Friday, June 9, 2023
HomeReal EstateMassive luxury condo tower is rising from this Manhattan church campus

Massive luxury condo tower is rising from this Manhattan church campus


Lord, bless this home.

A project 40 years in the making is finally coming to fruition within a one-of-a-kind development site in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights.

This month, sales launch at Claremont Hall, a 354,000-square-foot, 41-story, 460-foot-tall mixed-use development, which will primarily house luxury condos (pre-sales are already underway).

The tower’s 165 residences will occupy floors 10 through 41, with a mix of one- to four-bedrooms, priced from $1 million to $6.5 million.

Additionally, three penthouses will top the project, and pricing for those units has not yet been released. Who says you need to store up all your treasures in heaven?

All that in itself would make Claremont Hall one of the most significant towers ever to come to the neighborhood on the northwest corner of Manhattan anchored by low-rise Columbia University. But it’s the developer’s collaboration with the Union Theological Seminary — a theological graduate school founded in 1836, the oldest independent seminary in the United States — that makes it stand out.

In fact, the building is being constructed at the northern end of the school’s massive courtyard that fronts Claremont Avenue.

Exterior shot of Claremonth Hall.
The new tower, dubbed Claremont Hall, will be one of Morningside Heights’ ritziest new abodes — and one of its tallest at 41 stories.
Binyan Studios

Adding pedigree to the project is the office of limestone-obsessed architect to the superrich Robert A.M. Stern Architects (RAMSA), which is handling both the façade and interiors of the tower’s residences. CetraRuddy, another high-profile designer, is creating the public areas including the lobby.

The developer is Lendlease, famed for its work on the Sydney Opera House and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, in partnership with L+M Development Partners and Daiwa House Texas.

The project topped out earlier this year and is slated for completion in 2023. When it opens, it will include amenities like a 48-foot indoor swimming pool, a gym, a walnut-paneled library, residents’ lounge with a terrace, a children’s playroom and a “creative maker’s room.”

But getting here took efforts of Biblical proportion. The seeds of the project were planted in the 1980s, according to Fred Davie, the senior strategic advisor to the seminary’s president, when the school was trying to find money to pay for its upkeep.

Aerial shot of Morningside Heights and Claremont Hall.
RAMSA echoed the campus’s Gothic Revival architecture while adding modern elements.
Binyan Studios

“We needed funding to maintain ourselves and keep going,” he said. “We had lots of issues with our plumbing, façade and heating.”

In the process of exploring their options, school officials realized that they had access to 300,000 square feet of air rights above its campus worth millions. By 2017, those unresolved maintenance issues had gotten significantly worse, but the school still hadn’t figured out a way to monetize their lucrative air rights.

“We tapped Lendlease for help, and the idea for Claremont was born,” said Davie.

In June 2020, the two parties closed a $60 million deal for the sale of the air rights and the project broke ground that July.

Exterior of Claremont Hall.
To stay afloat, the Union Theological Seminary has invited a new luxury condo tower to its historic campus.
Binyan Studios

The Union Theological Seminary campus was built in 1908 in a Gothic Revival style, and Paul Whalen, a partner at RAMSA who designed Claremont Hall with partner Sarge Gardiner, says that the two envisioned a building that blended with this original aesthetic.

“We wanted to stay true to the building’s history but obviously make it relevant to today,” he said.

“The money is a game changer for us. We have a new life and are completely revitalized.”

Fred Davie, senior strategic advisor to the seminary’s president

Their brick structure has a gray hue and features setbacks throughout that help break down its scale. Contrasting bricks and cast stone play into the design. Whalen says that the base features Gothic stonework and that the building’s detailing becomes more abstract and less three-dimensional as it rises toward the sky. Oversize Gothic arches frame the top.

“They’re exaggerated so you can see them from afar,” he said.

The residences are meant to be equally bold and have Gothic-inspired bay windows and terraces. Natural light is a key feature.

Claremont Hall is a much-anticipated addition to Morningside Heights, says Corcoran real estate agent Julia Boland, who resides nearby.

“This is a neighborhood with so much opportunity and one that has transformed in recent years,” she said. “Claremont is coming at the right time and is a very exciting project.”

Exterior of the Vandewater.
The Vandewater raised the stakes in Morningside Heights.
Binyan Studios

It’s also one of several shiny new residential developments with celebrated architects to debut in the area. Others include Vandewater, a neo-Gothic luxury tower designed by INC Architecture, Eleven Hancock at Morningside Park and 300 West, a 15-story upscale building on 122nd Street. The latter two were designed by acclaimed Issac & Stern Architects.

The prices of residences in these new buildings range between $1,200 and $2,200 a square foot, says Boland.

“Ten years ago, new units cost $700 a square foot,” she said.

Still, Boland adds, buyers get tremendous value for money, compared with similar apartments below 96th Street where the prices are far higher per square foot.

Interior of a unit at 300 West.
Ritzy 300 West was designed by Issac & Stern.
Binyan Studios

Boland is so thrilled about Claremont Hall that she is looking at apartments in the building for herself.

“I am obsessed with the clean design,” she said. “I know that I want a two-bedroom. I’m just trying to figure out which floor plan is going to be best for me.”

But not everyone is thrilled that a secular exercise in money making is rising on sacred ground.

Way back in 2015, in the earliest days of the project, students from the seminary gathered to reenact Jesus driving the money changers from the temple. They protested the tower with signs that read, “What would Jesus build?” and, “There are no condos in the Kingdom of Heaven!” Gothamist reported. Faculty, like Dr. Cornell West, compared it to the “Tower of Babel.”

But for Davie, the project is allowing the school to continue its 114-year legacy of sharing the gospel. He says that the school has spent part of the $60 million to install new plumbing, air conditioning and heating. Speedier Wi-Fi and renovated classrooms are coming next.

“The money is a game changer for us,” said Davie. “We have a new life and are completely revitalized.”


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