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Under Construction: 315 Park Avenue South Has a New Lobby

When Columbia Property Trust purchased 315 Park Avenue South from Spear Street Capital for $353.9 million in 2015, the new owner wanted to change the lobby even though it wasn’t in disrepair.

“It wasn’t bad,” Nelson Mills, the CEO and president of Columbia Property Trust, told Commercial Observer. “The previous owners had done a nice job. But we just didn’t think it had the quality that we were looking for; the crispness and clean look.”

The old lobby featured concrete floors and gray walls with wooden furniture and subdued lighting, as well as multicolored artwork. And Columbia Property Trust was hoping for something a little simpler and cleaner.

So the landlord, which hired L&L Holding Company to lease and manage the property at the time, tapped Gensler to reimagine the lobby, as well as revitalize the facade and the storefronts in a project that cost just over $10 million.

In addition, since there were multiple elevator banks with nine cabs altogether and two building entrances, Columbia Property Trust saw the opportunity to separate the lobby and make a main entrance to the building on East 24th Street and a smaller private entrance on Park Avenue South. The private one has two elevators for the tenant that took the top floor, London-based investment firm Winton Capital, as CO previously reported.

The renovation has been completed and now features a clean design with white walls, exposed steel beams covered in white intumescent paint, white ceilings and bright lights. The 3,000-square-foot space also has a marble security desk and upgraded elevator cabs and turnstiles.

The a white box lobby will allow artwork in the lobby to “shine and give it some character,” said Joseph Lauro, a Gensler principal and co-managing director of the company’s New York office.  

Columbia Property Trust expects to select paintings to hang on the lobby walls later this year. The revitalization of the facade and storefronts will be finished by the fall.

Much like the lobby, the facade wasn’t in dire need of repair, but Columbia Property Trust felt it should spruce it up a bit. So there will be moderate but not drastic changes to the classic, Beaux-Arts-style exterior.

Spanning 20 stories, the facade is being cleaned, and Gensler added some lighting to brighten it up. The storefronts will be flanked with more efficient glass. Finally, a new canopy had been added to the main entrance on East 24th Street.

“The building’s facade is beautiful in its current form,” Mills said, “but we wanted to sharpen it up.”

Source: commercial

The Plan: Serendipity Labs at 28 Liberty Street

Office space provider Serendipity Labs likes to say it’s in the “hospitality business,” not in the coworking or office rental industry.

So its first Manhattan location at Fosun International’s 28 Liberty Street (the former One Chase Manhattan Plaza) was designed with more than just office workers in mind.

The Rye, N.Y.-based company, which was founded in 2011, also built out what it calls a “social club” area. It includes a pantry and a separate 75-person conference space for seated events (or 150 standing).

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The idea is that even if you aren’t a member that has signed an agreement for a private office, you can become a coworking member and attend social events in the pantry or host events in the conference center.

To create that cool vibe, the design of the space is sleek and clean. Wood panels are used decoratively on the ceilings and the walls of the pantry. The walls are white, and the tables are made of white marble, evoking the style of a high-end bar. And floor-to-ceiling glass allows natural light into the space and provides views of Lower Manhattan.

“It’s about design for service. It’s about design for hospitality,” John Arenas, the chairman and CEO of Serendipity Labs, said during a tour of the space before it opened to members on Monday. “It’s not just an amenity for the members, it’s a club.”

Onsite will be a general manager, a sales manager and a few experience coordinators. The latter are there for organizing member events including ordering food and decorations.

“Anyone can sign a lease and take a space. It’s what’s behind the elegant space that’s hard,” Arenas said.

Serendipity Labs occupies the entire 34,000-square-foot sixth floor of the building, which sits at the corner of Liberty and William Streets. It can fit about 500 people within its 69 private offices and 18 wooden coworking desks.

In the office areas there are various workspace options, such as dinner-style booths with tables, conference rooms and “focus” rooms (for one person). The focus rooms have opaque glass doors for privacy and can be used for nursing or even prayer.

The floor of the pantry is made of polished concrete and the ceilings are exposed; however, in the private office suites there is carpeting and drop ceilings with acoustic-reduction paneling.

The reasoning behind this feature is that Serendipity Labs wants to provide the protection of privacy for its office members as it targets established companies looking to outsource workspace. (Shared offices for startup companies are less insistent on having privacy and tend to push for more engagement between the companies.) Carpeting and ceiling panels help reduce noise. Plus, the office suites are enclosed in frosted glass so passersby can’t see into them. And the walls that divide the office suites have insulation to reduce noise.

“Our design really has in mind to protect the intellectual property and the conversations of our members,” Arenas said. “Maybe [having less privacy] is fun if you are in your 20s and in a startup. If you are a grown up, it’s not so fun.”

