium market in Harlem. But that is because the apartments had to be unusually large to fit into the contours of the school building.

A typical one-bedroom on the fifth floor is listed at $625,000, but is 1,219 square feet, larger than some three-bedroom apartments elsewhere. A two-bedroom apartment down the hall is listed at $760,000, and includes 1,452 square feet of space. There are 12-foot ceilings in many apartments, with windows up to 10 feet high.

The project, a block from an express subway stop, and 1½ blocks from Jackie Robinson Park, is at the upper edges of the band of new condominiums built in over the last few years.

Stephen G. Kliegerman, the head of new development marketing at Halstead Property, which is selling the project, said the market-rate development was made possible, by the redevelopment of the rest of the block over many years. "It is the icing on the cake," he said.

Before the redevelopment work began one decade ago, 17 of 19 residential buildings on the block had been taken over by the city for unpaid taxes, and many were vacant shells and rubble-strewn lots, according to the City's Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

L+M, and another developer, BFC Partners, redeveloped the vacant properties into 187 rental and 103 cooperative apartments, as well as a tiny park at a cost of more than $42 million.

Redevelopment of the school was delayed for a time as the Board of Education, considered whether to renovate the building and reuse it as a school again, Mr. Moelis said. During this period the roof deteriorated, causing extensive water damage requiring concrete columns and concrete floors to be replaced throughout the building, he said.

The condominium development built another level on the roof including three penthouses with large terraces peeking out over the stone parapets. All three are now in contract.

Along the original school corridors, the development kept decorative glass transoms and added new schoolhouse-style lamps. Huge coal boilers were removed and the space was turned into a bike room and space for a bike room, storage lockers, and fitness and media rooms.

Friday, June 25, 2010