Diamonds are not Forever: Extell Development CEO Gary Barnett

A native New Yorker, Extell Development CEO Gary Barnett bought and sold diamonds throughout the 1980s for S. Muller & Sons, a prestigious diamond house in Antwerp, Belgium, before returning home to buy and sell real estate.

By Lauren Price


 A mélange of roomy studios, one-, two-plus-den and three-bedroom penthouses and tower lofts, the condos, ranging from 580 to 2,600 square feet, are designed to appeal to investors, snowbirds and international jet-setters.

With an acute eye for high-caliber, highly serviced projects, Gary Barnett founded Intell Management Investment Co. in 1992. And the company had already amassed a sold-like-hot-cakes portfolio of more than 8 million square feet of real estate (including Chicago’s Insurance Exchange and Enron’s headquarters in Houston) before seamlessly morphing Intell into Extell Development in 2005.

One of Barnett’s earlier Manhattan purchases was the Renaissance Revival-style Belnord Apartments at Broadway and 86th Street. Buying the historic full-city-block landmark in 1994 for a reported $15 million, he embarked on a meticulous $16 million restoration and upgrade over the next two years that included its majestic courtyard garden and stunning interior frescos. Built in 1908 as the largest apartment building in the world, it served as home to Nobel Prize in Literature winner and Yentl author Isaac Bashevis Singer, who moved there in 1962 and remained a tenant until his death in 1991. Moreover, 86th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue was renamed Isaac Bashevis Singer Boulevard some fifteen years ago.

In 1996, Barnett developed Planet Hollywood Hotel near Times Square with the hotel group and Madison Equities. The hotel company went bankrupt shortly before its planned opening and is now the W Times Square Hotel. By 2001, Extell had successfully completed a warehouse conversion at 45 Walker Street in TriBeCa’s Historic District between Broadway and Church Street to six baronial luxury-loft condominiums, as well as a Carnegie Hill pre-war rental to luxury condos on 96th Street between Park and Madison avenues.

So when did Barnett’s company start making headlines? When three of Extell’s mega-deals caught everyone’s eye last summer.

First up during the first week of June was Barnett’s (in partnership with the Carlyle Group) purchase of nearly 80 acres of the Hudson River’s waterfront, which included already-developed Trump Place and Riverside South between West 59th and West 72nd streets from Donald Trump and his Chinese partners for a reported $1.76 billion. The big brouhaha came about not because the deal was touted as the largest residential property sale in the city’s history, but because of Trump’s displeasure over the purchase price, which he contended was short-changed by about $1.5 billion (still and all, not a bad deal, considering Trump paid under $100 million for the former rail yards in 1985).

On the heels of that deal, Barnett’s company made an unsuccessful, 11th-hour bid a few days later on the Vanderbilt Rail Yards along Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue in an attempt to thwart another developer’s intentions to develop housing, office buildings and an NBA arena. He lost to that developer, Forest City Ratner.

Then, on a construction site on Broadway between 99th and 100th streets last July 14, workers were demolishing a vacant supermarket to make way for one of Extell’s two stunning Ariel towers when the building it suddenly collapsed, briefly trapping four people, including a seven-month old girl. Miraculously, no one was seriously injured.

These days, in addition to the Ariel towers, Extell is successfully marketing and selling units at the Orion near Times Square, the Stanhope along Fifth Avenue’s Gold Coast, the Altair 18 and Altair 20 off Lower Fifth Avenue, 330 East 72nd Street on the Upper East Side and the Avery across from Riverside Park at 70th Street. All are exclusively marketed and sold by the Corcoran Marketing Group, and sales are more than brisk; in fact, they selling out faster than a New York minute.

“We enjoy working with Corcoran,” says Barnett. “They’re great marketers. They certainly know the market, and they do a great job for us.” Asked what he looks for when it comes to considering a new project, Barnett says that, for him, it’s about the “specialness” of a particular structure or site. On the subject of new versus Old World-conversions, for Barnett there are advantages to both. One thing remains constant, though: his penchant for creating a lot of family-size units, be it multiple bedrooms or full-floor homes, with renowned architects and interior designers such as Costas Kondylis, John Simpson, and the team of John Cetra and Nancy Ruddy. “People have to live in these places that we build and design for a long time,” he points out, “and at the end of the day, it’s always about giving them a very livable, comfortable and beautiful home to enjoy.”