Source: commercial

How Much Is Manhattan Worth?

When jazz bandleader Charles Mingus’ slinky tune “51st Street Blues” appeared in 1957, the land value of the Manhattan that inspired him had more or less held steady since just after World War II. In fact, it had declined a hair, in real terms, since 1950.

Back then, the island’s asset prices basically just tracked inflation over the long term—as real estate prices around the world typically did, pretty much since anyone started keeping records.

But like a languid tune that suddenly switches into double time, all that was about to change.

By 1973, when Bobby Womack paid musical tribute to Manhattan’s grid with his song “Across 110th Street,” land values had climbed, in real terms, about 55 percent over the 16 intervening years.

And by the time the Beastie Boys brought things back Downtown with their 2007 song “14th Street Break,” the price of a plot of Manhattan ground had climbed more sharply than any skyscraper. Even adjusting for inflation, land values in that year just before the financial crisis were up a whopping 3,500 percent from their 1950 levels.

Music, indeed, to the ears of anyone who’d had the foresight to buy and hold all those decades earlier.

In the week-in, week-out frenzy of condominium buildings bought and office towers sold, it’s easy to lose sight of how much value the bedrock of Manhattan’s real estate industry contributes. That’d be the literal bedrock under the streets—the Manhattan schist itself. Far more than glass-curtained skyscrapers or amenity-laden apartments, it’s Manhattan’s fixed—hence scarce—supply of actual land, all 22.8 square miles of it, that has been the city’s evergreen engine of appreciation since the middle of the 20th century.

That, at least, is the conclusion of a painstaking new study by Jason Barr, an economics professor at Rutgers University–Newark, whose chance discovery of an exhaustive trove of property records in a library led him to pore over every example of a sale of vacant land on Manhattan since 1950. In all, he and his co-author, professor Fred Smith of North Carolina’s Davidson College, amassed data for nearly 3,600 transactions spanning almost 70 years, allowing them to create a year-by-year, inflation-adjusted index of Manhattan land prices.

Even taking all buildings and structures out of the picture and withholding 40 percent of the island’s acreage for streets, parks and piers, the new index values the island as high as $1.9 trillion today. That’s roughly 10 percent of U.S. gross domestic product—or more than twice as much as the net worth of the world’s 10 richest people combined.

The broad strokes of the land-value index—constructed from the raw data—line up well with any longtime New Yorker’s intuition for the city’s good years and bad. Relatively flat between 1950 and 1970, the index falls sharply during the U.S. recession that began in 1973, reaching a historic low in 1977. That year, land was less than half as pricey, in real terms, as it was at the middle of the century.

But then, a pair of meteoric rises from 1983 to 1988 and from 1993 until 2007 ensued to bring the property markets to unimaginably dizzying heights. So sharp was the rise that any meaningful chart of the index must be plotted logarithmically, giving equal scale to the difference between 10 and 100 and the difference between 100 and 1,000.

Plotted normally, the rise in land values starting in about 1990 is so sharp that it would look like a straight line up.

Even so, the relatively flat period from the 1950s to the 1970s, and the precipitous drop at the end of that decade, translate into only modest long-term yield on property in the city.

“The long-run value of Manhattan from 1950 to the present has a relatively moderate return on investment,” Barr said. All together, the researchers estimate returns over their 65-year time horizon at about 5.5 percent annually, a figure Barr compared to typical returns on some stocks or corporate bonds. “Only in the last 20 years has the value of land itself been super high—much higher than other kinds of investments.”

In studying only vacant land sales, the economists aimed to strip away the varying values that buyers place on fixtures, design elements and other accessories that differ widely from use to use and building to building.

“[The sale of a] $100 million condo doesn’t tell you all that much, because these apartments are filled with luxury goods: the highest-end kitchens with marble counters,” Barr said. “So how much of that $100 million is going to the building itself? You want to remove all those other things and just understand, What is the value of the location?”

That way of thinking accords with how appraisers who work on real estate sales see the main drivers of value.

“When you look at price appreciation, it’s the land that’s appreciating—not the property,” said Jonathan Miller, an appraiser whose firm Miller Samuel has been providing New York City valuations since 1986. “Land is what the real estate actually is. The building on top of it is just the improvement that goes with it.”

Of course, limiting the study to sales of vacant land ensured that some neighborhoods were overrepresented in the researchers’ data. A map of the sites they studied shows that since 1950, hundreds and hundreds of empty lots have changed hands in places like Harlem, Hell’s Kitchen and the Lower East Side. On the other hand, only a few dozen vacant land sales occurred on the west side of Manhattan between West 59th and West 96th Streets during that period, and just a smattering more took place on the Upper East Side.

