Columbus Square Surviving in Bad Economy

by Kibkabe Araya on 12/10/2009

New luxury building attracting residents by changing standards

When Manhattan Valley residents Phil Laycock, 40, and Leslie Nims, 27, decided to move from Chicago to New York City in September, they looked at 15 apartment buildings.

“A lot of places in our price range were not very nice,” said Laycock, a public accountant. “We’re accustomed to getting a little more for our money.”

Columbus Square

An apartment at Columbus Square

After an exhaustive search, they finally settled for a one-bedroom apartment at 808 Columbus Avenue on 97th Street, part of the Columbus Square apartment complex.

“We liked the building. We liked all the amenities,” Nims said.

Columbus Square made a splash in the real estate market last July when developers opened the new luxury development project with five apartment buildings and an attached shopping center featuring Whole Foods supermarket.

Currently, 801 Amsterdam Avenue and 808 Columbus Avenue are being leased while three more buildings are on schedule to be finished by spring 2010. Columbus Square’s five-building development project will have 710 units.

The two available buildings in Columbus Square boast an occupancy rate of more than 50 percent, according to its leasing office.

Out of the 459 units currently available, 228 units were leased as of mid-November. That is lower than would be expected, due to the struggling local economy and real estate market, one expert said.

“It’s not normal at all. It’s definitely because of the economy,” said Dan Shapiro, owner of Ditmas Estates LLC, a Brooklyn-based real estate firm.

Shapiro says some developers of new luxury buildings are filling empty apartments by renting them, instead of selling, or lowering their prices. Columbus Square is among them, offering discounts and deals to lure residents.

A report published in October 2009 by Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate and Miller Samuel, Inc. said luxury apartment sales in Manhattan dropped 12.4 percent in the third quarter of 2009. The average unit stayed on the market two months longer than in 2008.

As of early October, Silver Towers, a luxury development in Midtown that opened around the same time as Columbus Square was leasing only 300 of its 935 available units. It had less than 40 percent occupancy with 150 inquiries per week, according to the owner, Silverstein Properties.

Since opening in the summer, the Columbus Square has received 75-80 inquiries per week, according to its leasing director, Kathy Rudney.

“We weren’t even considering this building while we were looking, then at the last moment, we considered it,” said J.W. Thomas, already a Manhattan Valley resident, who wanted a larger apartment for his family. “We decided to move in after we looked at the building and the floor plans.”

Risa Kotek, 22, an executive assistant for a nonprofit organization, moved into a two-bedroom apartment at Columbus Square with her sister, a graduate student at Columbia University, who found the place.

“She figured if she was going to rent an apartment and if this one is brand new, then she can be the first tenant. It was a really good idea,” said Kotek. “Everybody who works here is friendly. It’s great to have Whole Foods right below us.”

This month, 808 Columbus Avenue, started leasing its four-bedroom units. Columbus Square plans to begin leasing 775 Columbus Avenue in February.

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