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unreal estate

by

MICHAEL GROSS

Down by the River Does the new Glasnost Regime at capitalist cocoon River House really expect to sell the premises of the august River Club to an Oligarch for $130 million?

L

ate in September, the Wall Street Journal broke the news that the august River House cooperative was about to stun the world of trophy realty by listing a brand-new apartment within the 83-year-old building which, if sold at the asking price of $130 million, would set a new residential record in the city. But was this both “astounding” and “a bargain” as the Journal had it? Or was it, as the New York Observer’s Kim Velsey noted, a “desperate bid for relevance”? Back in February, when 13 River House apartments were languishing on the market (one since sold to Uma Thurman), this column exclusively revealed that the slumbering giant on River House just prior to the construction of the FDR Drive. the East River at East 52nd Street had woken up to the modern world. Ever since, it’s been apparent that the board of directors family among its partners, “to look at all the possibilities.” The noted of the co-op meant what it said when its then-new president, asset manager John Allison, and board member Nancy Lieberman, designer Anthony Ingrao was hired “to design a vision for what a a partner at Skadden Arps, breaking with the board’s long tradition potential buyer could do with the space,” Ingrao says. Then, six of the of silence, spoke to AVENUE and revealed some of their plans to city’s top real estate brokerages were interviewed to determine how shake the dust off their faded rose of a building, by rebuilding and to sell “the single largest and most important future residence in refreshing its gardens, façade and public spaces. They’d yet to conceive New York,” says Burger. “We’ve never seen anything of this size on the of the Hail Mary pass they hope will supercharge that process. market—ever.” But after a pause, Burger allows, “A lot of it is still in play.” It was revealed this fall when Brown Harris Stevens brokers Kyle Not for the first time. River House and River Club have long had Blackmon and John Burger were about to put that 62,000-square-foot their ups and downs. Plans for the building they share were first apartment-mansion on the market. The key to unlocking the co-op’s hidden store of value had, until announced 11 days before Black Thursday, the start of the Great then, been hidden within River Club, the ultra-exclusive club formed Depression. Developer James Stewart and architect William Bottomly in spring 1930, when River House was still being designed. Ever since, conceived of a spectacular plan for the lot. Ingeniously, they sought the club has occupied four stories and a mezzanine in the base of the a private club to occupy its lower floors since, due to a 30-foot drop larger structure, and been both a selling point for the co-op and a thorn between 52nd and 53rd streets, the lower floors of the building would in the side of those of its residents who were allowed into the building have window views only to the north and east. The club’s organizers, led by Kermit Roosevelt, a son of President but not the club. Allison now explains that the club’s 25-year lease is set to expire in March 2014, and that the co-op only began Theodore, and including members of the Astor, Iselin, Field, Vanderconsidering alternatives after negotiations over River Club’s future, bilt, Howe, Ladenburg, Pyne, Williams, Webb, Whitney and Pratt initiated by the club’s board in April 2009, stalled three years later clans, agreed to invest $1 million in the building. Dorothy Draper was when the club offered to buy its premises for a sum “meaningfully hired to decorate. Despite the ongoing economic catastrophe, New below a floor price we’d contemplated” of $32.5 million. At that point, York’s wealthy were expected to appreciate the allure of 25 stories of nine-to 18-room apartments attached to a club with a gym, swimming says Allison, “we had a fiduciary duty to explore alternatives.” So the River House board spoke to developers and engaged pool, two tennis and three squash courts, 21 bedrooms, dining and The Georgetown Group, a real estate development, investment, and entertainment facilities and a private yacht landing and pier, all operating firm, which counts two members of New York realty’s Rose reserved for members. It was the 15 Central Park West of its day. 44 | AVENUE MAGAZINE • DECEMBER 2013

Profile for AVENUE Magazine

AVENUE December 2013  

Founded in 1976, AVENUE is a must-read among the city’s most discerning, stylish and savvy audiences. As Manhattan’s oldest society magazine...

AVENUE December 2013  

Founded in 1976, AVENUE is a must-read among the city’s most discerning, stylish and savvy audiences. As Manhattan’s oldest society magazine...