Just five months before the Q train extension opened, Orah Massarsky and her husband Alan moved to East 86th Street. “It was a disaster,” says Massarsky. “All the construction and noise — Second Avenue was not a place humans could be.” But the fact that the new subway line was coming to their corner in January 2017 was part of what attracted the couple to the area.
The Massarskys had been living in Montclair, NJ, where they moved after living in Gramercy Park in the 1980s. But after becoming empty nesters, they wanted to return to Manhattan.
“My husband was actually totally uninterested in the Upper East Side,” says Massarsky, a writing consultant. “We were looking in Nomad, Madison Square Park, Chelsea — but those areas are terribly expensive. We realized we could get way more for our money up here.”
They purchased a three-bedroom penthouse with a terrace in need of some TLC on East 86th Street between Second and Third avenues for $1.62 million and then spent $500,000 to renovate the kitchen and upgrade the plumbing and electric. But as the dust settled — on their apartment and on the Second Avenue Subway — the 86th Street corridor started to change. “They cleaned up the streets, expanded the sidewalks, replaced the lighting, added benches,” says Massarsky.
The beautification measures — alongside a host of new condo and rental developments — have and will bring more people, and a more upscale vibe, to the area.
It’s easy to understand why developers, and new residents, are attracted to 86th Street: It’s incredibly convenient. You have the 4/5/6 express and local subway stop on Lexington Avenue, which consistently ranks as one of the busiest subway stations in the city. (Per the MTA, 20,337,593 people swiped through it in 2016.) Then there’s the M86 crosstown, which has Select Bus Service, and now the Q train on Second Avenue. It’s the entry point for destinations like the Met, the Guggenheim and Central Park.
Retail lines both sides of the street: Barnes and Noble, H&M and Sephora, plus a Shake Shack, and there’s a Fairway and a Whole Foods within two blocks of each other. Popular cosmetics retailer Ulta Beauty is the latest addition. But most of those retailers are relative newcomers, too, having opened their doors within the last 15 years, replacing smaller stores and restaurants (butcher Schaller & Weber, beer garden Heidelberg) that were holdovers from Yorkville’s roots as a German town.
For a long time, East 86th Street was considered as about as desirable a place to live as 42nd Street. It was too busy, too dirty and widely panned as merely a transit hub for the actual neighborhood.
Many developers and brokers consider the 2007-built Lucida, on Lexington between 86th and 85th streets, as a turning point for the ’hood.
Developed by Extell, it was the area’s first high-end condo building, with its 122 units selling for $1,700 to $1,800 per square foot. (Compare that to the average Upper East Side condo price of $1,017 per square foot, per a 2007 Elliman report.)
Its debut was closely followed by the Brompton at 205 E. 85th St. in 2008, where past sales of the 165 units average $1,840 per square foot, according to StreetEasy, and the 58-unit Georgica at 305 E. 85th St. in 2009, where condos have closed with an average of $1,518 per square foot.
“I think the Lucida forced the Upper East Side to mature and grow up,” says Raizy Haas, Extell’s executive vice president of development. “It set the tone for what it could be. We were a little alone for some time, but the area has caught up and it’s now thriving.”
And how: Its latest developments are seeing condos go for upwards of $3,000 per square foot. Completed in 2017, 60 E. 86th St. — a 15-unit, 19-story building designed by Thomas Juul-Hansen between Park and Madison avenues — has an average sale price of $3,253 per square foot. (The least expensive home there closed for $7.48 million.)
“It was one of the first luxury buildings in an area where people with kids wanted to be,” says Corcoran Sunshine broker Sharon Baum. Developer Glenwood Management “really spared no expense. They wanted to give people what they wanted.” Buyers were almost exclusively families who already lived in the neighborhood, and the building sold out quickly. There have been no resales.
