Making Stuy Town Hip

Hip isn’t the first word that comes to mind upon mention of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village.

But the new owners of the mega-complex are hoping for younger tenants as they re-brand the property and continue to change some of the stodgier rules that have defined life at the development.

Some changes, such as opening up the lawns for play and sunbathing, have ruffled feathers and exposed a culture clash between newcomers and the old guard, who object to the more raucous atmosphere youthful residents bring.

In 2006, Tishman Speyer and BlackRock Realty made headlines when they bought Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town from MetLife for $5.4 billion, the largest single property sale in U.S. history. Sandwiched between the Veterans Affairs Medical Center on East 23rd Street and Alphabet City, the sprawling 80-acre complex of 110 buildings ranging from 12 to 15 stories was built after World War II, and was designed as housing for veterans and city workers.

In an effort to inject a bit of hipness and fill vacant apartments in the massive property, which has the appearance of a middle-class housing project, the new owners have created a marketing campaign touting a more sophisticated and youthful image. The marketing also makes use of the surrounding neighborhood, suggesting the blocks around the complex lend it some coolness.

A flurry of other changes announced last month also signals that the owners have a new attitude. Tishman opened a new health club located in space once occupied by a supermarket; it offered a month of free rent to signers of new annual leases and eliminated a rigid restriction on pets. For the first time in the complex’s history, cats and dogs up to 90 pounds are allowed if owners pay a onetime $250 fee.

The end of a MetLife prohibition on using the lawn for playing and sunbathing has sparked some indignation from longtime residents, who are unused to seeing bikini-clad young women lying on the grass outside.

Dividing the complexes

To create the marketing campaign, Tishman Speyer brought in branding firm G2 to develop a distinct identity for Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, starting with separating the two complexes in its print ads and brochures.

“That was the longest brand name in the world,” said Rodger DiPasca, senior partner at G2, a part of Grey Global Group, which has worked with Rockrose Development, Blue Star Jets, Absolut and Cachet clothing stores.

The makeover team created two distinct logos and taglines: “Redefine Manhattan Living” (Peter Cooper Village) and “Love Your Space” (Stuy Town).

“If you stood at the corner of First Avenue and 20th Street, the dividing line between the two, you’d think there was no difference,” said DiPasca. “You have to enter the properties to appreciate what makes them different.”

Apartments are larger in Peter Cooper Village, where the buildings form a zig-zag pattern. The buildings at Stuyvesant Town are positioned around ovals, communal hubs that encourage interaction.

New Web sites attempt to appeal to a distinct demographic envisioned for each property. For Peter Cooper Village, ads seem targeted to married couples in their 30s and families by promoting its proximity to Gramercy Park, connoting a high-end vibe. Text on the property’s new Web site reads, “80 acres of tranquility right here in Manhattan.”

To try and attract younger renters, Stuyvesant Town is presented as a civilized extension of the perennially hip East Village. The first line that pops up on the Web site reads, “Closer to Greenwich Village than to Greenwich, Conn.”

One promo photo for Stuy Town, used in a recent series of print ads in daily newspapers, depicts a stylishly disheveled couple in their late 20s lounging on the sofa, the woman holding a glass of wine. Views of a model interior feature funky furniture and bright colors.

On the new Peter Cooper Village Web site, marble bathrooms and more substantial wood furniture predominate. The couple shown drinking wine is older and more formally dressed than their counterparts on the Stuy Town site. Children, noticeably absent on the Stuy Town site, are featured prominently in Peter Cooper collateral.

As listed on the sites, monthly rents at Peter Cooper Village start at $3,275 for a one-bedroom and $4,450 for a two-bedroom. One-bedrooms at Stuyvesant Town begin at $2,750; two-bedrooms fetch $3,800.

Close, but not too close

The marketing strategy makes sense, especially for a property that likely lacks cachet among younger tenants, said historian Barry Lewis, whose New York City-themed walking tours have aired on PBS.

“When you’re 25, you want to live where the action is, but when you near your 30s, the charm of living in a place where all of New Jersey and Long Island comes to get rowdy in the streets wears off,” said Lewis. “You want to be close to the bars and the restaurants, but not too close.”

His uncle lived in Stuyvesant Town, and “going there from our little apartment along the L train at the Brooklyn-Queens border, it was like paradise,” he said. “His apartment was much brighter, and there were playgrounds, open space and promenades.”

Three years ago, Justin Hoffman, 28, lived in a small studio on Bleecker Street. “It was outrageously loud and annoying to live there,” he said.

He found out about a $2,200 a month one-bedroom at Peter Cooper Village on the Internet. He was familiar with the property because he used to live in a dorm on East 25th Street when he attended law school.

“To me, it was a place where people spent years on a waiting list to get rent-controlled apartments, but when I heard that I could live there, I liked the idea of having a real apartment,” Hoffman said. “They’ve done a nice job renovating the complex, but it is what it is — an older building without any modern bells or whistles.”

He chafed when his rent went up to $2,700 after his first lease ran out, but he didn’t want to deal with the hassle of moving. He lauded the location, since he runs along the East River promenade, and when he wants to go out, he can easily hail a cab on First Avenue.

Stereos blaring

Many other twentysomethings have also taken to Stuyvesant Town, in some cases to the chagrin of existing tenants.

“They build pressurized walls and stuff four people into two bedrooms,” said longtime resident Soni Fink. “They come out in the hall to talk on their cellphones because there’s no privacy in their apartments and their stereos are blaring all night. This place is not like it used to be.”

The complex consists of about 70 percent rent-stabilized units; the rest go for market rate, said Al Doyle, president of the tenants association, who has lived there his entire life.
“The number of rent-stabilized tenants is dwindling,” Doyle said. “We’ve had a lot of senior citizens who have left for retirement homes, or moved out for medical reasons, or they’ve expired.”

Published reports place the vacancy rate at 5 to 10 percent.

“At Stuyvesant Town, the first thing you think of isn’t necessarily hip or happening, but the demographics are changing,” said Daniel Garodnick, city council member and lifelong resident of Peter Cooper Village. “I see more grad students and young professionals around here every day, but there are also a lot of empty apartments.”



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