interior design

Battery Park City’s Early-Aughts Rentals Go Luxe

Photo-Illustration: Curbed; Photos: Colin Miller

Tribeca Green opened in 2005, part of a new crop of rental towers on the northern edge of Battery Park. It was upscale but not opulent, with a gym, a 24-hour concierge, stainless steel appliances, and rents that started at $2,495 a month — high but not insane. The building suited the neighborhood — a place popular with young families and yuppies that was still considered a bargain compared to other parts of Manhattan. A couple in their early 20s who’d just moved to the city from Texas told the New York Post that after touring lived-in-looking places in the Village that “didn’t feel like you were getting your money’s worth,” they’d been happy to find a “nicely appointed” apartment there.

Nearly 20 years later, no one looking for an apartment downtown is impressed by a gym or stainless steel appliances. Both the luxury market and downtown Manhattan have moved into a far more moneyed realm. The average sales price in Battery Park City is $1.5 million and likely to climb — in Hudson Square, to the North, it’s $1.9 million and Tribeca is $3.5 million. “Luxury buyers today, I think they’re more sophisticated,” says Michael D. Jones, a partner at Robert A.M. Stern Architects, RAMSA, who worked on the original Tribeca Green. “They expect a lot more. They’re perfectionists.” Reba Miller, an associate broker at Compass, puts it another way: “I’ve never seen so many young people with the amount of money buyers have these days. And they only want brand new.”

From left: A photo from a 2021 rental listing on StreetEasy shows the kitchen in a Tribeca Green apartment before renovation. To the right is a renovated kitchen, updated with higher-end counter-depth appliances and oak cabinetry. Photo: Related/StreetEasyPhoto: Colin Miller
From top: A photo from a 2021 rental listing on StreetEasy shows the kitchen in a Tribeca Green apartment before renovation. To the right is a renovat... From top: A photo from a 2021 rental listing on StreetEasy shows the kitchen in a Tribeca Green apartment before renovation. To the right is a renovated kitchen, updated with higher-end counter-depth appliances and oak cabinetry. Photo: Related/StreetEasyPhoto: Colin Miller

And so Tribeca Green is currently undergoing renovation to make it a more lavish version of its former self — a version that is, this time, for sale, not just for rent — overseen by RAMSA, the original architects. They also happen to be the architects of a much broader shift in the luxury market, wherein condos went from lesser-than-luxury products with 9-foot ceilings and basement gyms to the shiniest of trophies.

When Related hired RAMSA to design the buildings in the late ’90s, the firm was best known for designing mansions in the Hamptons. Battery Park City wasn’t an established luxury market, nor was downtown, and even the fanciest condos were a tier below the grand prewar co-ops. “Trump Tower was considered so luxurious,” says Jones. “And that had parquet and formica.” A 1983 New York Times article about a new crop of luxury condos described powder rooms in every apartment, heated towel bars, and mirrored closet doors. And that was still pretty much the standard 15 years later.

Soon, all of that would change. The Richard Meier towers on the West Side Highway established that people would pay top dollar — about $2,500 per square foot at the time — for ultrahigh-end new development downtown. A few years later, 15 Central Park West, a limestone condo tower designed by RAMSA, became the preferred redoubt of the ultrarich, with some penthouse sales exceeding $10,000 per square foot. Trophy co-ops were rendered more or less obsolete within a few years.

From left: A bedroom, before renovation, as shown in a StreetEasy listing from 2021, and a bedroom after, where custom moldings and trim have been added. Photo: Related/StreetEasyPhoto: Colin Miller
From top: A bedroom, before renovation, as shown in a StreetEasy listing from 2021, and a bedroom after, where custom moldings and trim have been adde... From top: A bedroom, before renovation, as shown in a StreetEasy listing from 2021, and a bedroom after, where custom moldings and trim have been added. Photo: Related/StreetEasyPhoto: Colin Miller

