Billionaire’s Row refers to a strip of luxury skyscrapers clustered around 57th Street between Columbus Circle and Park Avenue. Some of these buildings are among the tallest in the world and the most expensive. Many of these skyscrapers are considered within the “supertall” category, meaning they’re over 1,000 feet in height. But they tend to be very slender, as well, because of the scarcity and high cost of prime Manhattan real estate.
The development of Billionaire’s Row began in 2009 with the construction of One57, a supertall luxury apartment building between 6th and 7th Avenue that was completed in 2014. This was followed shortly after by the construction of similar buildings, including 432 Park Avenue, 252 East 57th Street, and 111 West 57th. Today, about eight of these luxury buildings are part of Billionaire’s Row.
There is no official requirement that one must be a billionaire to live in one of these ultra-luxury estates. But, the units are so expensive that it would be difficult for anyone without that kind of net worth to afford to live there, hence the billionaire's row name.
For instance, the listing prices at One57 range from 4.2 million for a studio to over $100 million for a penthouse apartment. So, anyone who wishes to own one of these luxury units must have a significant amount of disposable cash or enough income to qualify for a loan that large. Meaning even some multi-millionaires would struggle to afford such a hefty price tag.
These units are not your typical Manhattan apartments with cramped living spaces and tiny bedrooms. Instead, residences often encompass an entire floor with the elevator leading straight into the apartment rather than into a shared hallway area.
Developers on Billionaire’s Row aren’t just selling real estate; they’re marketing a lifestyle of luxury and exclusivity. The name is meant to signal to potential buyers that the area is designed specifically for affluent residents.
But there are only so many people who can afford that kind of lifestyle. As a result, developers have struggled with a high rate of vacancies. While plenty of wealthy individuals have purchased units in these luxury skyscrapers, the demand is not nearly high enough to keep up with the supply.
As the name suggests, the area is home to some of the city’s most affluent residents. The average sales price for a home in one of these luxury buildings is over 22 million, making them unaffordable to even some of the city’s richest residents.
Therefore, the enclave tends to attract wealthy business moguls, hedge fund managers, corporate executives, and celebrities. But part of what has made the development so controversial is that many of the units are home to no one at all and sit vacant for most of the year.
Many of those who purchase a unit on Billionaire’s Row use it as a pied a terre, a secondary residence only frequented a few times per year when the owner is in the city. Plus, it’s also common for wealthy foreigners to purchase properties along Billionaire’s Row to use as tax havens or to protect their money from intervening forces. They often purchase these units anonymously using a shell corporation and may never actually visit the property itself.
In 2016, the government pledged to keep track of these anonymous buyers to crack down on any potential for illicit activity. But that doesn’t mean they’ve been made more accessible for average New York City residents. As of 2022, nearly half of the units on Billionaire’s Row remain empty.
This has made the development quite controversial among affordable housing advocates in New York who claim that the exorbitant prices do nothing but drive up the already overinflated property values in nearby areas.
The onset of the coronavirus pandemic created a softening in demand for luxury real estate in New York. Many wealthy residents fled to the suburbs to avoid crime and other unfavorable conditions created by the lockdowns. This led to a serious halt in demand for properties along Billionaire’s Row, especially the units in the eight-figure price range.
Additional contributing factors in the slump in demand include Chinese legislation restricting foreign investment, a drop in oil prices in the Middle East, and political uncertainty in Europe over Brexit. As a result, the pool of potential buyers for units on Billionaire’s Row has significantly decreased. At the moment, there are over 700 units in the luxury complex that are sitting vacant.
This has led many to declare that Billionaire’s Row is effectively dead. Developers have continued to market the existing units, and there are still many apartments that are occupied by the rich and famous. But currently, there are no plans to erect any new supertall buildings in the area. Whether or not this means the project is dead forever is yet to be seen. But it doesn’t seem to be the landmark success that many developers had hoped it would be.