Monday, January 25, 2010

One Man's Stuyvesant Town Dream Comes To An End

Little Boxes Made Of Ticky Tacky

In honor of Stuyvesant Town's transfer of ownership to creditors, check out this video of the birth of Stuyvesant Town, complete with wrecking balls!

Poor Rob Speyer. He probably wishes Stuyvesant Town still was a dilapidated slum with no windows in the bedrooms. It would have cost him a lot less that the $5.4 billion he spent. The property's valued at less than 2 billion now.

Where did Rob go wrong? Well, for one, he bought at the top of the real estate market, right before lines on line graphs everywhere suddenly committed suicide. But Tishman Speyer hasn't helped their cause at all with some terrible, terrible decisions. I've lived in Stuyvesant Town for the past 6 years, and I've witnessed them all.

1) Threatening Old People

Rob Speyer had a great idea. Why rent apartments in Stuyvesant Town's great location at below-market rates, when you could refurbish the rooms and resell them as luxury living? The gains in rent collected would be astronomical. Can't lose!

Except, er. Well, to refurbish those apartments and resell them, you need to kick the current occupants out. And many of those occupants are old people. Old people will not move without a fight. If you've ever seen an old person walk down the street, you know that even getting themselves to move is a complex negotiation that doesn't exactly progress speedily. And tenant laws in New York make it very hard to clear out longtime residents.

What's worse, Stuyvesant Town was created originally for soldiers returning home from World War II. Which means not only are these old people cranky and beloved, many of them are war heroes or family of war heroes. Good luck getting any politically savvy judge to kick them out.

As a resident, I've noted how highly respected the old people of Stuyvesant Town are. These aren't helpless, neglected grannys that can just be forcibly sent to an old age home. The old people living here are the bedrock of New York. You need dynamite, or death to get them out. And unfortunately for Rob, modern medicine is keeping these guys running longer and longer.

2) Ecological Disaster

Shortly after Tishman bought the property, they embarked on an ambitious landscaping project. The project would put in 200,000 plants — including 10,000 trees, 3,123 shrubs and 120,906 perennials. My roommate and I were woken every morning at 7:53 AM by the landscaping crew, which seemed to end their very noisy work around 8:02.

This was Stuyvesant Town when we moved in 6 years ago, before the landscaping project:


Here it is now:

Bubonic Plague
It's actually worse than this... this was taken last April.

I haven't been able to find figures on how much Speyer spent for this travesty, but it's certainly in the millions. The "improvements" have absolutely devastated the property, and there's no end in sight. Every so often, a thatch of new trees or flowers is planted, presumably so they can take some updated exterior shots. Then, within weeks, the dead flowers (or still alive, doesn't really matter) are removed, leaving bare muddy ground. The trees sink into the ground around them, forming puddles that serve as perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes. The failure is mockable.

Where did Tishman find this landscaping firm? Hades?

3) Wasted Space

Tishman spent millions building five luxury perks to the property: Oval Fitness, Oval Kids, Oval Lounge, Oval Study, and Oval... um, well, its not really important.

The enormous extra fees to access these new amenities deterred most residents from using them (perhaps Tishman was anticipating its new "luxury" residents. But even those who were interested in joining were put off by outrageous restrictions: for instance, the Oval Study, presumably designed for hard workers and students to, you know, study in, originally closed at 6 PM, way too early for any working person or student to use. By the time the hours were lengthened, people had already lost interest. And then there's the discomfort of the tiny spaces being presided over by bored staffers, who seem to be watching your every move.

But the biggest waste of space may be the roofs of the Stuyvesant Town buildings. Once a place where residents could sneak up to watch the fireworks or catch an amazing nighttime view, they've been outlawed and monitored aggressively by security. The roofs of these buildings are huge. Certainly large enough for solar panels, or rooftop gardens, or some sort of rainwater collection facility. Instead, they're completely empty. Missing this potential is a huge oversight for Tishman.


There are some things Tishman did right. Concerts and movies in the oval provided great entertainment and an opportunity for the community to come together (even if Kaki King's profanity-laced set wasn't exactly family friendly). And they kept the fountain pumping and looking great. And while I've never used it, the weird putting green in the oval was a nice touch. But you don't improve the value of a property by harassing its residents, wiping out plant life, and providing amenities no one wants while taking away the ones they do.

Tishman Speyer had poor timing, true, but its poor management would have chipped away at the property's value even if the market hadn't collapsed.

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