“The Upper East Side has always been an attractive neighborhood, but it felt a little more bifurcated, in terms of east of Lexington, west of Lexington, north of 86th, south of 96th, so on and so forth,” says Anna Zarro, head of sales, marketing and communications for Ceruzzi Properties, developer of The Hayworth, an under-construction condo at the corner of 86th and Lexington. “But a lot of the lines have blurred, and there’s now an appetite, and an excitement, for being in a prime and proper part of the Upper East Side that’s also proximate to a lot of conveniences.”
Ceruzzi’s Hayworth, which will house 61 condos, launched sales last month. Two nondescript low-rise commercial buildings, housing a Petco and a New York Sports Club, were demolished to make way for the 18-story glass-and-limestone structure.
Prices for the two- to five-bedroom homes range from $3.49 million to more than $13.75 million, for an average of $2,696 per square foot on currently active listings.
Designed by architecture firm HOK, with interiors by high-end SheltonMindel, the building features amenities like a rooftop terrace and a music and movement studio developed with experts from the 92nd Street Y.
Just north of the Hayworth, at 152 E. 87th St., is the Alyn, a development that is arguably the biggest signifier of the 86th Street corridor’s high-end makeover. Billed as a “super luxury rental,” the Alyn offers 56 apartments aimed at families that rent for $5,500 to $35,000 per month.
The units are large — the smallest layout is an 879-square-foot one-bedroom and there are only six of those — with the bulk having two to four bedrooms.
There are only two or three apartments per floor. The amenities are condo-style: a 2,400-square-foot playroom, a multi-level wellness center and a parking garage that residents can access from the lobby.
While there are a lot of rentals along East 86th Street — Yorkshire Towers between First and Second avenues alone has 692 units with a mix of rent-stabilized tenants in older apartments and market-rate residents in renovated units — the Alyn is the only newcomer.
“There was a lack on the rental side of luxury apartments, specifically on the larger side,” says developer Tim Gordon, of Gordon Property Group. “It was a niche that we wanted to fill.” There are signs of demand: Move-ins started May 1, and the building is two-thirds leased. A five-bedroom rented for $25,000 while one of the two penthouses went for $32,500.
And there’s more come.
At 1622-32 York Ave., Engel Burman Group recently razed a row of townhouses and plans to build a 14-story assisted living facility, while the entire southwest corner of 86th Street at First Avenue will be completely transformed by two imminent developments.
Izaki Group Investments filed permits for a 20-story building designed by ODA at 310 E. 86th St. in March, and Extell has yet-to-be-disclosed plans for the entire stretch of walkups on First Avenue between 86th and 85th Streets.
They currently stand vacant, ready for demolition. There have been rumors of a 20-story condo project, but Haas declined to talk about Extell’s plans, saying, “We’re still looking at different options there.”
Just north and south of 86th are two other high-profile condos: the 11-unit 1010 Park Ave., also by Extell, completed early this year, and the still-in-the-works 180 E. 88th St. between Lexington and Third.
Even as 86th Street’s offerings reach new levels of luxury — and price — the cross street will never be on par with Park, Madison or Fifth. Luckily, that’s just fine with residents.
Robert Hacker, a 49-year-old attorney, lives on 86th and Second Avenue with his wife Ali, 14-year-old daughter Katie and adopted boxer foxhound mix Honey.
Having lived in the neighborhood since 1999 — first on 85th and York, then on 94th and Third before moving into their current three-bedroom with a deck in 2012 — Hacker has watched as restaurants and mom-and-pop shops turn over for newer, larger tenants in response to changing demographics.
“I think that is a normal evolution in neighborhoods like this. There are more high-rise apartments that are trying to be and claiming to be ‘white glove’ buildings and charging premium rents,” he says, adding that his daughter is a fan of the new Ulta. “You’re not wanting for anything, nor are you left at 11 o’clock at night needing Advil and there’s nowhere to get it.”
“Nobody moves to 86th Street because they want to live in a quiet part of town,” adds Massarsky. “It’s not Park Avenue, and it never will be — but it’s so darn convenient.”