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Checking In on Soho Mews: Garden Grows as Prices Fall

What we have above is a look at the completed garden area between West Broadway and Wooster Streets that connects the two buildings of Soho Mews?the new 68-unit luxury condo complex designed by the late Charles Gwathmey. The interior garden on this former parking lot just north of Canal Street is one of the building's big marketing hooks. You may recall the bag of seeds and the "Live on the only private park in Soho!" boasts. But as the building neared completion (looking far lighter than early renderings indicated, by the way), the flowers and happy thoughts were replaced by a seemingly nonstop roller coaster of rumors and bad pub, including a feisty lawsuit with the neighbors over construction complaints. Saying he wanted to clear the air, developer Albert Laboz invited us over for a tour and a chat. Of course we already had an early look in the building, but hey, anything to get out of the office.

"Put it this way," the salt-and-pepper-headed Laboz told us while standing out on a high-floor balcony. "When we started building this project, my hair was all black." Soho Mews is one of the few residential developments from the Laboz family's United American Land (they mostly dabble in commercial properties), and the various hiccups along the way combined with the bottom falling out of the luxury condo market last year have grown into major headaches. But Soho Mews is doing fine, Laboz says.

The building is in the midst of a publicity bonanza?Esquire took over two penthouses for its annual Ultimate Bachelor Pad apartment, and three of the "townhouse" units on the Wooster Street side just opened (hence the red carpet for the kick-off party) as designer show houses sponsored by a trio of home design magazines. This has created an almost nightly parade of well-heeled guests filing into the building for parties. And the recent PriceChoppage in the building seems to have had its desired effect. Here are some notes on what Laboz had to say.

1) On sales: "We lowered prices to where we believe the market is at," Laboz said, adding that the sales office saw an immediate uptick in action?to about 10 appointments per day?right after the price cuts. "We have customers that have been circling around, and we're getting offers." Laboz said the building is now 47% sold including contracts out and signed, but we all know the difficulties regarding closing sales in this climate. Which brings us to...

2) On the contract breakers: Like every developer that sold pre-construction luxury condos at the height of the market, Laboz is dealing with buyers looking to get out of their contracts. It's what he calls the Shmuck Factor. "No one wants to pay top-of-the-market prices right now and have their friends call them a shmuck." His response is to invite buyers in for walk-throughs of their apartments, making sure they see the finished product instead of kvetchng from afar. Then he's willing to negotiate a bit. Others, like the guy who no-showed at his closing and then filed a lawsuit aiming to get his deposit back, Laboz has no patience for. See you in court, buddy!

3) On the neighbors: It's best not to get the big guy worked up about the whole Stop Work Order, alleged construction damage thing. Just a taste: "We hired a construction dream team. A dream team!" "We spent $2 million on pile work!" "I'm a neighbor, my office has been in Soho for years; I don't want to damage the neighborhood!" Sore subject.

4) On delivering the goods: "You see this floor? This doesn't mean anything to us, but to people who know this stuff they'll recognize it. It's Mafi oak floors. It cost me $22 a foot. I could've went and bought the Chinese knock-off stuff for $6 a foot. The contractors kept asking me, 'Why don't you just go get the cheap stuff?' Because I promised the best, and I'll deliver it no matter what!"

So yeah, the dude is passionate about his baby. And he may be on the verge of something of a sales breakthrough. He says a "a name you would recognize" is currently negotiating to combine two of the building's townhouse-style units (which have private entrances on Wooster Street). But if it all falls apart and the lean times continue, Laboz has an answer for that, too: "We have the financial wherewithal to carry this building." To where remains to be seen.
· Soho Mews [Official Site]
· Soho Mews coverage [Curbed]