His favorites among his company’s incredible collection of Manhattan projects include the Stanhope Residences (on this more intimate project, Corcoran senior vice-president Sharon E. Baum heads up the marketing and sales efforts, not Corcoran’s marketing and development division). “Getting the last possible chance to develop above 60th Street on Fifth Avenue, let alone a Rosario Candela building, is a dream of a lifetime,” Barnett says.

He also finds the Avery irresistible. “Look, those river views of the Hudson can never be blocked -they’re forever.” He’s right. The Avery is directly across the street from Riverside Park with the Hudson River as its backdrop.

Heading beyond the borders of Manhattan once again, Extell is currently developing Avenue on Brickell, a dual-towered, mixed-use development at 1060 Brickell Avenue smack dab in the center of Miami, Florida’s financial district, and the Residences at the InterContinental along Boston’s Atlantic Avenue waterfront.

For Extell’s first Florida project, the 576-unit Smart Building at 1060 Brickell, Barnett put together a dream team of renowned architects and interior designers to deliver all of the elements of Miami’s urban lifestyle inside two interconnected towers (one faces SE 1st Avenue, the other fronts Brickell) serving up million-dollar panoramic views of the Biscayne Bay and the city’s magical skyline. “We purchased the land at a great price about 18 months ago,” Barnett says. “That enabled us to offer very attractive prices along Brickell, which is what Fifth Avenue is to New York City.” Definitely at the crossroads of style and substance, it probably won’t be ready for occupancy much before the end of 2007, but 90 percent of the units have been sold.

A mélange of roomy studios, one-, two-plus-den and three-bedroom penthouses and tower lofts, the condos, ranging from 580 to 2,600 square feet, are designed to appeal to investors, snowbirds and international jet-setters. Armed to the gills with must-have amenities and services (we love what they’ve got planned for the Resort Deck which, along with a pool, fitness center and virtual golf room, sports a wine/cigar lounge outfitted with personal caves and humidors). Exclusively marketed and sold by Fortune International Realty, what’s left is priced from $370,000 to $1.4 million. When queried as to future developments in Florida, Barnett admits they are taking it slow. “Right now land prices are high, particularly anything along the water,” he told us. “Construction costs are also too high at the moment.”

Along Boston’s waterfront, the 130 Residences at the InterContinental are 65 percent sold. All located on the hotel’s top seven floors, studios to four-plus bedrooms (including duplex penthouses and some with private terraces) range in size from just over 400 to nearly 5,000 square feet. Obviously, buyers will have access to the hotel’s services and amenities, including its meeting rooms, enormous ballroom and health club’s indoor pool and spa along with the usual services from the concierge, housekeeping, and food and beverage. Ready for occupancy this fall, it’s exclusively marketed and sold by Otis & Ahearn. What’s left is priced from $1.285 million to $6.85 million.

A second, as yet unnamed Boston project is about to go into full swing. Located in the Kendall Square neighborhood in Cambridge, sales are scheduled to begin this fall and occupancy is slated for late 2007. With more than 500 luxury units (50/50 condos and rentals), the moderately priced units will come with plenty of common amenities such as a huge fitness center, a pool and residential gardens. No announcement yet as to who will exclusively market the development.

At the end of October 2005, Extell purchased a quartet of small buildings at 86th Street and West End Avenue with plans to build a 21-story residential tower. The Stuart Dean building on Tenth Avenue off 30th Street and 221 West 57th Street (and an adjacent building) between Broadway and Seventh Avenue, which was once the home of Hard Rock Café, will also be developed into luxury condos over the next few years. As well, a splashy tower is planned on the site of the Ritz Fur Shop, a fixture at 107 West 57th Street for some 70-plus years. “I’d also love to develop projects in Los Angeles and Las Vegas,” reveals Barnett.

At the close of the interview, it’s impossible to resist asking Barnett what his favorites are among Extell’s New York competition. “I love Macklowe’s Three Ten (East 53rd Street), Zeckendorf’s 15 Central Park West, and Vornado’s One Beacon Court (East 58th Street),” he admits. “I think Elad’s Plaza Hotel is amazing, too, and I really like Related’s Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle. Steve Ross (Related’s CEO) is a visionary, always so ahead of the curve.”