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Older Buildings Add Amenities to Compete with New Neighbors

By Amy Zimmer | May 28, 2014 6:26am | Updated on May 30, 2014 4:35pm
 Older buildings are adding playrooms, fitness centers and other amenities to compete with new neighbors.
New amenities at old buildings
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MANHATTAN — The West River House, a luxury rental on the Upper West Side, opened in 1983 with three racquetball courts on its top floor.

Racquetball, however, is less a draw these days to the neighborhood's house hunters than arts-and-crafts or yoga for kids.

So, the building’s management company, Manhattan Skyline, hired top-notch architecture firm Dattner to reclaim two of the courts for a children's playroom and a multi-purpose space with a ping-pong table and giant flat screen television that could be rented out for private parties.

In the increasingly high-end world of New York City real estate, amenities — whether they’re used or not — are often a major selling point for the exorbitant prices being charged, and many older buildings are feeling pressure to find ways to create new amenities to keep themselves fresh and attractive as new buildings rise around them.

"There was a need for bumping the amenities up," Skyline's vice chairwoman Laurie Zucker said of West River House. "Anytime you build in a family area you need a children's playroom and fitness center. We were using the racquetball courts for kids activities anyway.”

West River House’s new playroom — with its outer-space theme and glow-in-the-dark moon — also has two computers programmed to accommodate young children, crafts supplies and a climbing area. Families have been flocking to it since opening earlier this year, Zucker said, noting it costs $200 an apartment to use, along with the multi-purpose room and fitness center.

The building — where a three-bedroom is listed for $11,500 a month — is also considering adding bike storage and possibly a "pet spa," where families can wash their dogs, in freed-up space in its basement after its oil-to-gas conversion, Zucker said.

Her company hopes to upgrade other buildings, too, recently adding a fitness center at the Left Bank, on West 15th Street and Sixth Avenue, when it removed its oil tank. Manhattan Skyline also reclaimed two apartments at Claridge's, on West 55th Street and Sixth Avenue, to carve out space for a gym a few years back.

“We’re talking to a lot more property owners about their spaces,” said Evelyn Sherwood, of dash design. “They are looking more closely at who their residents are and how they would or could use these rooms.”

In recent years, Sherwood's interior design firm re-did a residents' lounge with a pool table and poker tables in order to cater to a younger crowd at the luxury Chelsea rental at 777 Sixth Ave. Designers also created a children’s playroom at 140 Riverside Blvd., on the Upper West Side, that appealed more to families after the landlord surveyed residents about what they wanted, she said.

When Meadow Partners recently took over 110 Green St., it began a roughly $1 million overhaul of the Greenpoint building. The company hopes to finish the rooftop deck in time for a Fourth of July party, so that residents can enjoy the unobstructed views of the East River fireworks, the company's vice president Andrew Till said.

The 130-unit six-story building has had amenities — since it was conceived as a condo — but they were not being well maintained or utilized, Till noted. His company brought in a new firm to oversee its 75-foot lap pool so it's now open seven days a week instead of two. It’s inviting a company to conduct children's swim lessons for tenants.

Meadow is redoing its tenant lounge and children's playroom and is converting an unused atrium into a co-working space since many residents work from home.

“We want to show this luxury environment in Greenpoint, which is coming with other buildings,” Till said, of the six-story complex where one-bedrooms start at $2,723 a month. “It really makes sense for us to invest the money so before they get to the apartment they say, ‘wow.’”

Several co-ops are also trying to figure out ways to compete with condos.

At the 370-unit post-war building at 75 Henry St. in Brooklyn Heights, for instance, the board is converting a community room into a fitness center and children's playroom and it’s adding cold storage. The building created a private playground about three years ago, Douglas Elliman's Madeline Williamson said.

“These little changes have made us more competitive,” she said. “We are definitely getting a number of people who have looked at condo conversions [and] have opted to come here.” (The co-op's board also voted this week to implement a new subletting policy to lure buyers away from condos, Williamson noted.)

Of course, not all amenities are well-used, said Rutenberg Realty’s Seamus McCotter, who specializes in East Side properties.

“When I started in the business in 1987, nobody ever asked if a building had a gym or roof deck," he said. "They just wanted a place to live.”

He's noticed gyms and pools are little used at many "good" buildings and thought many residents preferred to keep storage over a fitness room.

“If apartments are well priced they sell without gyms," he said.