Art Exhibits as the Condo Sales Pitch

Condo developers are using artwork to create marketing buzz, lure in buyers, and in some cases assuage neighborhood resentment over new buildings.

A gritty alleyway in San Francisco’s Lower Polk neighborhood will be transformed into “Art Spot,” a free gallery that will display dynamic, rotating art installations featuring local artists and host community events. The benefactor: a condo developer.

Trumark Urban, the creator of Art Spot, is designing a 107-unit building near Polk and Pine, slated for completion in the Spring of 2016. The company, like a number of other high-end developers, sees integrating art into public spaces as a way of making friends in the neighborhood while appealing to luxury buyers—a “win-win” for the community and developer, said Trumark managing director Arden Hearing. Trumark has also been sponsoring a monthly neighborhood gallery tour for the past two years in the same area.

In an age when having a gym, rooftop terrace, high ceilings or expansive terrace no longer distinguishes a high-end condo project, developers are hoping their one-of-a-kind art will create marketing buzz, lure in buyers, and in some cases assuage neighborhood resentment over new buildings.

At 350 Bleecker in New York’s West Village, apartment owners enjoy ever-changing exhibits in their lobby. Two real estate agents who live in the building, Maura and Robert Geils, dedicate about two days every six weeks to tracking down talent, hanging work and hosting an opening party for 50 to 75 people. Some of the works have sold to the public for up to $8,000, according to Ms. Geils, who said neither she nor the building takes a commission.

“We’re passionate about art,” Ms. Geils said, adding that it is good for business, too, since the Geilses have handled several sales in the building.

“It puts us in a niche. We might stage a loft with some of the art. We bring clients to the openings. One of my clients purchased here, and one of the contributing factors to her purchase was that she really liked the changing scene in the lobby,” Ms. Geils said.

The Schumacher, in downtown Manhattan and slated for completion in late 2014, hired SoHo gallery owner Cristina Grajales to commission original pieces of artwork and furnishings for common areas, such as a front desk made by French designer Christophe Côme and a large painting by José Parlá.

The effort appears to have paid off, said John Gomes of Douglas Elliman, which is the exclusive sales agent.

Two of the early buyers in the building are Alberto Mugrabi, a major Andy Warhol dealer, and Aby Rosen, a noted contemporary art collector, said Mr. Gomes. Together, they have bought $29 million worth of property in the Schumacher, he said.

The Greenwich Lane, a 200-unit condo development that spans five buildings and five townhouses in the West Village, has decorated the walls of its sales office a few blocks away with a 32-work collection privately owned by Beth Rudin DeWoody, executive vice president of developer Rudin Management Co.

“Beth’s artwork allows people to sense that they are walking into their homes or homes they wished they lived in,” rather than a typical sales office, said Samantha Rudin, vice president of Rudin Management.

In Miami, condos touting art have spawned a kind of arms race in which developers vie to offer the most impressive program, local luxury brokers say. No project takes it further than Faena House, which will be completed late next year and is selling for about $3,000 a square foot. The buildings will sit across from the Faena Arts Center, an exhibition space currently under construction for $100 million. Faena homeowners are entitled to walk-throughs before exhibits open to the public and will be invited to dinners with visiting artists, said Ximena Caminos, creative director for the developer, Faena Group. Developer Alan Faena, who sponsors an annual art award with prize money of up to $75,000, will commission work from visiting artists, which will be displayed in and around the building. “The building itself is a work of art and they will be living in an art environment,” said Mr. Faena.

Developers are using art to communicate subtle marketing concepts. The Bond at Brickell, a midtier condo building that broke ground this month in Miami, is aiming for “London glamour,” said Diego Ojeda, vice president of Rilea Group, the developer. Garden topiaries and a red phone booth imported from England will do part of the job of communicating that style, but the focus will be a collection of nine images featuring celebrities from the 1960s and 1970s, such as Michael Caine, Mick Jagger and Twiggy. The images, taken by photographer Terry O’Neill, will hang in the lobby, lounge and gym, Mr. Ojeda said.

For real-estate agents, drawing buyers’ attention to a building’s art without turning the pitch into a museum docent’s spiel is an art unto itself.

Dario Stoka, a sales associate at Zilbert International Realty in Miami, is careful not to sound didactic or preachy, he said. “The buyers pick up on the experience” without his help, Mr. Stoka said, though he will point out works with “wow factor.”

In some projects, home buyers will become the owners of the art. At Chicago’s Ritz-Carlton Residences, buyers in the spring began closing on apartments listed for $1 million to about $11 million as well as on their share of a roughly half-million dollar, seven-piece art collection. The collection features mostly work by local artists commissioned by art consultant Elizabeth “Lee” Kelley Karpowicz, but also includes two photographs by Vik Muniz, a noted Brazilian artist. The art, displayed in common areas, is collectively owned by the homeowners, who could conceivably opt to change it or sell it and divide the proceeds, said director for sales Jane Shawkey, of Coldwell Banker.

When they are completed in 2016, apartments at the Oceana Bal Harbour in South Florida will come with ownership of two Jeff Koons sculptures, which the developer commissioned for $14 million. After a fiveyear waiting period, the works could be sold upon an 80% majority vote of homeowners, who would also vote on how to use the proceeds, said Ernesto Cohen, sales director for developer Consultatio USA.

To capitalize on the cachet of art, real-estate agents are haunting the big global art shows. Oren Alexander, Douglas Elliman’s senior vice president in charge of sales for Faena House, flew to Hong Kong for Art Basel in May and called Art Basel Miami “the biggest week in my business.” His company sponsored a booth at the fair, he said. “We understand that’s where are our buyers are,” he said.

Wall Street Journal
Katy McLaughlin

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Lower Polk Art Walk