For a look at the state of both the nation and the world, stand on West 57th Street in New York and gaze up…
to the summit of the new 90-story apartment building at 157 W. 57th Street, where a penthouse apartment has just sold for $100.5 million.
That price tag for a private residence has been matched and even exceeded elsewhere in this era when the richest 1 percent are on their way to grasping more than half of the world’s total wealth.
An estate in Beverly Hills is on the market for $195 million.
But what makes this Manhattan manse on high the ultimate symbol of our times is that its purchaser will be the beneficiary of a property-tax abatement exceeding 90 percent, totaling more than $2 million over the next decade.
The unidentified new owner of the six-bedroom, six-bathroom duplex reportedly would have started out paying more than $28,000 in property taxes a month. He or she is instead expected to pay less than $1,700.
And this comes on top of all the other tax breaks and loopholes that the ultra-rich currently enjoy.
Those larger inequalities are expected to be a prime target of President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday. He will be calling for a big hike in capital gains taxes, from 23.8 percent to 28 percent. He will further propose taxing inheritances as capital gains and ending such dodges as “The Mitt Romney Loophole,” which uses a retirement fund as a tax shelter, as the past and perhaps future Republican presidential candidate did, stashing away $21 million.
Little of that is likely to pass a Republican Congress. But even if it all did—along with some proposed new levies on the banks—the residents of 157 W. 57th Street and those other luxury buildings will still be getting a monthly property-tax bill reassuring them that life is in no serious danger of becoming fair.
What has come to be called the Billionaire’s Tower, and what calls itself One57, is described by the developer’s website as 90 stories, but by some reports is only 76. The possible exaggeration is not unreasonable if you consider the tax break the developer sought and received for the building’s mega-rich residents.
Such towering gall is at least the equivalent of 14 stories.
The tax abatement for the “Billionaire’s Tower” and four other luxury developments was originally marshaled by New York State Assemblyman Vito Lopez of Brooklyn.
But Lopez was forced from office by a sexual-harassment scandal. The measure was then squired along with a larger housing bill by State Senator Marty Golden, also of Brooklyn.
The developers of One57, a firm called Extell, clearly knew how to speak the language of Brooklyn along with every place else as expressed by political contributions.
“Extell has given a whopping $771,436 to state committees and campaigns since 2005, and spent $74,500 lobbying New York City on One57 alone,” the nonprofit Metropolitan Council on Housing reported in 2012.
Back in a far bleaker era, such property-tax breaks had been granted to encourage construction in non-prime neighborhoods. Times got better and the recipients were required to make 20 percent of the apartments affordable housing.
But under this stealthy exception, Extell would only be required to kick in $5 million for affordable housing elsewhere in exchange for more than $40 million in breaks for its Billionaire Tower in the heart of midtown.
“Much of New York’s iconography and mythology was born in this neighborhood,” the One57 website says.
The measure was stuck in amongst the larger housing bill, which had so many provisions it was nicknamed the “One Big Ugly.” It passed 55 to 7 in the senate and 139 to 7 in the house.
None of that is surprising given the present state of the nation and of the world. What is remarkable is the tackiness of the tower as seen from the street on Monday.
To be fair, the building is not quite complete and there is still some scaffolding out front.
But when that is removed the entrance will still bear an unfortunate resemblance to a swankish Holiday Inn.
And the overall structure will look like what it is: a building that sprouted from a seed of common greed and grew ever taller as it was nurtured by crass income inequality and tawdry political influence.
The line of black limos at the curb and the doormen with their discreet “One57” lapel pins did little to dispel that impression. This was no Versailles gone condo, though the message seemed to be, “Let them subsidize our cake!”
Over the course of an hour, dozens of tourists passed by. Several people did pause to take cellphone pics of Carnegie Hall across the street, a building whose elegant grace would have earned it attention even if it were not famous. Nary a soul so much as glanced at the Billionaire’s Tower.
And here they lost a great learning opportunity.
The Empire State Building imparts a sense of the city’s spirit in the face of the Great Depression.
The Freedom Tower at least tries to convey the city’s resilience after 9/11.
But the Billionaire’s Tower stands as a testament to how things are at the moment.
No Manhattan spire is less majestic than One57, despite the floor-to-ceiling windows that supposedly give folks in that $100.5 million penthouse the feeling they are living in the clouds.
The building is a heap of gall on top of a shameful giveaway and it should go on the tourist maps as such.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are coming to the Billionaire’s Tower! If you look up, up, up you will see the $100 million plus penthouse that gets a property tax break!”
And who could argue that One57 is not the perfect sight to take in after watching the State of the Union address?