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The West Remains Wild

by development site advisors

The West Side of Manhattan has not seen much in the way of stalled projects due to Covid 19’s impact and associated business interruptions and shutdowns. Many projects were planned, permitted, and funded by late 2019, or were already under construction when quarantine started. Concerns about delivery timelines and sellout prices meeting pro-formas are an ongoing concern. Prices paid for land in the years leading up were often very high. In the West Chelsea Special/Highline area, developers paid from $800 to $1,100 for in place ZFA and $800 for additional ZFA from the Highline Transfer Corridor. Several projects featured extremely high-end condominium apartments that are unlikely to see projected prices of $2,500 to $3,000 psf. For such high-end projects, concerns are not whether senior debt can be serviced, but that equity may likely be wiped out in some cases. Below are detailed representative development projects on the West Side from Chelsea up through Manhattan Valley. 

601 West 29th is being developed by Douglaston Development. It is the first modern tower in the Highline/West Chelsea area being built West of 11 Avenue, at the Northwest corner of West 29th Street, and in very close proximity to the core of the Hudson Yards complex. The land is a 41,968 square foot assemblage ground leased from a family trust for a total value of $129,609,375. It will deliver in 2022 and offer 932 rental units. Its impressive 1,188,000 ZFA was enabled by its location outside of the West Chelsea Special District and C4-4X zoning providing 10 FAR, augmented by 768,320 square feet of air rights acquired from the Hudson River Park Trust for $37,000,000. 

 451 10th Avenue, a new residential condominium tower rising in the Hudson Yards Special District. It is being developed by former Governor Elliott Spitzer and his family’s real estate business, Spitzer Enterprises, LLC. As of right 184,520 buildable square feet are available on the 18,452 sf lot, though through zoning lot mergers with neighboring properties and the Hudson Yards air rights program, 415,000 ZFA was achieved. It will offer 400 units, a portion of which will be dedicated to senior housing.  

 Rockrose is developing 555 West 38th Street in the Northern reaches of the Hudson Yards Special District. It is expected to deliver in 2023 and to offer 598 residential units contained in a 400,000 SF tower. The 21,780 sf lot has C6-4 HY zoning, providing for 10 FAR or 217,800 sf, and has added an additional 8 FAR or 182,800 at $137 psf from the Hudson Yards air rights program. 

 For delivery in 2023, Taconic Partners is developing 311 West 42nd Street on a 16,680 sf irregular lot that stretches through to West 43rd Street where the primary residential entrance will be located. It was originally a split zoned lot with C6-4 zoning facing 42nd Street and C6-3 zoning on the 43rd Street side. The entire site was re-zoned to C6-4 for an as of right FAR of 10. By acquiring unused neighboring, as well as Community Board 4 Inclusionary, air rights, 17 FAR or 290,000 ZFA was achieved. It will offer 300 Residential units. 

 On the same block with 601 West 29th is 606 West 30th Street being developed by Kevin Lalezarian. The 17,281 sf site was acquired in 2015 for $36,000,000 or $208 per buildable sf based on an as of right 10 FAR under C6-4X zoning. The balance of 2 FAR or 36,543 buildable sf was acquired from the Hudson River Park Trust for $11,164,813 or $305 per buildable square foot. The result is a residential tower totaling 207,302 ZFA and 206 units, delivering in early 2022. 

 Rising from a 5,000 sf lot on the Upper West Side is 200 Amsterdam, a 400,000 ZFA residential tower comprising 112 high end residential condominium units. The site is zoned R8 with a C2-5 commercial overlay providing a mere 4 FAR, but was increased to 80 FAR via what some consider controversial air rights transfers. In the 1960s West 67th, 68th, and 69th streets between Amsterdam Avenue and West End Avenue were de-mapped, creating a super block to support the Lincoln Towers complex. The lots were laid out with rights of way connecting each building lot to the street, effectively giving them all enough common boundaries to facilitate zoning lot mergers, enabling all unused air rights to be transferred to the 200 Amsterdam site. After all approvals were granted by the city and construction had topped out, neighborhood groups took legal action to force removal of the 20 top floors. Ultimately the developers, SJP & Mitsu Fudosan, prevailed in court. 

 The latest delivery on the once blistering hot Highline corridor [between 10th and 11th Avenues] is 517 West 29th Street, developed by Six Sigma LLC. Not only is it in the West Chelsea Special District, but is a mere 1 block away from all the many Hudson Yards amenities beginning on West 30th Street. The 9,875 Sf lot is zoned C6-3 which is limited to 5 FAR in WCH, and traded to Six Sigma in 2015 for $54,750,000 for the 49,375 as of right ZFA, or $1,100 per buildable square foot.  Condominium units are expected to come to market in October 2021 with asking prices ranging from $1,900 to $2,100 per square foot.  

 Extell has assembled the Southwest corner of Broadway and West 96th Street for a 276,578 square foot condominium building to deliver in 2022. In 2017 they paid $80,000,000 for the 12,588 square foot lot straddling C6-4A and R10-A zones and providing 10 FAR. The 125,880 ZFA priced at $635 per square foot. The additional 150,698 square feet of floor area was acquired from neighboring sites for approximately $300 psf.  

 Hell’s Kitchen has a new hotel at 305 West 48th Street with 211 rooms spread over 73,000 Square feet. Atlas Hospitality ground leased the 4,700 square foot site from Bright Management, a prominent neighborhood family real estate interest. While on a side street in the Special Clinton District, it is within 100 feet of 8th Avenue, enjoying C6-4 zoning providing 10 FAR. The additional 25,000 FAR was acquired from neighboring properties through a zoning lot merger.  

 547 West 47th Street is a new condominium building in the far West of Hell’s Kitchen by SK Development hitting the market October 2021. SK acquired 646 11th Avenue, an old low rise auto dealership building in 2018 for $93,125,000 or $513 per ZFA. The 30,125 sf site, zoned R8-A, provides 6.02 FAR, and has a C2-5 commercial overlay. The 181,353 sf of floor area will consist of 221 units spread across a conventional base, imitating the industrial buildings in the area, and upper floors with cantilevers and lots of glass area. The ground level retail space will house an automobile show room.  

 The West Side of Manhattan has seen a widening of the gap between rentals and condos, impacting development site values. While construction costs are up all around, condominium sellout prices are holding steady at ±$2,000 per square foot for new units. Large, premium units and penthouses have achieved as much as $2,300 recently. New rental prices have decreased from $75 to $60 psf on average, though strong rents of $80 psf have been shown by unsold premium condominiums being rented by developers in areas such as West Chelsea. These prices tend to obscure generous free rent concessions and may not be renewed if sales volume picks up next year. A recent analysis of a development sites in Chelsea reveals a considerable difference between rental and condominium vales for developable land. The value to a rental developer came in at a land value of $328/ZFA while a condo developer can pay $527/ZFA. 

Neither condo sellouts or rentals provide a clear direction at the moment. Office rents on the West Side are not a reliable indicator either. The new premium office buildings in Hudson Yards and Manhattan West, whether already delivered or about to, are largely leased and pre-leased, to tech giants that can absorb the rent whether their staff remains at home another year or not. As such, without a clear view of when the market will take an upward trajectory, land prices developers are willing to pay for sites are now down 30% to 50% what they may have been willing to pay pre-Covid.