The exotic accents floating in and out of the gilded doors of 15 Central Park West betray the 19-storey limestone building as the home of well-heeled foreigners. The two-towered private residence overlooking Manhattan’s Central Park is next door to the flashy Trump International Hotel and Tower. The tight-lipped, uniformed doormen won’t say who lives here, but recent headlines confirm that Ekaterina Rybolovleva, the 22-year-old daughter of Russian billionaire and potash king Dmitry Rybolovlev, has purchased the 6,744-sq.-foot penthouse for a cool $88 million. A three-bedroom rental in the same building is currently listed at $40,000 a month. One doorman, whose own accent casts him firmly as a local, looks over his shoulder before chuckling, “Well, they ain’t from Brooklyn.”
Rybolovleva is the latest in a string of scions of oligarchs—Russian business magnates—whose families are buying up high-end real estate in New York. The cash-rich crowd has been taking advantage of the economic downturn, investing in the top tier of available properties, according to Edward Mermelstein, a lawyer specializing in high-end real estate for wealthy Russian clients. “New York has gained in popularity,” he adds. “We’re seeing a reverse of what was happening 10 years ago, where London was attracting foreign investment and keeping its immigration policies much looser than the U.S.”
Real estate prices aren’t New York’s only draw. Until recently, most of Russia’s business elite landed in London, earning it the nicknames Londongrad and Moscow on Thames. But Russia-U.K. relations have cooled considerably since the poisoning in London of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko. Immigration policies have tightened, and minigarchs have recently become a target of scorn, not just for their tabloid lifestyles. In August, four wealthy Russian youths were convicted of raping a young woman and filming the assault at south London’s Bellerbys College. Add the political unrest following Vladimir Putin’s recent election win, and it’s no wonder that the Rybolovlevs went looking further afield.
Rybolovleva joins the ranks of pioneering minigarchs, like teen fashion designer Kira Plastinina, daughter of dairy millionaire Sergei Plastinin, and Anna Anisimova, daughter of metal magnate Vasily Anisimov. Anisimova famously rented herself a summer house in the Hamptons for $600,000. Manhattan gossip blogger Stanley Stuyvesant recently penned a catty post deriding the penthouse purchase, showcasing the apartment’s floor plan and mockingly suggesting other ways Rybolovleva, who is reported to be attending an undisclosed New York university, might spend her father’s money. Despite the predictable Gossip Girl-esque scrutiny, she and her counterparts appear to be mixing well in Manhattan. New York is an easier place to fit in than London, Mermelstein muses. “It’s not like the isolation they’ve felt in the British world, where high society is very difficult to enter.”
Standing at a coffee kiosk in Central Park West, buying $3.50 lattes and cannolis, tourists visiting from North Carolina gape at Rybolovleva’s pied-à-terre in disbelief. “$88 million? You’ve got to be kidding me.” For now, they’re still an unknown quantity, but here, as in London, the minigarchs appear set to become an object of fascination and scorn.