The Second Avenue Subway: Can It Bring Sexy Back to the Upper East Side?

Brokers and developers are celebrating the event with a clutch of new projects. The Second Avenue subway line is throwing the old phrasebook out of the luxury penthouse window.

By Jeff Vasishta August 11, 2016

To hear real estate professionals talk about the old Upper East Side, in particular 1st and 2nd Avenue, you could be mistaken for thinking they were discussing some vast, featureless Siberian tundra. Words such as “desolate” and “wind-chill” are thrown into mix. But they will all be quick to tell you that advent of the 2nd Avenue subway line is throwing the old phrasebook out of the luxury penthouse window. Many of the buyers who can afford to fork out upwards of $7 million for some of the new high-end condos going up in the area, though, probably wouldn’t be caught dead on the new subway—or any subway for that matter. But brokers are celebrating the event with all the fanfare of Papal visit in Latin America.

Related: Office Tower At 7 Bryant Park Adds Commercial Glamour To A Hip Neighborhood

It’s with good reason too. It’s only taken a century for the line to come to fruition. It was first proposed back in 1920 when most people’s grandparents or great grandparents hadn’t even landed in the new world, let alone thought about taking the subway. Many were just getting used to the idea of not using a horse. Construction had been derailed by the Great Depression, World War II, the city’s financial woes in the seventies and the challenges of building in one of the densest neighborhoods in the country.

The first phase of the line is scheduled to be completed this December having been under construction since 2007. It will run between 96th Street and Second Avenue and the existing 63rd Street Lines, where it will connect to the BMT Broadway Line and the rest of the subway system. The Q train will provide full-time service on phase one and will serve about 200,000 daily riders on the new extension.

Brokers and developers are celebrating the event with a clutch of new projects. Frances Katzen, of Douglas Elliman, is the exclusive agent for The Charles, on 1355 First Avenue, between 72nd and 73rd St. This new construction consists of luxury 4 bed, 4 bath full floor residences with over 3,300 square feet. With prices just shy of $7M and up, the building is now 75 percent sold. It seems hard to imagine such a property existing before the new subway line became a reality.

Related: Top Five Apartments To Rent In Williamsburg—Despite The L Train Shutdown

If 1st Avenue was once “the bastard step-child of the Upper East Side” as Katzen jokingly refers to it, the hive of development has turned it into the Prodigal Son. 

“What we see now is a group of us pioneering into these buildings – Lux 74, The Georgica, The Brompton by Related which is at 151 East 85th St Then Corcoran’s project at 20 East End Avenue. What we’re finding is that it’s starting to shift. If the product is built well enough and has surprising views, people will consider it. There are still people who care about how it sounds. That address is not as sexy as Park or 5th or East End.”

Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation Authority

But Katzen and co. aim to bring sexy back—at least to the Upper East Side. “We’re going to do certain events with the London Hotel, possibly with Gordon Ramsey but it all honesty, the product speaks for itself. I’ve never seen full floor apartments unless it’s a penthouse. Before, the difference of being say on Lex and 1st Avenue was $1400 per square foot versus $1800. Now what we’re seeing is people can actually achieve $1600 to $1800 on First and Second Avenues.”

And you can buy a lot of Metro cards with that.

Jeff Vasishta



Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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