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Editor’s note: The race to not build NYC’s tallest building

July 01, 2015  By Stuart Elliott


New York City developers are known for constructing tall buildings as a testament to their egos.

But in the current skyline race, developers are going out of their way not to top one another. 

This battle — or lack thereof — says a lot about the tensions raging between the civic interests and the growth of private wealth in New York City today.

Last month, the latest plans were filed for yet another “supertall” building on Billionaire’s Row, with news that Extell’s Nordstrom Tower on 57th Street will have a 1,521-foot-high curtain wall plus a rooftop spire that will reportedly top out at 1,775 feet.

So while the Nordstrom Tower would be a taller building, its spire would be one foot shorter than One World Trade Center’s, which reaches a symbolic 1,776 feet.

According to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, the authority on these matters, One World Trade is still the tallest building in New York, thanks to that spire. That’s despite the fact that whoever buys the top-floor penthouse at the Nordstrom Tower — and at the nearly completed 432 Park — will be higher up in the sky than anyone visiting the observation deck at One World Trade.

This is partly a symbolic deference to One World Trade, of course, which makes sense as a way to honor those who were killed in the 2001 terrorist attacks at Ground Zero.

But it does make me wonder when these condo buildings — which are increasingly being gobbled up by international investors looking for “security deposit boxes in the sky” — will officially tower over our most emotionally charged landmark. If and when that happens, it will say something significant about the character of the city. 

New York’s liberal mayor is at the forefront of a national progressive movement and is pushing for more affordable housing, while developers here are simultaneously building ever-more expensive palaces for the global elite. That battle between democracy and capitalism is the backdrop for many of the stories in this issue, too.

For example, should taxpayer money be used to subsidize for-profit housing in New York? That’s been at the center of the debate over the hugely contentious 421a program, whose fate was just decided — sort of — in Albany at the end of the legislative session. Meanwhile, we take a look at John Banks, who will serve as a lightning rod for many of these issues as the new face of the industry’s biggest trade group, REBNY, now that he’s taken over for departing president Steve Spinola.

Still, even though it may seem like there is a widening chasm between private wealth and the public interest in this new Gilded Age, that’s not entirely the case. 

The digital age has brought a new kind of democratization to the business world, and nowhere is that on greater display than at shared-office-space provider WeWork, which was just valued at a mind-boggling $10 billion. The company (which is expanding at a breakneck pace in New York and beyond) epitomizes today’s new business culture of open floor plans and a startup mentality where everyone with an innovative idea gets heard. We look at the future of the company — and whether it will have staying power when the next recession hits or be the victim of another Internet bubble — on page 60.

There has also been a lot of talk about the democratization of real estate investment through crowdfunding — where even the little guy can get in on the big property deals, a few thousand dollars at a time. In our cover story this month, we look at that buzzed-about online investing platform — and how it might be moving away from its initial ideals. Interestingly, while crowdfunding is regarded as the hot new thing, there is a very long history of small-time investors pooling money together — it’s how the Empire State Building was built.

Finally, in this issue, we look over the hedges in the Hamptons, with a first-ever examination of the owners behind the East End’s priciest summer rentals.

And for more East End coverage, check out our first-ever Hamptons Market Report, which is included with this issue. Clocking in at 60 pages, it’s chock-full of stories on everything from the priciest sales to the top agents. It will undoubtedly bring you up to speed on the Hamptons real estate market even as you lounge poolside. Enjoy the issue.