To make sure the index wasn’t biased by those neighborhoods that were overweighted in particular years, Barr and Smith controlled for location by referring to which sanitation district each lot lies in. (Sanitation districts are an administrative division about the size of a large neighborhood.) Their model also controls for each lot’s distance to Broadway, finding that proximity to the artery yields sales with significantly higher prices per square foot.

That premium that accrues to land in prime locations derives directly from the perpetual upper bound to Manhattan’s geography. In a real estate market with dimensions as firmly fixed as Manhattan’s, scarcity is a determining force in the market. With the notable exception of Battery Park City—the planned community that juts into the Hudson River on landfill created in the early 1970s from the ground excavated for the World Trade Center—the island cannot simply grow to accommodate rising demand.

Barr, who has previously extensively studied the economics of skyscrapers, said that’s the force that has shifted so much development onto the vertical axis.

“There’s a substitute for land: building up,” Barr said. “Because you’re not seeing the supply of geography match the demand for geography.”

The paper, published in the journal Regional Science and Urban Economics, is silent on questions of how accelerating values over the last 35 years have affected Manhattan’s development. But other experts aver that real estate trends have been central in shaping the island as it exists today.

Richard Ocejo, a professor of sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who has studied the changing face of the Lower East Side, said he believes that the same scarcity that drives skyscraper construction and asset-price growth has always played a determining role in the stories of those who make their lives as city residents.

“That’s the big reality of Manhattan: the finite space,” Ocejo said. “It’s an island—it’s not very good at growing out. And in any kind of urban environment…people compete over and try to co-exist in a limited amount of space.”

His interviews with longtime denizens of the East Village revealed that, for residents, a sense of ownership isn’t a simple matter of land values and property rights.

During the 1970s, when the neighborhood was an area of blight and poverty, residents “rehabbed spaced and lots,” participating in a larger movement to create community gardens, Ocejo said. “Or they’d set up some kind of block association. It became a place of great meaning to them, and [one they] felt like they owned. You don’t own the bricks, but there’s something within the soul, within the bricks that is yours.”

But when land prices rose in the 1990s as the city sold off vacant lots to developers and the neighborhood gentrified, neighborhood renters were forced to confront the gulf between their sense of investment in the area and their lack of legal ownership.

“When they saw things start to change, newcomers, new businesses, a new reputation, a new character, they felt like they were losing it, that it was being taken from them,” the sociologist said. “In some cases, it was that they plowed over your building.”

Of course, that kind of eye-watering change has always been a constant in real estate. As values in the city tanked in the 1970s, waves of youngish baby boomers—able to afford far choicer Manhattan real estate than they could have during a bull market—flooded in, boosting prices and even rewriting residential ownership structures.

“The [prices] really surge from the 70s to the 80s,” said Miller, the longtime appraiser. “It was the conversion frenzy, where landlords were able to cash out by converting apartments to co-ops. There were far more units that came into market in the 80s.”

Glad to see a brisk trade, building owners offered steep discounts to whomever happened to be living in the building at the time.

“As you move later into the 1980s and get to the 1990s, sponsors were raising the insider prices relative to the market value [for co-ops],” Miller said. “But in 1984, your insider [discount] might have been 30 to 50 cents on the dollar. By the end of the decade, it might have been 10 percent.”

New York City’s buoyant success since those years has spawned its share of problems of course—overcrowding, for example, and a seemingly intractable shortage of affordable housing. But even Ocejo, whose has extensively interviewed gentrification’s losers, is loathe to sugarcoat what life in the city was like during the financially stagnant 1970s.

“I think it is romanticized a lot,” Ocejo said. “There’s always a context involved in how any culture gets done, and the context in this case was severe devastation, poverty and blight. There were a lot of people who were struggling and suffering down the street from where those folks were having parties” on the Lower East Side.

But that’s not to say that today’s Manhattan—with its cleaner, safer streets and thriving property market valued at record-high levels—hasn’t lost its intangible spark along the way.

“You can’t be creative in Manhattan like that anymore. It’s too expensive—you have to go someplace else,” Ocejo said. “Certain kinds of art and creativity need certain conditions to thrive.”

And even as property values shape the city’s culture and politics, politics has a key role in shaping property values as well.

New York City’s 1916 zoning rule—the first law of its kind in the United States—sought to ensure that air and light would filter down to street level with provisions that shaped the design of early century skyscrapers built with setbacks like a wedding cake. Even so, the law imposed few restrictions on residential density.

“It was so capacious,” said Nicholas Bloom, a professor of social science at the New York Institute of Technology. If all five of the city’s boroughs had fully developed under that plan’s guidelines, the Big Apple could have accommodated a population as large as 50 million. “But in the early 1960s, they revised the code significantly, [saying] ‘We’re not going to build Manhattan density over all the boroughs.’ That’s a political decision.”

