Bill Ackman, the billionaire hedge fund manager, will try to persuade New York’s powerful Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday to allow him to build a “flying saucer” penthouse on top of the 120-year-old historic 6-16 West 77th Street building overlooking Central Park.
The penthouse is petite in comparison, but elicits no less emotion on the Upper West Side, where it is dubbed “the Nancy Friday apartment” after the author of a book on female sexuality who pieced it together over the years from three separate flats.
Ackman, 55, the founder of Pershing Square Capital, is a Harvard-educated activist investor who famously profited $2.6 billion in a single day betting on the financial impact of the coronavirus during the early days of the pandemic. He has been engaged in a years-long battle with his merely millionaire neighbors to garner support for his planned Norman Foster-designed two-story penthouse, dubbed a “temple to a titan.”
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The Foster + Partners-designed penthouse has two stacked modernist glass boxes, would replace a pink stucco 17th-floor penthouse that Ackman and his second wife, scientist Prof. Neri Oxman, purchased for $22.5 million in 2017.
“The Upper West Side is one of our favorite neighborhoods. And my wife and I desired to raise our new family in this community. We have a two-and-a-half-year-old child,” he explained last week during a virtual public meeting.
Ackman said the glass penthouse near the American Museum of Natural History would be “far less conspicuous” and “less dazzling” than the present pink brick penthouse, and would provide a “material addition” to the historic building.
The fight, which has been raging for two years, pits the merely affluent against the ultra-rich and raises classic questions about whether the city’s historic buildings should be kept as fossils in amber or enriched with deliberate additions.
It is not Ackman’s most expensive asset. In 2015, he paid $91.5 million for the penthouse of One57, a 1,005-foot on 75th and 76th floors.
He also owns a three-house beachfront compound in Bridgehampton, the Hamptons.
Ackman has amassed financial victories based on large wagers and his ability to convince the market that he was correct. Among them are his successful activist campaign against the Canadian Pacific Railway and his wager against the Municipal Bond Insurance Association.
He’s also had some significant flops, including an ill-fated investment in Valeant, a drugmaker that crumbled, and a multi-year short selling campaign against Herbalife.