Ronda Kaysen

Journalist

Pumping Iron at the Empire State Building

The Empire State Building might hold the title as the most recognizable building in the city (if not the world), but for decades its offices have been a poor second. The 102-story Art Deco tower was defamed by dropped ceilings, shag carpeting and dismal green doors. (It was also mired in endless battles over ownership, which never helped the situation.) 

But in 2006, the building began to turn a corner as management embarked on a $550 million rehab (yes, that’s more than half a billion dollars spent improving a single building.) The latest improvement: a fancy restaurant and a 15,000 square foot gym for tenants and their employees, as I reported today in the New York Times. 

Midtown East: Not Just for Happy Hour Anymore

Midtown East, a neighborhood long dismissed as a bland happy hour magnet for young office workers, is getting some new attention. A spate of new developments are rising in the neighborhood and new upscale restaurants are giving the neighborhood a sophisticated flare, as I reported in the New York Times on Sunday.

My favorite part about reporting this article was following the story of the owners of Crave, who rebuilt their restaurant after it was destroyed in a 2008 deadly crane disaster. After losing everything, the owners bought a building across the street, gut renovated it, and re-opened for business in 2010. It was such a story of resilience and commitment — and could have made for a feature in its own right. 

Two Class Buildings

Here are some of the things tenants told me for the real estate cover story I wrote this weekend for the New York Times about landlords barring some tenants from gyms, rooftops and playrooms:

"Nobody makes me a second-class citizen in my own home. I had thought that by the time I got to be classified as fragile elderly that I would not have to fight this fight.”

 “At one point I got so mad: I can store the bike in the bike room but I can’t have a key. I have to return it right away or the doormen freak out. They absolutely flip out. They just besiege me.”

“I get it, I understand it. It’s about money. But where does that end?”

Here’s what the developers said:

The new gym “is aimed specifically at new and prospective tenants who expect certain amenities and incentives that are commonly available to market-rate renters.”

“You could have people who are unwilling to buy in a situation like that. Their attorney could say, ‘I don’t know what this could do to your property value,’ ”

“The sponsor doesn’t want the tenant to have access to additional luxury services. His goal is to get him out of the apartment.”

"The two populations don’t mix at all. It really feels separate."

The Paltry Pantry Meets the Dream Kitchen

As I reported today in The New York Times: The days might be numbered for the cramped office pantry like the one featured on the television show “Mad Men” where disgruntled secretaries huddle while coffee brews. Increasingly, it is being replaced with a version more like the one the character Hannah encounters at a magazine office on HBO’s “Girls” — a sleek, open and inviting space stocked with snacks and drinks for employees to sample.

The (New) Jersey Shore

Hurricane Sandy hit the reset button on the Jersey Shore, as I reported in a New York Times Sunday Real Estate cover story this weekend. As the hardest hit areas rebuild, a new shore is taking shape, one that is replacing the shore’s blue collar character with larger, loftier homes. 

Busy as bees

In this week’s Ask Real Estate, I answered questions about beekeeping in the suburbs, getting out of a lease, and damaged curtains. Check it out, or send me your own questions!