|By Kimberly Blanton, Globe Staff, The Boston Globe|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
May 18, 2005 - It is not yet built, will have no ocean view, and it will sit across from a Trader Joe's and a Hollywood Video. But Boston's rich and famous can't wait to move in.
Maids will turn off the vacuum cleaner when penthouse owners walks by. Residents will be able to order raw steaks, prepped for grilling, and have them delivered to their private, rooftop terraces. Upon arriving home from out-of-town trips, they will be greeted with fresh orchids, crisp sheets, and Perrier on the nightstand.
The man behind this over-the-top living is hotelier extraordinaire Robin Brown. During 14 years as general manager of the Four Seasons Hotel Boston, he transformed it into the city's first five-star hotel and restaurant as he pampered power brokers, celebrities, and dignitaries. Today, he is parlaying his reputation -- and the connections he made at the Four Seasons -- into a top-flight hotel and condominium project, The Residences at Mandarin Oriental, Boston.
"What Robin does is to make anything possible," said Herb Chambers, who owns 27 car dealerships and has agreed to buy one of the Mandarin condos, which start at $2 million and run as high as $12 million.
With no advertising whatsoever, Brown and his partners, Boston developers Stephen Weiner and Julian Cohen, have sold 44 of the 50 Mandarin condos since January 2004. Among the corporate titans moving into the $240 million project: Chad Gifford, former chief executive of FleetBoston Financial Corp.; Democratic fund-raisers Gerry and Elaine Schuster; David Mugar, the man who brought Fourth of July fireworks to the Esplanade; and Robert Epstein, one of the owners of the Boston Celtics.
Brown's involvement in the project's design and services has created a buzz factor the likes of which most real estate agents only dream of. Mandarin buyers are "the who's who of the who's who," said Chris Tuite, owner of ReMax Waterfront Realty Inc. in the North End.
Epstein, who also is chief executive of the Abbey Group, a real estate firm, refused a corner unit in the Mandarin, because he wanted to maximize wall space to display his collection of contemporary paintings by Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, and others. Wall space is tight in the Beacon Hill town house he and wife Esta have lived in for nearly 20 years. To accommodate large canvases, Brown and Weiner will add ceiling height in the Epsteins' penthouse by eliminating moldings at the ceiling and rerouting air ducts. The ease of condo life also appealed to the Epsteins. With Brown's involvement, Epstein said, amenities "will be at the highest level."
To perfect the services -- from hot meals to security -- Brown and Weiner for months pored over every design detail. Excruciating attention was paid to the complex's 23 elevators. The priciest condos will have private elevators opening into the units' foyers, and penthouses will have private elevators to the roof terraces.
Weiner tore up plans for each condo countless times. "We designed it from the inside out," Weiner said, to "provide all the services anybody could possibly want."
Buyers of this kind of real estate can live anywhere and often own multiple homes. Soon after Chambers signed a purchase and sale agreement, an agent persuaded him to look at a place for sale in the Back Bay. He bought it for $8.65 million, as an investment, and lives in it for now. Chambers, a bachelor, expects he will prefer his Mandarin unit, which will have 4,000-plus square feet and a view of the sun rising over the Charles River.
"He wants his service," Brown said.
Well-heeled Bostonians have always sought the city's hottest new address, dating to the the filling of the Back Bay in the 19th century. More recently, in the 1980s, it was the Four Seasons and Heritage on the Garden. In the 1990s, it was Trinity Place at Copley Square. Recently, the torch passed to the Ritz-Carlton Towers, Boston Common -- Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez's home -- and Atelier|505 in the South End, where Channel 5 news celebrity Natalie Jacobson lives.
The Mandarin will fill a gap in a scruffy section of Boylston Street in front of the Prudential Center. Its affiliation with Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, which operates hotels from Bangkok to London and will manage the Boston hotel, enhanced the complex's snob appeal. Its 15,000-square-foot spa will be similar to Mandarin Oriental, New York's, which has "relaxation lounges" and VIP suites outfitted with fireplace and sauna. Room rates there exceed $700 a night.
Preparation for construction in Boston began late last year for the underground parking garage; the building is slated for completion in late 2007.
Mandarin Boston "will without a doubt be the nicest, most beautiful hotel and residential development the city has ever seen," said Paul Palandjian, president of Intercontinental Real Estate, which developed the Nine Zero boutique hotel.
To sell the condos, on the floors above the hotel, Brown and Weiner relied on word-of-mouth and their contacts in charitable organizations, downtown businesses, and at the Four Seasons.
Brown, 50, moves in rarefied circles but was not born to wealth. He grew up comfortably, an executive's son in Grantham, England. His first exposure to luxury came as a teenager, washing dishes at a chic hotel. He has an ownership stake in the Mandarin partnership, CWB Boylston LLC, but he put up no money into the project. Weiner and Cohen brought financing and engineering know-how; Brown contributed the idea and his expertise in service.
Brown sports Hermes ties and oozes elegance. At the Four Seasons, he won over the upper crust who might need a window table at the hotel's Aujourd'hui restaurant. Star Market heir and former Channel 7 owner David Mugar threw business and family parties at the hotel, including for his 60th birthday and a retirement party for his longtime secretary. Mugar and Weiner have done real estate development projects together.
When Mugar learned about the Mandarin, he bought a unit and invested in the project. His primary residence is in Cotuit on Cape Cod, but he keeps a place at the Belvedere condominiums, a new development on the Huntington Avenue side of Prudential Center. "Mandarin is a better location," with views of the Charles River and downtown, Mugar said. Buyers said they like its proximity to stores at Copley Place and on Newbury Street, and to Symphony Hall.
Gifford most looks forward to calling room service for a cheeseburger, he said. He met Weiner when the developer banked at First National Bank of Boston. He knows Brown from their charity work in a program for troubled youth. When the two approached him in 2000, Gifford, who owns houses in Manchester-by-the-Sea and on Nantucket, was eager to buy.
Thanks to Brown, he said, the cheeseburger "will be there quick, and it'll be good."
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