Star architect's glass tower exposed


From their sixth-floor perch, the couple have seen a toddler on the eighth floor ride her tricycle around her balcony, and watched a cleaning crew come in after 10 pm to sop up after a flood of water poured through six stories.

They know which of their neighbours in the Meier building make their beds and which do not, and who wears what while brushing his or her teeth. On one particularly engaging afternoon, they sat, captivated, as a woman appeared in the living room of a gray-haired bachelor, leading Henderson to hope for an unfolding romance.

“It’s like a stage that they set up for us,” said Vader, a retired teacher, who occasionally has turned his deck chair away in embarrassment.

But ten months after the much-publicised, and much-debated Meier building opened, most of that stage remains devoid of actors.

On the side of the building facing their terrace, Vader and Henderson said, there is not a single person living on the ninth, 10th, 12th, 14th or 15th floors. While the developers say half of the building’s 99 units have been sold, the real estate website StreetEasy.com documents only 25 closings through public records. When the sun falls, the view from Mel and Bob’s terrace, or, for that matter, from the storied Grand Army Plaza, is not unlike a Christmas tree stripped of all but a handful of lights.

“You see that there are people there,” Vader said. “But you don’t see the amount of movement that you would normally see.”

When Seventeen Development LLC announced in 2005 that Meier would erect one of his elaborate glass and steel sculptures on a $4.75 million parcel in the Prospect Heights neighbourhood, it was seen as a test of New York’s real estate boom. Could the starchitect best known for designing Manhattan condominiums for the likes of Calvin Klein and Martha Stewart sell $1 million one-bedrooms in a still-gentrifying zone without a reliable public school?

Today, the Meier building, officially, On Prospect Park, is a wall of windows into the real estate bust.

Faced with anaemic sales, the developers have slashed prices by as much as 40 per cent. They combined units, there were originally 114, to boost the percentage sold in order to ease the path to mortgages. But potential buyers have walked away from at least $20 million worth of contracts.

And the handful of people who moved in have been left exposed not only to the perils of buying at the peak of the market but also to the stifled laughter of their neighbours following their every move.

These pioneers have formed an Internet chat group to trade information about the building's construction progress and ever-dropping sales prices. They have also organized a book club, a tennis team, basketball tournaments, billiard games and myriad individual play dates and cocktail hours in a campaign to create a community within the glass walls.

“Some people would like to see this building fail,” said Betty Flynn, a California transplant who pressed her lips together tightly as she paused while describing her hopes for weathering the downturn. “We all have the same goal. We want to be in a great building.”

One woman said seeing a unit similar to hers on the market for 30 per cent less made her “heart sink,” while a couple apologised for negotiating more than $1.1 million off the $2.8 million asking price.

The person perhaps least affected by the emptiness of the glass house is Meier.

NYT News Service

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