The lower-density zoning that supplanted the earlier model, Barr said, has been a crucial ingredient in fueling blistering property value growth.

“Incredibly high returns to land remain a strong possibility because the policies are designed to slow down neighborhood transformation,” the economist explained.

That means that an island appreciating far faster than inflation shows no signs of letting up.

“There are new sources of demand for Manhattan land,” Barr said, citing international investors and the families of city college students whose moneyed parents buy condos for them to live in. “If the supply is not matching demand, the price is just going higher and higher.”

Perhaps a little like Sly and the Family Stone’s 1969, “I Want to Take You Higher.”

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Source: commercial

Eataly Settles Into Its 67K-SF Digs at Westfield Century City in LA

Like a nice bottle of Italian wine, Eataly L.A. has had time to breathe since it opened.

The crowds that greeted the November opening of the Italian food emporium’s first West Coast location at the Westfield Century City had wait times of up to four hours, proving that, even in Los Angeles, gluten is far from shunned, Matija Blazic, the communications and PR manager at Eataly L.A., told Commercial Observer. (In response to the line insanity Eataly L.A. created a temporary Line-O-Meter on their Twitter account to give would-be visitors an update on wait times by a ranking of hot peppers.)

Eataly L.A. is the largest location for the brand at 67,000 square feet, edging out Chicago’s 63,000-square-foot market. It encompasses four restaurants, multiple kitchens, nine-takeaway food counters, a cooking school, retail space, two chilled wine storage rooms and a clean room with customized pasteurizers to create authentic gelato and mozzarella, built by Clune Construction, a national general contractor with offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Clune worked closely with Eataly and the architect, STUDIOS Architecture, the commercial interior design firm behind Eataly’s Lower Manhattan property and other high-profile projects in New York, including Nike’s Midtown office at 855 Avenue of the Americas.

Originally launched in 2007 in Turin, Italy, by Oscar Farinetti, the L.A. iteration is the 39th of 40 Eataly outposts around the world. (Amazingly, there is a more recent one: an Eataly opened in Stockholm to much fanfare on Feb. 17.) There is no sign of stopping, with stores planned for Las Vegas starting in 2018 and Toronto in 2019, according to Alex Saper, the COO and partner of Eataly USA.

A few months in, the crowds at Eataly L.A. have become more manageable. On a sunny weekday late afternoon in March, it’s downright peaceful.

The market is spread out over two floors and soon a third, once the rooftop restaurant, Terra, is completed by Clune this spring. Two-interconnected spiral staircases, link the three marketplace floors.

The staircase was no small feat: Clune worked with an out-of-state manufacturer in Minnesota to fabricate the stairs, shipped them to Los Angeles in large pieces and then carefully installed them into the space with the use of a crane.

Each Eataly is built around a theme and for L.A., it’s water, both as an element and its preservation. One of the most distinctive features of Eataly L.A. is a greywater system dedicated to recycling water from hand-washing sinks in restrooms and condensation from refrigerators and reusing it to water indoor plants, an olive tree and to flush toilets. It’s the first of its kind for Eataly and posed unique challenges.

“The greywater system was pretty complex. It’s certainly the first one I’ve worked on in L.A. to this capacity,” Peter Bahruth, the managing director and general superintendent of the west region at Clune, said. “Typically, a greywater system is done inside a building. It’s part of the building infrastructure. This is the first one I’ve worked on in the interior of a client’s space.”

Tanks for the greywater system are visible on the second floor, just outside the cooking school La Scuola di Eataly, and parallel to dessert counters offering gelato and, exclusive to the L.A. location, Cannoli E Bomboloni, which offers made-to-order Sicilian cannoli and stuffed bomboloni.

“Our in-house greywater system reduces the amount of drinkable water we use by 33 percent by collecting all ‘greywater,’ or used water from the hand-washing in our restrooms and the condensation from our refrigeration unit,” Saper said. “Water is the essence of life. It’s crucial to both Italy and our new home in California, especially considering droughts. Basically: water is the one of the main concerns for the future. It’s clear that we need water in our lives; it’s also clear that there’s a problem with our water usage.”

In addition to the greywater tanks, Saper said Eataly L.A. is using technology across the store to save water.

“Our kitchen equipment will use 64 percent less water than a comparable commercial kitchen, saving 5.5 million gallons of water every day,” Saper said. “We are the first Eataly location to have this type of system.”

Bob Dahlstrom, the executive managing director and president of the west region of Clune, said extensive planning was required in the months leading up to actual construction to ensure the plumbing was completely solid. They began with early work, including plumbing and electrical, in July 2016, with the construction phase beginning that December.

