There Are No Good Guys In This Cutthroat Real Estate Battle

Which side are you going to root for — brazen traffickers in ivory from elephants massacred by poachers, or a developer who would speed the ruin of Manhattan’s grandest crosstown boulevard?

In a 57th Street struggle without heroes, landlord Sheldon Solow and the owners of Metropolitan Arts & Antiques have locked tusks over his bid to evict the store, which just pleaded guilty to illegally trying to sell $4.5 million in elephant ivory — the largest such haul in city history.

The antiques shop also happens to be the last tenant preventing Solow from razing the building it’s in, 10 W. 57th St., to make room for a 54-story condo/hotel tower.

It would be the sixth brick in the Great Wall of 57th Street, a k a Billionaires’ Row, where landmarks like Carnegie Hall, Bergdorf Goodman and the Four Seasons Hotel are increasingly squeezed between towers sold to oligarchs who buy $100 million pads and never turn on the lights. (Two large empty lots are also slated for large-scale development.)

Solow’s project would stand in 57th Street’s heart — the long block between Fifth and Sixth avenues. It was Solow who shattered the same block’s humane scale and retail energy with his swooping 9 W. 57th St., directly across from his new development site, in the 1970s — not the first office tower on the block, but the only one with a 100-foot-long, setback retail facade that’s been mostly without stores since opening.

All that stands in Solow’s way is Metropolitan at 10 W. 57th St., one of six adjoining buildings he owns and needs to demolish.

It’s hard to sympathize with the store. Even before last week’s guilty plea involving ivory seized by Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr., the bizarre bazaar for hippo-teeth sculptures and eerie netsuke figurines was sued several times for alleged deceptive sales practices. (The cases were settled.)

But while many would deem Metropolitan’s business to be deplorable, New Yorkers might prefer it to one more condo tower where few of them will ever set foot. Some of the damage is already done: Solow’s assemblage doomed five more viable storefronts on a street that lost institutions such as the Rizzoli bookstore and the Steinway Hall piano showroom to earlier projects. (Although the landmarked showroom structure will be preserved, the pianos are long gone.)

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Solow claims the felony conviction allows him to boot Metropolitan right now, although its lease runs until 2023 — when Solow will be 95 years old. The store insists its lease is still valid. A court hearing is set for September. Also, the store has unsuccessfully tried to make Solow take down a scaffold he put up that covers its entrance.

Solow hasn’t revealed precise plans. But having spent decades and hundreds of millions of dollars buying up properties on one of the world’s most expensive streets, he isn’t likely to pitch the new apartments to middle managers and schoolteachers. (Solow is also erecting a 19-story apartment building next door to 9 West, as it’s known, but it will be a peanut compared with what he hopes to do at the Metropolitan site.)

While the row is famed for luxury apartments, heart-stopping views and private indoor pools, it’s also notorious as a sky-high haven for shadowy global moguls, many of whom anonymously buy digs in the names of limited-liability corporations.

Five existing and under-construction towers provide nearly 600 “homes” to the world’s wealthiest. (One of them, super-skinny Steinway Tower at 111 W. 57th St., is stalled at the 20th floor of an eventual 80 by lawsuits, but will likely be completed sooner or later).

see also

> Antique store owners plead guilty over hidden ivory is now in foreclosure.

In 2013, an unidentified Chinese woman bought a $6.5 million unit at One57 for her daughter to live in after college. The lucky girl was 2 years old at the time. Last week, it was reported that Hong Kong financier Gonwen Dong paid $33 million for a condo at 432 Park Avenue three months after he bought a unit at 15 Central Park West for $50 million. Dong plans to rent out the 4,000 square-foot pad for $80,000 a month.

Some 57th Street cloudbusters at least have sidewalk-level features that help humanize them — the Park Hyatt Hotel at One57, a Nordstrom department store at Central Park Tower, and new stores at 432 Park Ave., once Harry Macklowe finds tenants for the 15,000 of 20,000 retail square feet yet to be rented.

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The One57 BuildingChristopher Sadowski

But although Solow’s project wouldn’t be as tall as its jumbo neighbors, it might be less public-friendly at sidewalk level.

Spectacularly wealthy Solow (estimated net worth $4.4 billion, according to Forbes) has a keen eye for design, but many of his projects have shown little regard for their street-level impact. Dark-glass curtain walls give some of his buildings a forbidding Darth Vader quality. Three whole blocks along the east side of First Avenue south of the United Nations remain a swamp-like mud pit nine years after he demolished an old Con Ed plant.

And if 9 West gives any hint of what his project across the street will be like, the block’s south side will be as damaged as the north side. The long, setback base of 9 West, tucked under a dark overhang, forged a lifeless parenthesis in the block’s heart from the day it opened in 1974.

At 9 West, Solow installed underground restaurant Brasserie 8¹/₂ but has sparingly rented out the street-level storefronts. Mostly vacant since the tower went up, they now house a ground-floor gallery for his private art collection, including works by Matisse and Giacometti; sadly, it’s not open to the public.

The street’s former “scale and shape can never be restored,” eminent architectural critic Paul Goldberger wrote of 9 West. It’s enough to make the ivory merchants standing up to Solow across the street look like the good guys.

Source : http://nypost.com/2017/08/01/there-are-no-good-guys-in-this-cutthroat-real-estate-battle/

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