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New York state of mind: EU plans to buy €20M Manhattan mansion

Peacock feather wallpaper. Snow-melting tiles. A “leather-clad commercial elevator.”

These are just a few of the luxury features spread out over the five floors, 11 rooms and expansive backyard of the colonial Manhattan townhouse the EU’s diplomatic wing is planning to purchase for more than €20 million, according to a proposal to buy the property seen by POLITICO. 

The intent, the document says, is to use the recently renovated Upper East Side house as the home base for the head of the EU’s delegation to the United Nations in New York. 

While posh diplomatic pads are commonplace in New York and capitals around the world, the property at 138 East 65th St. stands out for its ostentatious ornamentations. 

The dining room has Ralph Lauren “leather-wrapped wallpaper.” The backyard has a built-in grill and stone firepit. And, ironically, the online real estate listing even shows a non-EU-friendly purple and brown Union Jack carpet in one room. 

In total, the renovations took three years and cost about $7 million, the online listing boasts — “No expense was spared.”

Yet according to the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU’s diplomatic arm, the high-end property is actually the “best value for money” and helps put the bloc on par with its own countries’ diplomatic residences. And, frankly, the mansion is a good investment, it argues, and better than continuing to rent. 

“The conditions of the NY real estate market are such that a purchase is financially more interesting than renting,” says the document, which spans 29 pages. “Despite high prices, there is certainty that the property will gain in value over time, which makes it a safe investment.”

The proposal is intended to convince MEPs and EU officials, who have to sign off on the purchase. And regardless of how sound an investment the building might be, the exorbitant price tag is certain to raise eyebrows. 

One Parliament official acknowledged that the price was “high” and “has raised questions.”

The issue will come to a head next Tuesday, when MEPs are set to vote on the purchase in the Parliament’s Budgets Committee. Olivier Chastel, a Belgian MEP and the Parliament’s lead on the issue, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The proposal claims snapping up the 543 square-meter property — which has been on the market for almost three months, according to the online listing — is “a priority” for the EU’s diplomatic mission “because of the importance of the EU presence there.”

The building would give the EU’s delegation “an adequate Residence in terms of location, visibility, image, representativeness, size, functionality” and so on, the document argues. 

Currently, the delegation rents a 1,923 square-meter office space for 60 staff and a three-bedroom residence for the EU ambassador to the U.N., according to the document. The EU also owns another townhouse on the Upper East Side for the deputy head of its U.N. delegation. 

“The Residence of the Head of Delegation should be comparable to those of Member State Ambassadors,” the document says. 

The €20 million would be to replace the current residence and be spread out over 20 years, it notes. 

“Although not the most economic offer, the building at 138 East 65th Street offers the best Value for Money.” 

In a statement, the EEAS said it did not “comment on leaked documents.” But, it added, “more generally, when it comes to residences of EU ambassadors, the EEAS always conducts thorough research and a cost-benefit analysis for new properties — this includes an assessment whether renting or purchase is more profitable in the longer term.”

In 2020, the EU delegation in New York got permission from the EEAS to rent a new residence for its U.N. ambassador after its existing lease ended in May 2021. 

The house the ambassador has been using “can only host a maximum of around 10 guests” and “there is no family room for the family during official events.” 

After “unsuccessful attempts” to find a new place, the EU delegation extended its lease to May 2023 but also launched a “new market prospection.”

The EU delegation later settled on the townhouse and sent a letter on May 26 to the U.S. State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions to request authorization for the purchase.

The document says the EEAS expects the signature of the “Deed of Sale” to happen by “end July 2022” and to move in by September. The purchase is presented as a “safe investment” in line with environmental standards, noting the renovations made it “well insulated.”

Camille Gijs contributed reporting.

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