“A great deal of attention was paid to making sure it was well-detailed and constructed properly to make sure there would be no leaks,” Dahlstrom said. “There were over 400 penetrations in the third-floor slab that opened up into the second floor. All those had to be very carefully detailed out and built properly to avoid damage to the Macy’s below.”

By all accounts, it was a labor-intensive, but highly-rewarding process. Clune had an on-site staff of eight to handle the project.

“There were a lot of moving parts and not only was it the traditional trade people, we were also working into the schedule certain equipment and finishes that were brought in from Europe,” Dahlstrom said. “There was the bread oven from Spain. There was a pizza oven from France. We had all this equipment that was coming in, we had tile that was coming in and we had the millwork that was made in Italy and installed by Italian carpenters for several months concurrent with our construction.” But that, he said, was part of the charm of the project, recalling hearing Italian work crews speaking in their native tongue. “That was pretty cool.”

Neither Clune nor Eataly would disclose the budget and final cost of the L.A. Eataly buildout.

The fusion of old world and the new—a standard Eataly approach—is evident not only in the mixed crews that constructed the property, but the products and other offerings in L.A.

Like other Eatalys, there are markets scattered on the main floor dedicated to cheese and cured meats, seafood, bread, cut meats and pastries, as well as a large selection of fresh produce and imported Italian groceries. Three restaurants—the seafood-oriented Il Pesce Cucina, La Pizza, dedicated to Neapolitan-style pizza, and La Pasta, (self-explanatory)—are arranged around floor-to-ceiling windows offering a view of palm-tree-lined Santa Monica Boulevard and the hills of Century City and beyond. Eataly L.A., like other locations, enlists local talent among its roster of culinary masters. (Aside from co-founder Mario Batali, whose products were pulled from its shelves in response to sexual assault allegations leveled at the famous chef.) Acclaimed local chef and restaurateur Michael Cimarusti and his co-owner Donato Poto of Providence helm the seafood restaurant. L’Orto dello Chef, Eataly’s take on the salad bar, which was first introduced at their Downtown New York location, will be helmed with a rotating collaboration with local chefs. Currently, Jason Neroni of Venice’s iconic Rose Café, is curating its offerings.

In terms of firsts, Eataly L.A. is the only location where patrons can sit outside, with tables on an outdoor balcony offered to take advantage of the usually pleasant SoCal weather. It also is the only location thus far to offer Roman style pizza—thicker-crust oblong pies baked and served up on wooden pallets—which was doing well with the late-afternoon snacking crowd.

In a nod to California’s established new-world winemaking industry, the West Coast outpost features non-Italian wines for the first time for purchase.

“California and Italy share many similarities, including the climate, which allows us to be even more in touch with the community and pay homage to California’s rich wine tradition,” Saper said.

The West Coast market also offers an olive oil department reminiscent of olive oil tasting rooms and local artisan retailers like We Olive, where customers can sample and fill bottles of select product for purchase. In addition, Eataly L.A. carries the small-batch, hard-to-find White Moustache Yogurt, whose founder Homa Dashtaki makes 288, eight-ounce glass jars a day, filled by hand in a dairy room downstairs. Given the year-round produce available out West Coast, the L.A. outpost debuted the first-ever farmer’s market last Friday amid the usual fresh-ingredient offerings.

“We like to think of our stores as a family,” Saper said. “We are a brand, but each store is slightly different and has its own personality, just like siblings.”

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Source: commercial

The Plan: Industrious Touts Sophistication in Union Square Expansion

Flexible office provider Industrious—which has attracted companies such as Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Chipotle and Mashable to outsource their workplaces—tries to give a healthy dollop of sophistication to its spaces.

So when the company decided to expand its only Manhattan location on the 12th floor at SL Green Realty Corp.’s 215 Park Avenue South between East 17th and East 18th Streets by taking the 11th floor, Industrious configured the new space with the same simple and elegant designs found on the 12th floor. That also meant no foosball tables, arcade machines or mini-basketball shooting games were added.

“It’s a professional environment. Playfulness is not the priority,” Eivind Karlsen, the head of design at Industrious, told Commercial Observer during a tour of the new space. “It’s about how are you working throughout the day.”

At the front of the 17,500-square-foot 11th floor is the pantry (which was in the back of the 12th floor). That is the first thing members, guests and prospective clients see as they exit the elevator.

“The first impression, whether you are a guest of an Industrious member or a client, is important,” Karlsen said.

And since tenants are more focused on hospitality these days, Industrious designed elements that would make one feel more at home.  

