When Ryan Schaefer, a 38-year-old musician and set designer, decided to move into a studio at the Eugene, a 62-story glass high-rise on west 31st Street near Tenth Avenue, he was wooed by its 55,000 square feet of what the building’s website advertises as “Lifestyle & Recreational Amenities.” Every need imaginable could be met. “I’d bring guys over and we’d play air hockey,” which set the mood, he recalls, and soon he and his dates would shuffle upstairs. (Straights, he noted, gravitated toward shuffleboard.) He threw a temporary gallery show in a conference room and used the rehearsal space for his band, L’Amour Bleu. And then there was the 16,000-square-foot La Palestra gym, complete with a regulation basketball court and a rock-climbing wall. “They even have eucalyptus-scented towels,” Schaefer recalls. The smell still lingers in Schaefer’s sense memory even months after the Eugene’s lease-bait pleasure-domes were sealed up as a result of the pandemic and he was stuck inside his home.
The great Amenities War of the 2010s led to all manner of in-house recreational facilities designed to attract the sort of resident who would, if at all possible, rather never venture out. First came the gyms — next came the pools, and then the lounges, screening rooms, yoga studios, libraries, children’s rooms; every luxury building was pitted against all the others in a race to the top. Twenty blocks north of the Eugene at Waterline Square, there’s even a half pipe for skaters and a recording studio designed by the luminaries at the Record Plant. These new buildings became self-contained worlds — somewhere between vertical college campuses and cruise ships forever moored. They were designed for the app generation for whom the thought of venturing out into the hectic, crowded world (as opposed to ordering in) was unappealing. But now the buildings are struggling to keep their manically socializing residents entertained during this endless age of social-distancing. Especially since they are still paying for all this stuff.
What was a bummer for residents was catastrophic for Michael Fazio, the chief creative officer of LIVunLtd, a programming outfit founded in 2002 that runs amenities for over 200 luxury apartment buildings (including the Eugene). LIVunLtd is the invisible hand proffering a slate of events including grilled-cheese bars ($2,350), floral-arranging workshops ($3,500), and a “Winter is Coming” party ($850) complete with goblets and medieval-themed décor. But now they don’t have much to do. “We just panicked like everybody else,” says Fazio. In a normal year, LIVunLtd would schedule 200 events a month. In August of this year, that number plummeted to 52.
But it’s not for lack of trying. Recently, Fazio has — like strippers and teachers, students and preachers — moved his business online. “There seems to be a lot more value — and slightly sentimental value as well — in our doing virtual activities that are just for our group,” says Fazio (by “our group” he means the renters). “They’re very exclusive.” These days, residents can log on to Zoom with a personal meeting code to attend private virtual activities and events. And many of them have done so — according to Fazio, over 2,485 residents have participated. “We’ve done cooking classes. We’ve done virtual mixology. Culinary and spirits are like puppies and babies for us,” he says. Among the most popular events, Fazio says, were a dance class for kids led by Alicia Albright (an understudy for Queen Iduna of Frozen) and an advice session with Lindsay Tanne, a college-admissions specialist. “We’ve had a psychic come on and talk about what’s next for New York City,” says Fazio.
What did she have to say? Well, her name is Rebecca Gordon, and she is actually an astrologer — not a psychic. But, in any case, she wasn’t reassuring. “The chart of New York City is going through tremendous upheaval,” she said, “Since January, Pluto has been on the planet Mercury and Pluto will be at that specific place until December, meaning our city remains in a state of reconstruction until then.” After that, says Gordon, “we will begin to see more decentralization of power in terms of social events and people collaborating in brand new ways using technology.”
Meanwhile, the Eugene’s website (the homepage of which reads: “Welcome to the You Generation”) still opens to photos of its inviting, forbidden, hotel-like lounge, complete with a fireplace that belongs in a ski lodge and a baby grand piano with it’s lid propped open — not that you could actually play it. Unsurprisingly, the building appears eager to make a deal: “Rent by 8/31 and receive up to 3 months free and a $1,000 gift card!”