Credit: Image Courtesy of Gehry Partners, LLP

Shrouded in secrecy behind a curtain wall during construction, New York by Gehry welcomed its first official move-ins this week at the 78-story, 903-unit Lower East Side apartment tower billed as the tallest residential building in the Americas. Designed by architect Frank Gehry and developed by Cleveland, Ohio-based Forest City, the glass and stainless steel clad building has more than 200 unique floor plans to satisfy a prospect list of more than 3,000 interested renters.

“We started scheduling broker tours in the second week of February, and our brokerage outreach combined with web marketing has resulted in over 3,000 prospects,” says Susi Yu, a spokesperson for the project. “So we are scheduling appointments now with that list of people who wanted a first-in-line opportunity to see the building and rent here. We’ve had 500 appointments so far for our first release of 120 units, so the response has been great. This is the equivalent of three standard-sized Manhattan rental buildings, and we’re expecting to be stabilized within two years.”

Not bad for a building commanding rents of $2,630 per month for studios, $3,580 per month for one-bedrooms, and $5,945 per month for two-bedroom apartments. According to Yu, the leasing team is benchmarking Silver Towers, Larry Silverstein’s 930-unit project at 42nd Street and 11th Ave., which stabilized within 20 months. “That’s what we are hoping for,” Yu says “We are still in the low volume leasing season and are expecting greater volume in May through July, but to date, and the response has been great.”

If absorption at the Gotham Organization’s latest tower—The Corner at 200 West 72nd Street—is any indication of wider Manhattan lease-up trajectories, New York by Gehry might need to put on some extra shifts. Even with rents hitting $18,500 per month, New York City-based Gotham leased up 192 of 196 apartments in just seven months.

“People snapped up the studios, one-, and two-bedrooms very quickly,” says Gotham vice president of marketing Katherine Sabroff. “Obviously, the location at 72nd and Broadway is very iconic, and it's been fantastic to achieve these kinds of numbers on the project, but the absorption was a stunning revelation. It hasn’t been the best economy for any city in the United States.”

Gotham also credits leading success to brokerage outreach, a must in the Manhattan market, where brokers are typically vetting properties in advance of client on-site visits. “The brokerage community is critical, particularly at the high end,” Sabroff says. “You need to encourage the brokerage community to engage with the property and buy into it.”

To that end, Gotham got creative with its marketing, handing out “The Corner” chocolate bars that featured the building’s amenities as the listed ingredients. For brokers lucky enough to also find a golden ticket in their candy bar, Gotham handed out brand new iPads—simple, but effective. “iPads will drive traffic,” Sabroff says.

New York by Gehry also relied on a non-traditional marketing strategy prior to lease-up. Other than a minimalist splash-page website, the project was careful not to release any information until Christmas of 2010, when a two minute film was shown as a trailer in Manhattan movie theaters.

“We purposefully shrouded the construction of the building from the public eye and were been careful not to release information about the project,” Yu says. “On Christmas Eve, we ran the film about the building with Mr. Gehry talking about the design and ending with a resident sitting in a unit in the sky overlooking the panorama that is NYC. Our web traffic shot from almost nothing to 5,000 hits per day.”

According to Yu, the Manhattan market has passed stabilization with vacancy just above 1 percent, which further bodes well for the lease up at New York by Gehry. “We’ve had no pushback on rents yet,” Yu says. “The market is going in a positive direction.”