The Bahamas on the Radar

Monday January 27th, 2014
The geometric Honeycomb condominium, near a marina in the Bahamas, is expected to break ground this summer.

The geometric Honeycomb condominium, near a marina in the Bahamas, is expected to break ground this summer.

For several years, wealthy New Yorkers, even those relatively unscathed by the financial crisis, seemed to put their second-home dreams on hold. But as the real estate market in the city has strengthened, many of these high-end buyers have started shopping for beachfront retreats again.

The Albany, a luxury resort in the Bahamas with boldface names like Tiger Woods and Ernie Els for investors, hopes to capitalize on this latest trend. And for a direct link between New York and this development, Howard M. Lorber, the chairman of Douglas Elliman and the chief executive of the investment firm New Valley, is developing a midrise condominium there. This is the first time that Mr. Lorber, who is based in New York, is developing in the Bahamas and also the first time Douglas Elliman is marketing there.

“This is New York in the Bahamas,” said Horacio LeDon, a Douglas Elliman broker who is heading up the marketing effort for Honeycomb, the condo being developed by Mr. Lorber and the Tavistock Group, Albany’s developer.

Named for the geometric pattern of its facade, Honeycomb was designed by the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, who also designed a pyramid-shaped apartment complex being developed by Durst Fetner Residential on West 57th Street. The Honeycomb is expected to break ground this summer, and when it opens in the first half of 2016, each of the 34 apartments will have a private terrace with a pool. The units will range in size from 3,000 to 8,000 square feet, and will be priced from $3 million to $12.5 million.

“The idea was to give each home a really generous balcony, including a small pool,” said Mr. Ingels, 39, who founded the Bjarke Ingels Group, “so you can sit there almost as if it is an outdoor living room.” The design is interlacing so that each pool seems to sink into the level below. “This distorts the regular rectangular facade into a pattern of interlocking hexagons that makes it look like undulating honeycomb and gives it its distinctive character,” he said.

The Honeycomb condominium will join three other new buildings, each by relatively well-known architects, including Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman, HKS of Dallas and Morris Adjmi of New York. These buildings have already sold out and are expected to open this year. The condominiums cluster around the marina, which is designed to harbor extra-large yachts, and to offer unimpeded views of the expansive ocean. The condominiums are part of the resort’s master plan, by Andrés Duany, who is perhaps best known as the designer of the planned community of Seaside, Fla.

The resort, which opened in 2010, is named for Albany House, a historic pink mansion on the 600-acre property that served as the home of the arch-villain Alex Dimitrios in the 2006 remake “Casino Royale,” the James Bond movie. On the island of New Providence, and close to Nassau, the capital, the Albany has sprawling beachfront villas, multiple restaurants, a gym outfitted for professional athletes, a championship golf course designed by Mr. Els, and an equestrian center. The two golf superstars, Mr. Woods and Mr. Els, are the Albany’s second- and third-largest investors.

The owners hope that this next stage of the development will extend the Albany’s reach beyond professional athletes, industry leaders and pop stars, to New Yorkers more generally. The Honeycomb will be one of four midrise buildings rising in a mini-city within the community. As with the private homes that are part of the resort, the owners of these apartments can choose to put their units in a hotel system to rent them out. Prices per night on the homes and apartments range from $3,500 to $30,000. The largest shareholder of the Albany is the British billionaire Joe Lewis, who was ranked the 308th richest person by Forbes last year and who made a fortune betting on the currency markets with George Soros. The Albany broke ground in 2008, just as Lehman Brothers was collapsing and the financial crisis was taking hold. Many other resorts in the area that had been under construction at the time stalled, but the Albany continued to push ahead, buoyed by Mr. Lewis’s deep pockets.

Now that bet seems to be paying off. The resort is capitalizing on a resurgent interest in second homes among New Yorkers and wealthy Americans in general. “We are seeing an increase in American second-home owners coming to the Bahamas, especially over the past six months,” said a real estate broker in Nassau.

Jonathan J. Miller, the president of the appraisal firm Miller Samuel and the author of research reports for Douglas Elliman Real Estate, said the trend began more than two years ago. “Luxury real estate is the new global currency,” said Mr. Miller, noting that data on the trend were hard to come by, because in many vacation areas, public documents are not required. “Everything is anecdotal,” he added.

Mr. Lorber said he first visited the Albany in 2008, when Raphael De Niro, a broker at his firm and a son of the actor Robert De Niro, rented Albany House for his wedding ceremony. Last year Mr. Lorber returned to the resort and was amazed by the variety of amenities. “There were two beach clubs, one for kids and one just for adults,” he said. “It was all very family-oriented — it was like a newer, hipper Lyford Cay.” He was referring to the exclusive gated community on the island. Mr. Lorber said he had noticed that many of the original buyers were selling their homes for 50 percent to 80 percent more than they had paid just three years earlier, “and so I told them I’d love to have some ownership in the project as well as do the sales.”

It is the first time that the Albany’s ownership has developed a building on the property with an outside firm. As for hiring brokers to market the units, “we have found that most brokers don’t deliver,” said Christopher Anand, the fourth-largest shareholder in the Albany and a senior managing director of the Tavistock Group. “We have had very little help from outside agencies, selling over 150 properties mostly through our own networks of friends and acquaintances. But when you have skin in the game, where you are a shareholder as well as a broker, there tends to be a much greater rate of success.”

“The idea with having Douglas Elliman on board is that the New York buyer hasn’t been addressed,” Mr. LeDon said. “Wealthy New Yorkers have been going down to the Bahamas for quite some time, and all without any proper marketing. We aim to change that.”

From the perspective of the Manhattan market, in which many new residential developments are asking $7,000 to $8,000 a square foot, these oceanfront condos are relatively inexpensive, Mr. Lorber said. With closing costs and other expenditures, apartments at the Honeycomb cost roughly $1,600 to $1,700 a square foot. “Who else is going to think these prices are cheap for a home on the ocean except New Yorkers?” he said. “It used to be that New York looked cheap compared to other places, but now, for New Yorkers, many other areas are beginning to look like a deal.”

Sales began this month, and Mr. Lorber has been fielding inquiries about the project. “We are already talking to a few people, and we will have New York buyers without question.”

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