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Bagels and Luxe

A new high-end residential development is seeking to add a shine of kosher chic to the historic—if also historically downmarket—Lower East Side

Stephanie Butnick
February 27, 2012
The view from roof of the Madison Jackson building.(New York Architectual Renderings)

The view from roof of the Madison Jackson building.(New York Architectual Renderings)

Six years after developing the old Jewish Daily Forward building into luxury condos, real-estate developer Michael Bolla is back with another building that will likely be of interest to Jewish New Yorkers. The Madison Jackson building—a palatial former school designed by architect Charles Snyder in 1908 that is being turned into high-end condos—will feature an in-house vegan restaurant with a hashgacha, or kosher certification, that will also offer room service to building residents. The organic juice bar outpost in the building’s basement will also be under hashgacha.

Luxe, observant living? It’s not such a crazy idea. Situated on Madison and Jackson Streets, mere blocks from the storied Grand Street Co-ops, where many Orthodox Jews still live, the long-empty building is nestled in the heart of the Lower East Side, historically a home for Jewish immigrants and, more recently, a hub for younger Jews attracted to the vibrant cultural scene. Bolla’s newest development is an attempt to reflect this changing real-estate market while also giving more than just a passing nod to the neighborhood’s religious roots.

“You can go from being single to being married to having a child without moving,” he explained of the surprisingly spacious, high-ceilinged units with simple lofted areas housing either one or two decent-sized, malleable bedroom areas. “Within the religious community, we think about things like this,” says Bolla, an observant Jew who grew up in Saddle River, N.J., before moving to New York City. “These really are lofts in the sense that you can manipulate the space to your purposes.”

Some people are a little skeptical—including longtime Lower East Side residents, who themselves have been frustrated by one of their neighborhood’s important downsides: the lack of an eruv, the ritual enclosure installed above observant communities that permits the carrying of objects on Shabbat.

“It’s an odd project,” noted Steven I. Weiss, director of original programming and new media at the Jewish Channel who lives in the Grand Street Co-ops, “recruiting observant Jews into an ever-shrinking Orthodox community, shrinking in large part because it’s the only major Jewish neighborhood without an eruv.”

Others wondered about the pricing. The 110 loft units, projected to be ready for occupancy early this spring, are priced competitively for Manhattan, at around $750 per square foot—which compares favorably to the attention-grabbing Blue Condo five blocks north at 105 Norfolk Street, averaged at $1,157 per square foot on previous sales listings. Further west at 7 Essex, a condo on Canal Street, units sold for an average of $991 per square foot. But Jacob Goldman, the founder of Loho Realty, claims apartments in the buildings closest to the new Madison Street development—including some lower-level units in the East River and Hillman co-ops—are priced at less than $400 per square foot.

There’s also no Shabbos elevator in the new luxury building, but, as Bolla notes, the historic former school measures in at only six floors—and, even with the high ceilings, the climb should be manageable. Bolla also said he would offer to upgrade any kitchen to accommodate a second sink for a kosher kitchen, if a buyer made that request. And of course, the new building’s amenities—including a 24-hour doorman, outdoor parking, refrigerator for food deliveries, and indoor pool and gym with indoor cycling at $10 a class—should appeal to more than just Orthodox Jews. In a borough where the soaring cost of spin classes can compete with monthly rental prices, the cycling alone might be incentive enough.

Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.

Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.