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New benchmark for luxury living

Mandarin Oriental's posh rentals are likely to fill quickly, even in slump

A seventh-floor apartment at the Residences at Mandarin Oriental, Boston, offers a decent view along with dog walking and other amenities. A seventh-floor apartment at the Residences at Mandarin Oriental, Boston, offers a decent view along with dog walking and other amenities. (Globe Staff / Yoon S. Byun)
Email|Print| Text size + By Kimberly Blanton
Globe Staff / March 9, 2008

Who would pay $12,500 a month to rent a two-bedroom, seventh-floor apartment with a few granite and marble countertops and a decent - though hardly spectacular - view of Boston's Back Bay?

"There are a number of people who can afford what this is and understand what we're delivering," said the building's developer, Stephen Weiner.

Indeed, this is not just any apartment. It is one of 25 rental units that will be available in July at the city's poshest new address, the Residences at Mandarin Oriental, Boston.

While the rest of the real estate market remains mired in a slump, the Mandarin provides another reminder of how the rich are different: Already a long list of possible renters are queuing up to pay sky-high rents for the type of services offered by the city's latest high-water mark in luxury, services delivered by the operator of one of the world's most luxurious hotel chains, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. The services include takeout food from Sel de la Terre's boulangerie and charcuterie, or room service from restaurants within the Mandarin complex, dog walking, laundry services, and other amenities.

Already, all 50 of Mandarin's condos, priced between $2 million and $12 million, have sold. Buyers included Chad Gifford, the former chief executive of FleetFinancial Group Inc., and car dealer Herb Chambers.

Nearing the completion of construction on Boylston Street, next to the Prudential Center shopping mall, the Mandarin complex is a blockwide structure. The $240 million project was developed by Weiner's firm, CWB Boylston, in partnership with Mandarin.

His partners at CWB Boylston are Julian Cohen, who developed the high-end Mall at Chestnut Hill, and Robin Brown, who was concierge to the city's elite during his 14 years as the manager of the Four Seasons overlooking the Boston Common. Brown was the one who could find a spare window table on a busy evening at the hotel's Aujourd'hui restaurant or plan a party for a hard-to-please chief executive.

Mandarin tenants will pay some of the highest rents in the city for Weiner's meticulous attention to detailed designs and Mandarin Oriental's pampering. Mandarin's New York hotel charges dearly for those services - a modest room is $900 a night.

Brokers and real estate experts predict the Boston apartments will rent quickly, because there is a shortage of luxury rentals after an era of unprecedented condo development. Even amid a general real estate slowdown, the market for such expensive units has been strong as downtown Boston has become a popular home or second home for wealthy baby boomers.

Mandarin's apartments are located on the fourth through eighth floors of the 14-story building, below the condos. Rents will start at $6,000 a month for a one-bedroom unit and go as high as $12,500 for two bedrooms.

"That doesn't sound outrageous to me," said Debra Taylor Blair, president of Listing Information Network, which tracks Boston's condo market.

A monthly mortgage payment equal to these rents could finance a $1 million or $2 million home. But that's not the way to think about it, Blair said.

First, the tenants will be the ultrarich, for whom the Mandarin's comforts are worth paying for. Second, they may be moving into a new job and in need of housing for just a short period. For example, a Boston-area company may rent one for a new chief executive commuting back and forth to his family living in another state. Third, hard as this may be, Blair suggested viewing the rents through this perspective: "Some people's condo fee is $6,000 a month - like at the Mandarin."

Geoffrey Gibbons, who handles expensive rentals in Back Bay for Coldwell Banker, had no problem imagining who would shell out Mandarin's high rents: private equity and hedge-fund managers, professional athletes, wealthy international families in media, oil, or financial services or technology - or their children attending college in Boston.

He said the Mandarin's rents will be the highest - $7.50 per square foot - among downtown's prestigious addresses, including The Four Seasons Boston, One Charles, and The Belvedere. Apartments on the middle floors of the 20-story Ritz-Carlton Boston Common rent for about $5 a square foot.

Gibbons is trying to rent a penthouse he listed two months ago in Tower 1 of the Ritz-Carlton Boston Common for $30,000 a month. With 4,400 square feet of space, that's $6.80 a square foot for a sprawling unit with four bedrooms, six bathrooms, and 12-foot ceilings. In contrast to Mandarin's apartment, the top of the Ritz has sweeping skyline views.

The luxury in Mandarin's modern apartments is "very crisp and understated," said Arthur Dion, owner of Gallery Naga on Newbury Street, which provided fine artwork for the model apartment, a seventh-floor unit that was also decorated with modern furniture from Ligne Roset.

Each apartment has a foyer - to make the residences more homey - and a separate dining room. Master bedrooms all have a walk-in closet and gleaming, white-marble countertops surround two sinks; the second bedroom has a private bathroom, too. The unit's floor-to-ceiling windows are sound-proofed, effectively shutting out the street noises below.

The Mandarin is adjacent to the Prudential Center's familiar escalators on Boylston Street, which carry shoppers into the mall. Condo and apartment dwellers have a sort of "backdoor" to the Prudential Center from the third floor of the Mandarin that will lead directly into an area being developed for luxury shops.

Brown, with a hard hat on, whisked down the hall and opened the door. He noted tenants will be able to walk indoors all the way to Barneys or to the platform of the Acela Express train to Manhattan - and, he added, "You don't need a coat."

Kimberly Blanton can be reached at blanton@globe.com.

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