New York Stories: Condomania is gripping the city (and leaves me green with envy)

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The Independent US

New York is suffering from a sudden outbreak of condomania. The evidence is everywhere - in my neighbourhood close to Gramercy Square and beyond, up to Central Park and south to Wall Street. This phenomenon has nothing to do with sex - unless you get turned on by property trends.

New York is suffering from a sudden outbreak of condomania. The evidence is everywhere - in my neighbourhood close to Gramercy Square and beyond, up to Central Park and south to Wall Street. This phenomenon has nothing to do with sex - unless you get turned on by property trends.

So headlong is the rush by developers today to convert office and hotel space in the city to condominiums that the City Council last week drafted a bill to put a stop to it. But this is about money, and nothing the politicians try to do is likely to stop it.

The council is objecting because of all the hotels suddenly being closed and downsized to make room for condos. (The word, by the way, means an apartment that you buy to own, as distinct from co-op apartments, where you are buying a share in a building.) Fewer hotel rooms spell fewer hotel jobs.

My local hostelry, the Gramercy Park, has recently been bought by the boutique hotel king Ian Schrager and is reportedly to be shrunk to make way for about 30 condos. More famously, the new owners of the landmark Plaza will this month begin renovations that will leave only 150 rooms compared to 800 today. The reason: to build condos. The nearby St Regis is going condo, too.

None of this is a surprise. So overheated is the housing market in this town, especially for high-end pads with views of the park, that dumping hotel rooms in favour of residential units is a no-brainer for the developers. They can be worth up to $2,000 (more than £1,000) per square foot per year - twice the value of hotel accommodation.

If the City Council is seeing red, the colour of my reaction is green; green for envy, because I will not be among those in a position to buy. I am especially distracted by plans just announced for the former home of Metropolitan Life Insurance on the south-east corner of nearby Madison Square.

A developer appropriately called SL Green Realty Corp announced on Thursday that it was paying $1bn for the property, which includes a 41-storey tower that is well known to any scholars of the Manhattan skyline, with its massive clock faces and gilded cupola that is lit in different shades, often of pink or purple, at night. It is perhaps the best example of early skyscraper architecture in the city. Indeed, when built in 1909 it was the tallest structure on the island.

And, yes, the tower is to be converted into condominiums. Of course, a Plaza suite with views to the horse-drawn carriages below would be nice, but my second choice for a condo of my own would surely be in the MetLife tower. I, however, will never get the chance to occupy space at either address.

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Also on the council's agenda this month: trash. It is blocking plans by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to end the current system for hauling away every ounce of rubbish to far-away landfills by lorry. He wants to invest in compacting facilities and transfer the crushed garbage in special containers on to trains and boats. It will all end up in the same landfills, but at least our streets will be emptied of all those belching lorries. Sounds good to me. But at $107 per ton, it would be too expensive, says the council. Hmm.

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Dan Rather of CBS: gone. Tom Brokaw of NBC: gone. And now the worst blow of all, Ted Koppel, who for 25 years has fronted the only serious late-night news show on American TV, ABC's Nightline, has said he is quitting in December. I really can't imagine getting my pre-sleep news fix from Fox.

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