The Resurgence Not of COVID-19, but of Midtown
It seems like a million years ago, but it was last September. I had been thinking about Midtown and some of the different ways in which it had been more dramatically impacted by COVID-19- and why it would be a boon to the recovery. Nine months later, office occupancy is slowly creeping back to pre-Pandemic levels, but slowly. Yet happily, the streetscape in midtown is getting filled up again with Broadway shows, tourists, and office dwellers on lunch break. The city is starting to emit the feel and the energy that we remember.
With that as backdrop, I visited the sales office of the Waldorf Towers. This is the storied hotel that hosted Cole Porter’s piano, countless galas and other affairs, and served as the launching pad for many a New York City adventure. My wife and I stayed here our wedding night. For many, the Waldorf is much more than a salad. It is a storehouse of memories.
Some of these memories have made their way, piecemeal, into antique stores in town. You can buy a plate, a piece of silverware. In doing that, you may be trying to recapture a moment in time. But you can actually experience more than a relic of the real thing. The hotel will reopen soon.
The Waldorf Towers Condo Hotel Residences
When it does, 300+ newly renovated rooms will only occupy the base of the building. Above it will be a remarkable transformation into the Waldorf Towers, another set of about 300 condominiums. While the residents will get the full suite of hotel services, their entrance, amenities, and staff will be completely separated from the hotel’s. It’s a best of both worlds situation. And an enviable one.
The 19th floor ballroom has been transformed into a stunning 25-meter swimming pool. There is 50,000 square feet hosting a bars, conference rooms, gyms and other amenity spaces for residents.
The hotel condominiums are elevated, too. When I stayed there over a decade ago, it was already in dire need of a makeover. Boy, what a makeover it got. What had already separated this project from all others is its history. No other can claim this provenance, architecture, or permanent imprint on the meaning of New York City. Now, with the help of Jean-Louis Deniot, the finishes are up to snuff with the way we all remember the place. I didn’t want to leave the model apartment. Once you’re looking out over the city from one of the high-floor residences, I suspect you’ll have the same feeling.
The question on my mind as I walked through was this: Will people live here full-time? Will people pay $3000-5000 per square foot on average to own here? Where will the buyers come from?
$3000-5000 Per Square Foot?
I don’t have all the answers, but I will say this. Most wealthy investors will have stayed here at some point in their lives. Most would be willing to bet on the level of service they would receive. When the most garden variety of new condos is asking north of $2000 per square foot in the least exciting areas, a 50-100% premium to that pricing seems plausible.
More than that, no one is building many new 1- and 2-bedroom apartments. So, if a buyer is looking for a luxury pied-a-terres, there is little at the very highest end from which to choose. This hotel condo knows its audience, and having already found buyers from every continent save Antarctica, I would be that this will continue to find eager and willing folks to sign contracts.
Not A New Development, But A Reconstitution
As I see it, The Waldorf Towers are not trying to be new. They are not trying to be bold. This is about the reconstitution of the New York we remember into a new form. Things will not be exactly the same. They never are. But what comes alive in our new New York is something exciting, powerful, and a reminiscent echo of what once was. This fabulous, century-old landmark will continue to be a beacon for generations to come- and I suspect people, offered to buy a small piece of it, will take advantage of the opportunity. The developers doesn’t have to shout about the project from the rooftops. They will just keep building, and the world will be drawn like a magnet.
What Does This Represent?
I suspect that the success of the building will be a stand-in for the health of the city, a reflection of how far the city has come from March 2020. Midtown office towers will be full-up again before we know it. Office life will begin to reflect the best of what we learned in the last two years, and the truths we nearly forgot- that people want to come together to create. This will require offices, and will require incredible cities to hold them. Never bet against New York. Never bet against the long-term health of New York City Real Estate. And don’t bet against the power of memory. Gotham will rise again to new heights. -S