“We designed it more residential,” Karlsen said. “It has that sort of cozy feel. You’ll see more greenery. It feels like an apartment.”

The pantry features marble countertops, wooden cabinets, sleek appliances and a variety of seating options. And the residential vibe can be felt strongly in the lounge space that flanks the pantry, as there are sofas and other kinds of plush seating, carpeting, plants, books and ambient lighting.

The 11th floor, which Industrious has occupied as of January, has room for around 140 people in its 40 offices as the suites can accommodate between one to 10 persons.

In addition, the new space has two conference rooms, two “huddle” meeting rooms, three small rooms for private phone calls and a small glass-less room with one chair and a small table called the “focus room” (for when you want to be left alone). Exposed ceilings and concrete floors grace the expanse and there are audio reduction panels in the common areas.

The offices are furnished with wooden tables that have blackened steel legs. The new internal staircase, which joins the two floors, also features blacked steel framing. It is a reference to Industrious’ Brooklyn roots.

It’s a “metaphor of the Brooklyn Bridge,” Karlsen said. “We are bridging Manhattan to Brooklyn.”

Source: commercial

NYC’s Top 10 Commercial Interior Design Firms of 2018

Although exterior architecture often grabs headlines, it’s the interior design that usually makes or breaks a project. With that in mind, Commercial Observer has ranked New York City’s best and most interesting architecture firms that do commercial interior design work.

For our second annual interior design list, we queried top architecture firms and landlords to see who they trusted to handle the interiors for their top developments. Then we reached out to prominent commercial interior design firms and asked how many square feet they designed last year, the value of their projects and what they consider their noteworthy work from 2017. We tried to look beyond the numbers—which were the basis of our first list, published in October 2016—and consider who was doing the most interesting and exciting work. (Lists like these, especially when considering firms whose work is largely aesthetic, include a number of judgment calls.)

Whether they are designing Uber’s offices, renovating and converting the landmarked Waldorf Astoria hotel, or building out Citigroup’s world headquarters, we tried to include firms working on a diverse roster of projects, big and small.—Rebecca Baird-Remba

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Source: commercial

The Plan: Santa Monica’s Historic Sears Gets New Life

Kacy Keys has fond memories of visiting the Sears in downtown Santa Monica, Calif., recalling childhood trips to the department store with her grandmother in the 1970s. At that point, the retailer could rightly claim, as per its advertising at the time to be “Where America Shops,” but, of course, that didn’t remain the case. Declining sales forced the iconic American retailer to shutter 200 stores just last year.

Keys, who has spent much of her career on adaptive reuse projects, is hardly caught up in the past. (She was most notably the senior real estate representative in L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan’s Office of Economic Development, where she spearheaded the Adaptive Reuse Ordinance and major development projects in downtown L.A. and surrounding areas, including the Staples Center, Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Old Bank District.)

As senior vice president and head of the Western division of Seritage Growth Properties, the publicly traded real estate investment trust established by Sears in 2015 that owns 253 Sears and Kmart stores, she is charged with finding new uses for struggling properties. The three-acre, centrally located Sears in Santa Monica is one of three premier projects being reworked this year. (The company broke ground last November on the Esplanade at Aventura, an all-retail project in South Florida, which will replace the Sears at the Aventura Mall and is redeveloping another Sears property at the Westfield University Town Center in San Diego.)

For the Santa Monica location, a verifiable landmark—designed by noted architect Rowland Crawford in Late Moderne style—Seritage is working on keeping historic details of the store while bringing it into the modern age with an estimated $50 million budget.

The mixed-use project is expected to break ground this month after clearing one final hurdle—a hearing and expected greenlight from the California Coastal Commission slated for March 8—will preserve the historic exterior of the big-box store, while literally lightening it up.

Following the temporary removal of the roof, Los Angeles-based House & Robertson Architects, will cut holes in the floor plates in the middle of the building to allow the atrium’s natural light to reach clear down to the basement level. The removal and replacement of the roof is also part of the seismic retrofitting needed for the 70-year-old building.

A fourth story will be added by capturing attic space between the third floor and the roof that was previously used for storage. The roof will be restored as a landscaped and furnished outdoor deck with ocean views and will be a key amenity for tenants of the approximate 53,000 square feet of office space for rent on the top two floors. Keys predicts that a single tenant will occupy the space, and, given its location in Silicon Beach, will likely be a tech-driven or media-oriented client, though, “it could be a hedge fund for all we know, right? Keys said with a chuckle. True. Creative office is a growing demand in all sectors.

The architect is behind the revamp of other local notable properties, including the Petersen Automotive Museum on Museum Row, and the expansion of the historic Farmers Market in the Fairfax District.

