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Luxury condo units in former Waldorf hotel to debut in Manhattan market glut

New York

NEW York's shuttered Waldorf Astoria hotel will re-emerge this week as a condominium, testing whether nostalgia for a cherished landmark can spark high-dollar deals in a market glutted with luxury homes.

The Park Avenue property, a high-society hangout that once counted Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe as tenants, has been getting primed for this moment since 2015.

That is when China's Anbang Insurance Group bought it for a record US$1.95 billion, to kickstart its plans to convert a part of the 1,400-room hotel into for-sale apartments.

Five years later, the Waldorf is still a construction zone, Manhattan is awash in ultra-luxury condos and the property's once high-flying owner has had its wings clipped.

Units will not be ready until 2022, but the developer says the time is right to let the condo-buying public have a look. Dan Tubb, who is overseeing sales at the site for Douglas Elliman Development Marketing, said: "We know the market is what it is, but we're seeing a level of passion and interest for the building that no other building really possesses."

The developer, now known as Dajia Insurance Group, is pouring more than US$1 billion into renovations as it tries to recoup a bet made at the top of Manhattan's luxury condo market, when overseas investors were clamouring to buy second and third homes in new skyscrapers rising nearby.

But high-end condos have proliferated since then, and the multimillionaires who can afford them have all but lost interest. In Midtown alone, 763 new units are expected to become available this year, figures from the brokerage Core showed.

"The data will tell you that this is not the time for another Midtown luxury condo," said Donna Olshan, president of Olshan Realty, a high-end brokerage based in Manhattan. The area "is saturated with inventory that could take a decade to sell".

Dajia says its strategy is to deliver smaller units, offering a taste of opulence to investors who are not searching for a primary residence.

More than two-thirds of the condos being marketed at the Waldorf have two bedrooms or fewer, Mr Tubb said, and the cheapest is a 48.9 sq m studio listed at US$1.7 million. Two-bedrooms start at US$4.75 million for a 105.9 sq m unit on the 19th floor.

Residents will get all the perks available to hotel guests - from room service to cleaning to concierge bookings. They will also have their own 25-metre lap pool, children's playroom, screening theatre and a choice of spaces they could use to throw a party.

Combining modern finishes with the Waldorf's rich history will make the property "the unquestioned trophy asset of New York hospitality when it reopens", said Andrew Miller, chief executive officer of Dajia's US arm. Dajia intends to retain ownership of the hotel, he added.

Nostalgia could also spur condo sales at the tower, even in this market, said Charlie Attias, a luxury real estate broker who previously found buyers for more than 40 apartments at the Plaza, a Manhattan hotel that reinvented itself as a condo building more than a decade ago.

The notion of owning a piece of that personal history appealed to him, Mr Attias said. "People love the memories," he said. BLOOMBERG

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