All of which made a rental-to-sales conversion an attractive proposition, especially since the building was going to need some kind of overhaul after two decades of rental use. So what makes a middling rental into something that a hedge funder would want to drop a few million on? When I met Jones, the architect who worked on the original Tribeca Green and current overseer of its present makeover, in the building’s lobby on a recent afternoon, the answer seemed to be wood. He pointed out the new wood paneling on the walls and ceilings. The lobby already had a lot of wood, but the redesign brought in even more, inspired by 1930s architecture. “We thought, Let’s make it a jewel box,” he says. Wood paneling went into the elevators, too, whose earlier walls were made of “some kind of artificial material, very trendy.” The burnt-orange carpet in the halls came out, replaced with more muted tones. If luxury has a hallmark today, it is copious amounts of natural materials in whites, creams, blondes, and camels — the whole spectrum of pale neutrals.

A renovated living room. Photo: Colin Miller

In the apartments themselves, more colorful early-aughts finishes — dark-green and beige tiles in the bathroom — have been replaced by monochromatic marble with oak vanities. The floors are 7-inch wide planks of white oak, stone slabs top the windowsills, and the frosted glass kitchen cabinets are now solid oak. The kitchen appliances have also been upgraded with counter-depth Miele. What were they before? Jones laughed. “Nothing good. The fridge stuck out.” Even so, as recently as a few years ago, one of the renovated three-bedroom units rented for $7,324 a month; Related is converting units into co-ops as they roll over. A two-bedroom co-op runs around $1.5 million; three-bedrooms start over $3 million — a good value for downtown, according to brokers I spoke with. (Sales prices in Battery Park City tend to be a little lower than surrounding areas because the buildings are on land leases, which means higher monthly carrying costs that tamp down sales prices.) Though this may not strike many as affordable, buying anything in Manhattan these days takes considerable means. “Anyone in the Manhattan sales market is a luxury buyer,” Compass’ Leonard Steinberg tells me.

Other nearby rental towers of the early aughts are also undergoing luxury conversions. Truffles Tribeca, on the West Side Highway in Tribeca, became 450 Washington with $8 million penthouses and 7-inch-wide plank white-oak flooring. Solaire, across Teardrop Park from Tribeca Green, was the top-selling development of 2022 and now has Wolf ranges and spalike bathrooms. Northern Battery Park, where it borders Tribeca, is only now getting an influx of co-ops and condos, and many buyers, including those priced out of Tribeca, look exclusively at the Northern side of the neighborhood, says Tara King-Brown, an associate broker at Corcoran. It’s also really convenient for people who work at Goldman Sachs, a cohort that used to be the bread-and-butter buyers of uptown co-ops.

Tribeca Green’s red-brick exterior hasn’t been changed — RAMSA’s designs are classical and tend to age well — but perhaps more surprisingly, most apartment layouts didn’t change, either. Many rental-to-condo conversions combine units since rental layouts are often more efficient — a nice word for small — than condo buyers want, and while there were a few combos, two bedrooms at Tribeca Green were already around 1,200 square feet with generous closets and second baths.

The new teen lounge, one of many new amenity spaces in the building. Photo: Colin Miller

What did go through a significant overhaul were the amenity spaces. At Tribeca Green, amenities have almost doubled per square foot — some apartments were reclaimed for that purpose — and they’ve all been buffed to a more sophisticated, i.e., fancier, sheen. The gym’s acoustic ceiling tiles are gone, and now there are co-working spaces overlooking Teardrop Park (before the building had a business center with a kitchenette), a maker space, a teen lounge inspired by the Shah of Iran’s nightclub, a billiards room, a cocktail lounge, a private dining room, a screening room, extensive terraces, including a rooftop one, and a revamped children’s playspace. Walking through the playspace, Jones points out how it’s been designed this time around. They all used to be afterthoughts — a room with soft mats and brightly colored walls. “The old ones were like the gyms, plunk down the equipment and call it a day,” he says. The new one is parklike with a treehouse play structure, leafy branch build-outs for hanging, and on-theme toys. It is, he points out, a spin on Tribeca Green. “It’s more coordinated colors, more coordinated everything.” Even the children seem to expect more now.

Battery Park City’s Early-Aughts Rentals Go Luxe