An office lobby, courtyard and Market Hall featuring a mix of 32 retail and food-and-beverage vendors will take up approximately 58,000 square feet of retail space at the ground and basement levels of the property scheduled to be open in the fall of 2019. AVRO/KO is the design architect behind the Market Hall portion. Nabih Youssef Associates is the structural engineer.

Keys said the building’s rebranding as “Mark 302″ was to not only reflect its address at 302 Colorado Avenue, but also the Market Hall concept and its place as a destination moving forward.

While the Sears logo is still visible in official renderings of the property, whether it remains is yet to be determined and will depend on the tenant’s preference.

Despite being situated at the back of Macerich’s high-end outdoor mall Santa Monica Place and the retail-ladened Third Street Promenade, Keys said they didn’t fear oversaturation, especially given the influx of an estimated 60,000 daily riders at the terminus of the city’s expanded Metro Expo line, which now connects downtown Santa Monica to the Eastside clear to downtown Los Angeles. (As of last June, the Metro reached its 2030 ridership goal in just about a year, with an estimated 64,164 weekday riders.)

“We think we are in a unique location,” Keys said. “We see it as the tie that connects Santa Monica Place, the [Santa Monica] Pier and the Civic Center. We’re sitting right in the middle of that cross[roads] between all of those things. The pedestrian traffic and the location between the train and the pier is ideal and really lends itself to a multi-use project here.”

Sears building redevelopment
Sears building redevelopment
Sears building redevelopment
Sears building redevelopment
Sears building redevelopment
Source: commercial

Under Construction: A Modern Commercial Building in Southern Brooklyn

Lake Realty’s 1601 Kings Highway is a little hard to miss in Sheepshead Bay.

Illuminated video screens on the sides of the 68,000-square-foot office and retail development on East 16th Street and Kings Highway immediately draws attention to the property amid the crowd of surrounding red brick structures built in the early 1900s.

And, aptly so, the developer is using the screens to advertise tenants that will soon fill its currently hollow floors still under construction, such as Modell’s Sporting Goods, CVS/pharmacy and Planet Fitness.

But video screens are certainly not the only thing that stands out. The five-story building towers over the low-rise two-story buildings around it, and the steel and concrete-frame building consumes nearly the entire blockfront across from the Q and B subway station. Plus, 1601 Kings Highway features floor-to-ceiling glass and a beige terra cotta facade.

“It’s a cool and unique design,” Nick Zweig of Locations Commercial Real Estate, which is handling the leasing of the building, told Commercial Observer during a recent tour of the new structure. “It shows what could be done in the outer boroughs.”

Being so close to the subway (which is above ground in Sheepshead Bay) means that every couple of minutes there will be a rattle of from a train barreling on the tracks, but future tenants and customers in 1601 Kings Highway won’t hear it as the building has soundproof glass windows.

Each of the floors has limited columns, allowing the retail and office tenants ample space for open-floor plan layouts. And the ceiling heights range from 14 feet to 15 feet (slab to slab). Mechanicals in the building are set on the roof, where it is possible to see the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and the Manhattan skyline on a clear day.

Construction on the building is expected to be completed in the summer, and tenants have already begun building out their spaces. The property is roughly 87 percent leased, and Zweig said it’s because of the caliber of the building.

“If you build a quality product, the tenants will notice it,” Zweig said. “Quality products will attract good, top-of-the line quality tenants.”

CVS, which will be in most of the ground floor of the building, will have a full glass-front corner. And Planet Fitness, which will occupy part of the ground, a portion of the second and the entire third floor, will have a three-level atrium that will allow future exercise enthusiasts to see further up into the gym.

Modell’s will occupy part of the ground-floor space for an entrance with an escalator and an elevator that lead customers to its second-floor space. And DaVita, which provides a range of dialysis treatments and support services, will occupy the entire fifth-floor office space and part of the fourth floor of the building, leaving only about a 9,000-square-foot space on the fourth floor that has yet to be spoken for.

That vacant space has a paved 3,000-square-foot outdoor terrace—another rarity in Sheepshead Bay.

Source: commercial

Under Construction: Inside NYU’s Transformation of the MTA’s Former HQ

Once upon a time the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s headquarters in Downtown Brooklyn at 370 Jay Street had offices and a money counting floor (the second).

Today, it’s housing scholars for New York University, which signed a 99-year lease for the property in 2012, and is adding the building to its Kings County campus.

At the intersection of Jay Street and Willoughby Streets, parts of the 13-story structure has since been turned into classrooms, lectures halls and other academic spaces. The limestone facade was restored, mechanical systems have been upgraded, 10 new elevators have been installed and the lobby’s original marble repolished.

NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP) began occupying the second, 12th and 13th floors of the property in December. But construction to renovate and remodel the building is expected to continue until the end of next year. The property will include spaces for a variety of the university’s schools, housing student engineers, research scientists, game designers, media artists and musicians.

“What we are really trying to do is make this a hub that can foster interactions between artists and engineers who are doing very complimentary things, and we want to see what comes out of that,” Andrew Repoli, NYU’s director of construction management, said on a tour of the building.

The structure has a lot of open space on each floor, and the core was shifted to one part of the building, allowing the floors to be free from divisions for elevator shafts, mechanical rooms, bathrooms or staircases. The one downside is that the structure’s floors have 10-foot ceiling heights (save for the lobby that has 20-foot heights).  

But 10 feet isn’t conducive for a school lecture hall, which is what NYU needs for approximately 200 students. So the school got creative and dropped the floor four feet down, essentially borrowing a piece of the lobby’s height on the eastern wing of the building to fit the auditorium on the second floor.

The procedure worked so well that NYU decided to replicate it on the western side for a 7,000-square-foot media commons on the second floor. There’ll be four studios in the space where students will learn film and production techniques, such as motion capture (as seen in Rise of the Planet of the Apes).

In another effort to gain space, all of the mechanicals systems in the building were shifted to the rooftops or in the cellar. Those spaces formerly dedicated to the guts of the building will be turned into smaller rooms like conference and meetings spaces as well as small private spaces to make calls.

One of the main aims of the renovation was to make the building more environmentally friendly. NYU placed energy efficient LED lights throughout the building, and they have also installed 1,200 new (thicker pane and more efficient) windows. Heat generated by the building, which would normally be pushed outside via exhaust vents, will be used to melt ice created in thermal ice storage vats.

Sustainable materials, like wood, were used to build walls, tables, ceilings and a spiral staircase on the eighth floor. NYU also installed a one-megawatt microturbine on the roof of the building that will allow it to generate its own electricity.

“Sustainability is better for the people who work in the building,” said Cecil Scheib, NYU’s assistant vice president for sustainability. “They’re going to think better; we are going to attract world-class students and world-class faculty. A better building and a green building means a better environment for people.”

There is still a second phase of construction remaining. NYU plans to transform a garage space of the building into a performance venue, create a grand staircase from the lobby to the second floor, replace walls on the ground floor with glass to make a new entrance for the property on Jay Street and reconstruct the crumbing subway station entrances under the structure. And NYU recaptured an MTA control board that was left in the building and is considering to reinstall it to pay respect to the property’s history.

Source: commercial

The Plan: Inside Winton Capital’s Offices at 315 Park Avenue South

How does one create a sophisticated office while eschewing convention?

That was the dilemma that employees at architecture firm MKDA had when designing Winton Capital’s 35,000-square-foot duplex at the top of 315 Park Avenue South, where the 19th floor has 14-foot ceiling heights and the 20th floor comes with dizzying 19-foot ceilings.

“They made it clear they weren’t looking to be this outlandish financial company,” Wendy Nuñez-Formickella, a senior interior designer and studio director at MKDA, told Commercial Observer. “To have these beautiful open office spaces is great, but you still need to personalize it. We wanted to create this intimacy for the office, especially for guests. We didn’t want it to be cold.”

Winton Capital is a London-based investment firm (accordingly, it’s not like they needed a trendy tech firm-style), so MKDA created an elegant space using simple solid colors. The design is enhanced by a massive skylight—referred to as the spine—that runs down the center of the office and floods the space with natural light.

But to make the space feel personal and not bland, MKDA dropped in a few standout elements, such as copper globe-shaped lighting, artwork and red or white plant holders with green plants that have red flowers.

“It’s bringing color to that [space] without being over the top,” Nuñez-Formickella said.

The firm wanted its New York location to have that quintessential Big Apple office appearance with exposed beams and ceilings and polished concrete floors. MKDA further darkened the concrete floors through a steaming process. Winton Capital moved into the space last July.

The 20th floor is the main office and has a reception area, conference rooms, 50 workstations in an open plan and two private offices. The offices and other rooms have glass fronts with grid-pattern black metal frames, paying homage to gritty New York buildings.

The same blackened metal can be found on the internal staircase connecting the two floors.

And in a stark contrast from the 20th floor, the 19th floor is a social space with a café, with a vintage neon sign as a focal point, and breakout areas for meetings.

There is also a wellness room for medical uses, such as nursing. And, although Winton Capital wanted an office with minimal features, it did elect to bring in a little fun (besides the vintage neon sign)—like a tech firm would—by putting in four old arcade machines and a putting green.

“It’s not a place where people would go and play for six hours,” Nuñez-Formickella said, “but it’s a place where you can break away from your desk [for a little while].”

Source: commercial