The New York TimesOctober 04, 2013The architecture and development company Flank set out years ago to prove what others are now discovering: there is a market in Lower Manhattan for oversize condominiums in boutique buildings, no matter the neighborhood.
Flank started out on the Far West Side with a 12-unit building at 385 West 12th Street, and more recently created the 10-unit Abingdon, also on West 12th, where a triplex sold for $23.4 million. Now, in its latest project, the firm will be creating seven capacious units, each with two to four bedrooms, in the unlikely location of 224 Mulberry Street, the site of a parking garage in NoLIta. (Demolition has already started, with completion of the building set for the first quarter of 2015.)
And as the project’s broker, Tim Crowley, puts it, at $6 million to $30 million a unit, pricing will be “unapologetically high.” Calculated to average in excess of $3,500 a square foot, the cost may set records for the 16-square-block neighborhood, which was once part of Little Italy to the south. Its name, NoLIta, is an acronym of “North of Little Italy,” and prices for new-construction condos there tend to hover around $2,000 a square foot.
“If you can figure out a way to build here,” Mr. Crowley said, “every project that comes into this neighborhood inevitably breaks a record, because there’s a lot of desire and a following in this neighborhood, but not a lot of real estate.”
Coming to market this week, 224 Mulberry Street isn’t alone in seeking to break new ground in NoLIta. Six loft-style residences being built atop the famed Puck Building, about a block away, are being marketed for $20 million to $60 million apiece.
Mr. Crowley says prices north of $3,500 a square foot aren’t out of line for large apartments, ranging from about 1,950 to 5,650 square feet, in a well-constructed building of solid materials with classic high-end finishes.
“We’re going to set records on Mulberry Street obviously, but we’re in line with the other high-end, really-sought-after real estate in the city,” he said, asserting that potential downtown buyers tend to be “agnostic” when it comes to neighborhood. “They go to great real estate, and are less sensitive to where SoHo stops and NoHo starts.”
But with a growing number of developments in Manhattan offering large, exceptionally pricey apartments, there is more competition than there has been, brokers said. The asking prices that 224 Mulberry and the Puck Building hope to achieve are conceivable in NoLIta, but will require a “superior product,” said Shaun Osher, the founder and chief executive of the Core Group, a brokerage in Manhattan.
“It has to be exceptional,” he said, “whereas if you’re on Central Park or in the West Village on the water or in other prime neighborhoods, the location there will demand the price per foot. Here, you need the product to help achieve that number.”
Jon Kully, a managing partner of Flank, said he believed 224 Mulberry was just the product to do it. The eight-story building will be quite tall, at 110 feet, because some of the units will have living rooms with 25-foot ceilings, he said. And because NoLIta is a low-rise neighborhood with zoning restrictions of 80 feet, the higher floors of 224 Mulberry should have unrestricted views in perpetuity, Mr. Kully said.
Flank is able to build so high because “we’ve had an active permit for over five years, and a down-zoning took place after the permit was issued,” he said.
A 40,000-square-foot building, 224 Mulberry will replace a four-story garage that had a distinctly patterned enameled-brick exterior. That building was too expensive to salvage, but Flank chose to pay homage to it with Art Deco touches like black-and-white penny-round mosaic flooring in the bathrooms, Mr. Kully said.
There will be elevator-accessed parking beneath 224 Mulberry, which has a garage entrance adjacent to the pedestrian entrance. All units will have at least one parking space; some will have two. A 24-hour doorman will also park cars.
With an exterior of Roman brick on the first four floors, and top floors of cast stone and brick set back 10 feet, 224 Mulberry will have private terrace space for each unit along with a common roof deck. The other amenities, all of which will be free like the parking and the roof deck, include a gym and storage space.
The windows are to be old-style weight-and-chain mahogany structures; though divided into panes, they’re grouped into 10-by-10-foot openings, increasing the amount of light in the apartments. Elaborate brickwork, especially around windows that have cast-stone sills and jambs, will add texture to the facade, Mr. Kully said.
Kitchen cabinetry, including unusual upper cabinets of glass embedded with wire mesh, will be manufactured by the English kitchen designer Smallbone of Devizes. Floors will be white oak of mixed widths, and islands will be marble with a “waterfall” effect in its grain, Mr. Kully said.
Marketing materials include a large bound book that embraces the colorful immigrant history of NoLIta and is filled with romantic black-and-white portraits of the neighborhood’s old-time and new business owners. Potential buyers will very likely be a bit more cosmopolitan than the typical downtown buyer — perhaps world travelers, Mr. Kully said.
“This is a storied personality, a textured personality, someone who’s been around the block, who’s traveled incessantly and is arguably a collector of something or multiple things,” he said, “so we’ve given a lot of consideration to how we can house that person’s belongings.”