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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Diaspora Splinters in Big Apple

The Marino OrganizationThe Oceana complex, which looks onto the Atlantic, was built specifically to cater to the rich Russian community.
NEW YORK -- In a city of immigrants like New York, the Russian-speaking community often seems more homogenous than most.

Successive waves of arrivals have traditionally headed for the hubs of the Russian-speaking Diaspora like Brighton Beach or patches of Queens. Setting up home there initially, they moved on once they had struck it rich.

Now, however, the community splits. While the glitzy, super-rich new Russian arrivals are heading for Manhattan, the established community is returning to its roots.

Having emigrated to Brooklyn from the Soviet Union 29 years ago, Gregory Merichensky is typical of a certain generation of Russian-speaking Americans.

"I love America and think it's the best country in the world, but you have to understand: My heart is still back there," he said in thickly accented English.

Over the years, as Merichensky realized his own American dream, he moved up and away from the old neighborhood. Now, at the age of 52 and the successful owner of an electrical firm, he lives in a large house in the upscale Long Island suburb of Hewlett Harbor.

Two years ago, however, as part of a trend that is now seeing the successful and assimilated Russian-speaking community in the United States returning to the established neighborhoods, Merichensky bought a luxury condominium in the mammoth Oceana development in Brighton Beach, one of the best-known centers for the Russian-speaking Diaspora in the United States.

"I really want to live back in the community," Merichensky said, explaining that the property was "not really a second home, but a home for my retirement."

"It is not just the restaurants, but the theaters and the whole culture that is there," he said.

Looking out over the Atlantic, the 6-hectare Oceana complex consists of more than 800 luxury condominiums costing from $600,000 to $3 million and was built specifically for the returning, richer Russian-speaking community.

"Its pretty well-known in New York that the Russian-speaking immigrant community is probably the most successful group that has come to this country in the last few years," said Jason Muss of Muss Developments, the company responsible for the project.

Muss estimated that more than 90 percent of the apartments in Oceana had been sold to Russian-speaking buyers.

Similar projects are in the works. As his Persian cat, Oxford, lounged on a leopard-print pouf in his Chelsea apartment, Gene Dubrovin, the vice president of the Triumph Property Group, a New York brokerage firm, showed off plans for a luxury development of 100 condominiums in Forest Hills, Queens, another Russian area in the city.

"Forest Hills is like a Mecca for Russians here," Dubrovin said.

"Back in the day, the area was a cruising ground for Russian juveniles," he added with a laugh.

With the price of a three-bedroom penthouse in the development penciled in at $1.5 million, the site is looking to cash in on the returning, enriched Russian community.

"Lately we've started to see a lot of these people who were in the old neighborhoods coming back because they want a second home," he said.

Having come with his family to New York at the age of four in a wave of Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union in the mid-1970s, Dubrovin represents the next generation from Merichensky but has remained just as close to his Russian roots and the community.

Dapper in a shirt and tie, he wanders around a neighboring three-bedroom apartment that he is helping a Russian acquaintance sell for "north of $3 million."

Asked what the priorities are for Russian buyers, Dubrovin chuckled.

"Security, definitely security. Oh boy, do they care about security," he said. "And schools are very important too. The culture is very kid-driven."

Over the past few years, his family and circle of Russian friends have "become comfortable dabbling in real estate" as an investment, Dubrovin said, with many buying second homes in Florida during the "Miami boom."

But while the established Russian community remains homogenous as it returns to its roots, recent wealthy arrivals from Russia are heading for the city center districts of the generic super-rich.

"They want to be in the heart of town, a mid-town location, very high-end," said Barbara Russo, an agent for The Corcoran Sunshine Group, reeling off a list of the "trophy buildings" where rich Russian new arrivals were buying apartments.

"On the scale of one to 10 wealth, these people are a 10, definitely," she said.

"These are second or third or even fourth residences," she said. " I remember buying an $8 million apartment for their kids."

Asked how they are to work with, Russo said they were "fussy."

According to Arthur Gellego, vice president of communications and public relations at SHVO Marketing, a leading New York real estate agent, the Russian arrivals are showing interest in the more- expensive properties and "are often successful entrepreneurs and in their late 30s to mid-40s."

"The younger Russian buyers are very low-key, while the older buyers tend to be a bit more glamorous and flashy," he said.

With lukewarm prices in the New York property market over the last year, supply is now outstripping demand. But few agents are looking to Russia specifically to drum up more business, and the few that have done so have met with only marginal success.

Unlike in London and a number of European outposts of excess such as St. Tropez, Sardinia and Cyprus, Russians have not created a real estate fever in New York.

Ilya Shershnev, who has worked as a property consultant to the Russian super-rich at Geneva-based Swiss Realty, says buyers are lured to London and European locales for their proximity to Russia.

"If you tried to commute from New York to Moscow, you'd end up looking like a corpse," he said.

Gary Hersham of Beauchamp Estates, a real estate agency in London that is "very involved" with Russian buyers, said the Russians were spending millions of pounds on property.

"The lowest value I've sold for is £1 million ($1.9 million) for the son of somebody, and the highest value I've sold for is in the multi-, multi-, multimillions of pounds," Hersham said.

In a city like New York, however, Russians are just one of many groups of wealthy people, Dubrovin said.

"It's easier to get lost in New York than it is in London," Dubrovin explained, adding that "there is a lot more quiet money lurking around Manhattan."

One reason for the lack of attention is that arrivals in New York have lacked headline-grabbing figures, such as Roman Abramovich or Boris Berezovsky in London, New York realty people said.

Perhaps the closest the parvenu set comes to a centerpiece is Anna Anisimova, the daughter of billionaire metals magnate Vasily Anisimov, ranked 606th richest man in the world in a Forbes survey in 2006.

The 21-year-old brunette, dubbed a Russian Paris Hilton by New York Magazine, has bought up a host of exclusive properties around the city, including an apartment in the glitzy $1.7 billion Time Warner Center development.

But according to the gossip pages of the New York Post in November, even Anisimova may be quitting New York soon, heading west to the sunnier climes of California in an attempt to establish her own perfume brand.