To its critics it’s a skyscraping dagger in the heart of Manhattan and the American century. Called One57, the exclusive 1,004-foot glass and steel tower still under construction in Midtown Manhattan is already New York’s tallest residential building.
It’s also the perfect symbol of the gilded age on steroids that we now inhabit. The buyers of the nine full-floor apartments near the top, all with stunning Central Park views, are all billionaires.
Two duplexes reportedly sold for $90 million each, while seven other apartments ranged from $45 million to $50 million. Russian and Chinese business magnates make up some of the bidders, along with our home gown potentates.
“The scale of wealth in this building is just unheard of,” Jonathan J. Miller, president of proper appraiser Miller Samuel, told The New York Times. “Despite all the problems economically, you are seeing these people invest in real estate unlike in any period that has ever happened.”
He means property investments unheard of in any previous point in American history. For good reason locals have started calling the West 57th Street area Billionaire’s Row.
The doormen reportedly wear earpieces with tiny microphones attached to their sleeves, like Secret Service agents or James Bond villains. Living there you probably won’t see your neighbors at Starbucks very often, but you’re almost certain to run into their drivers and staff.
You can see why the superrich were attracted. For foreign and homegrown billionaires, property is a great place to stash money.
Real estate is the hot new alternative to Swiss Bank accounts after all. Althought most billionaires prefer to avoid the public spotlight, the chance to make a killing may have proved too much.
The lifestyles of the superrich are very different to out own, of course. That’s why 30 percent of all apartments between 49th and 70th Streets and between Fifth and Park Avenues are vacant at least 10 months of the year, according to a Census Bureau estimate. Absentee ownership, a thing that once plagued Ireland, now plagues New York City.
Of course, for ordinary working stiffs affordable housing is almost non-existent, and homelessness in New York City is now the worst that it’s been since the Great Depression. That stark contrast is making the shining new temple of wealth and exclusivity a bit of a target.
In some cases, billionaire investors are upset by the public attention the building has attracted. “I am flipping it as soon as I close,” one buyer told the Times. “Honestly, if I had known that there would be this much attention on the building, and that my name would get out, I wouldn’t have done it.”
But how could any investor have thought that no one would notice them buying an entire floor of the most eye-poppingly expensive building in the city’s history?
The answer is that over the last decade, with a billionaire mayor in residence to prepare the ground and do the meet and greets, a new and upscale form of colonialism occurred. The rich quietly colonized New York.
They didn’t arrive like our Irish ancestors, half starved and exhausted with an angry crowd of nativists to blight their steps. Instead they arrived almost imperceptibly, just as soon as the new era of glass and steel towers were erected to accommodate them.
One57 isn’t a medieval castle, but it might as well have a crocodile filled moat and a portcullis at the main entrance. You’re unlikely to ever get beyond the main foyer.
I normally don’t mind billionaires. To paraphrase the Bible, the rich are always with us.
Manhattan has always had swankier zip codes and ritzier buildings. But the sheer scale of the economic inequality now is like nothing the city has ever seen before.
Residents of the new skyscraper will have access to the hotel pool on the ground floor where they can reportedly “listen via underwater speakers to the sound of a playlist curated by Carnegie Hall's programming team” while swimming laps.
One wonders if the pool water will be sourced from orphans tears?
And hey, if you missed out on a spot this time don’t worry. The same developers are behind the 225 West 57th Street building, another deluxe 100-story tower for the super rich just two blocks away.
Mayor Bloomberg, a billionaire himself, was the first to see the Manhattan’s potential to become a luxury ocean liner in a sea of troubles. Over the last decade he helped New York City quietly became a sort of life raft or luxury liner for the world’s superrich.
Now the city is decoupling itself from its past and from the nation. If you don’t already have a ticket for this curise you never will.