By Annette Hinkle
After more than 20 public hearings, a three year approval process, the world-wide economic meltdown and five years of recession, last Thursday, the Sag Harbor community got its first look at what will eventually be 64 luxury apartments and townhouses at Watchcase, the redevelopment project currently underway to transform the historic Bulova Watchcase factory into condominiums.
Originally built by Joseph Fahys in 1881, the building is being re-developed by the Cape May, N.J. firm Cape Advisors. With construction currently underway at a heavy clip throughout most of the site, unveiled on a press tour last Thursday morning and another for the local business community later in the day, was the completed model unit for Watchcase. A third floor, 2,000 square foot penthouse unit at the factory’s north end with two bedrooms, living room with wood-burning fireplace and gourmet kitchen on the lower level, a set of stairs leads to a private rooftop garden overlooking Washington and Main streets with water views to the north.
And make no mistake, those views are fabulous. The price tag? Four million dollars.
“We saw something very special when we bought this building,” said Curtis Bagshaw, a principle in Cape Advisors. “We put a world-class design team together to bring it back to what it could be.”
As reflected by the model unit, the new apartments will retain a great deal of the flavor of the 19th century factory. Exposed brick walls, original southern yellow pine timber beams, many original and restored or like 20,000 of the factory’s bricks, repurposed. Wide plank oak flooring speaks to the structure’s industrial past, as do ceiling heights which will be from 10 to 12 feet.
But perhaps the most notable feature are the seven foot tall, six-over-six windows which line three sides of the apartment and bring in an enormous amount of natural light.
“We started in ’06 with Cape Advisors and I remember the walk around,” said design architect Jack Beyer of Beyer Blinder Belle Architects. “It was a deteriorating hulk of a building and a big parking lot. It was an acre of building and an acre of lot.”
“Most of the concepts evolved that day,” he added. “This was a factory where workers handled gold, precious metal and watchcases. Workers needed light and air. The benches were right next to the light sources.”
“It was beautifully full of windows, the beams, wooden floors, the ceiling height,” added Beyer. “The sills were high, so we raised the floor and put the mechanical equipment below the floor.”
Because the need for light was so great for workers in the 19th century, the width of the factory’s floors was not — and to avoid the need for corridors that would further narrow the spaces, the architects developed a series of entrances for the apartments.
For interior designer Steven Gambrel, the challenge was how to balance the building’s industrial architecture with the need for it to feel like home.
“I wanted to figure out how to work with the muscular architecture and give it a domestic quality,” noted Gambrel. “I needed to find materials to handle the weight of the architectural materials.
Kitchens feature custom gray oak cabinetry with bronze hardware, sawn edge marble countertops and stone surfaces in kitchen and baths.
“One personal challenge was how to build kitchens and baths people won’t take out,” said Gambrel. “They’re part of the story, just like you’re inheriting the brick walls and beams.”
“I’m excited to see what happens with the different units. The model hits both notes. It doesn’t compete with the architecture and has the domestic feel to it,” added Gambrel. “I wanted it to feel you could move in and not be overly icy. It feels like it’s always been there, which was the goal.”
Fourteen penthouse units will each have roof gardens, and one unique aspect of the factory building are the eight granite vaults, including one that will be in the lobby of the building, which were used to store precious metals and are being repurposed in a variety of ways in the new construction.
In the lobby, which has yet to be constructed, the vault will be used as a bar. In the morning, residents can get coffee on their way to the underground parking garage and in the evening, local wineries will offer tastings. Also in the lobby, the factory’s original chimney will be transformed into a two sided fireplace.
With its decidedly urban feel, its proximity to the village and a full concierge service, Corcoran real estate agent Cee Scott Brown noted the property presents a unique opportunity for buyers interested in the Hamptons.
Already, 43 percent of the units in the factory building are in contract and James Lansill, a senior managing director of the Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group, noted there’s “nothing comparable” on the market and that 880 potential buyers fill a five-year-old waiting list.
But who, exactly, are those buyers expected to be?
“We’ve had strong inquiries from non-Americans,” said Brown. “In the next week, I feel there will be more in that direction.”
Brown added other potential buyers include local residents who no longer want to maintain their own homes and people from the city who want to be within walking distance of village amenities.
While the one to three bedroom factory units have the feel of Soho lofts, Brown notes the townhouses, which are part of the new construction along Sage and Church streets and inspired by factory working housing from the 19th century, will have from four to six bedrooms. Bungalow units will be offered in two thirds of the lower level of each townhouse as one or two bedroom units. Buyers of the townhouses, which are not yet being marketed, will have the first option to also buy the bungalow beneath their unit.
“The townhouses will be for a different market,” said Brown. “Each townhouse has a private garage, and owners can pay for an elevator from the lower level if they want.”
In addition to the lobby, common spaces will include a year-round heated 62’ x 24’ outdoor pool, fitness studio and spa treatment room as well as a club room.
“The developers want residents and their guests to occupy the spaces – not walk through them,” said Brown. “There will be great furnishings in the lounge areas.”
Brown noted there will also be amenities such as a concierge service, gym attendant, maintenance and housekeeping staff, and even an in-house driver. Owners will be permitted to rent their units by the month, he noted, with some limitations on the number of times they can rent.
“I’m proud of what you see here,” said builder Nick Racanelli of Racanelli Construction. “The village has been wonderful to work with. I think we’ve caused minimal disruptions. In general, the site is very self contained.”
“The most exciting thing for me will be in July — all the scaffolding will come down and you’ll see a big, breathing monument,” added Racanelli. “And next year, it will be part of the community. I give the developers credit for doing this. Their vision to restore it is great for Sag Harbor.”
The first residents of Watchcase should be moving into the factory units by next Memorial Day and the townhouse units in the fall of 2014.
In case you’re in the market, prices will range from just over $1 million up to well over $6 million — excluding monthly maintenance fees and taxes, of course.