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New York Magazine | June 27, 2005

Key to Success

By S. Jhonna Robledo

When word spread last year that hotelier Ian Schrager would be gutting the well-loved, well-worn Gramercy Park Hotel to build luxury apartments, the exclusive neighborhood's residents got very nervous. Gramercy Park, after all, is famously insular and slow to change. Would the structure, like the other Schrager developments, be too mod for the neighborhood? And who'd get keys to the private park? "There was concern," concedes Arlene Harrison, a park trustee and block-association president. "What would he do?" But six weeks after sales began, 50 Gramercy Park is getting a warm reception from its reserved neighbors. "It's going to be elegant," says Harrison, sounding more than a little relieved. Schrager admits he took great pains not to ruffle any feathers. "I'm not coming in here like a bull in a china shop," he says, conceding that he's an outsider in the tight-knit neighborhood. "I want to fit into the fabric of the area." And buyers have responded; already, 19 of 23 apartments have sold, perhaps because the redesign of the building, by minimalist architect John Pawson (see rendering), is distinctive at a time when much high-end construction is rather generic.

Not that there haven't been snafus. Construction-related traffic has made headlines, and Gramercy's famously cranky residents have griped about the construction noise and dust. (Schrager's team has received a thumbs-up from neighborhood groups for responding quickly to grievances; his $100,000 donation to the park probably didn't hurt, either.) But a fancy new building next door has its benefits. Schrager's larger apartments are supposedly fetching $3,000 per square foot (that's $6 million for a 2,000-square-foot apartment), a rumor he neither confirms nor denies. Warburg Realty's Judith Thorn says the prices will no doubt "help the value of the buildings nearby." (Nothing else comes close; a recent sale at 1 Lexington, the handsome prewar across the street, reached $2,158 per square foot.) "You're paying a certain amount for the branding," explains Prudential Douglas Elliman's Rob Gross, and, of course, for that magic key to the park (every buyer will, in fact, get access to one). Also for what Schrager dubs "effortless living," which means the staff will take care of everything--including walking your dog and shopping for your groceries. "If I want to order a club sandwich at 1 A.M., I can," says art dealer Alberto Mugrabi, who bought a three-bedroom after touring nearly 100 apartments. "Whatever I paid"--he won't say how much--"it's worth every penny."