Lois Weiss: A Jewel on Pearl Street

By Lois Weiss

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The transformation of the old Verizon Building from a white cocoon to a dazzling butterfly has attracted the offices of one of the world’s leading architects.

Rafael Viñoly, the architect who designed the tall residential tower at 425 Park Ave. among other projects, leased 36,550-square-foot on the top, 31st floor of 375 Pearl St., becoming the only non-City agency office tenant.

Sitting on the eastern edge of Manhattan’s Civic Center at the intersection of the Avenue of the Finest, 375 Pearl St. is a 1.1 million square-foot slender white column on the skyline that is best viewed from Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. Aside from the red logo Verizon logo, it was a non-descript white column with side bump outs, created initially to house switching stations for the telephone company.

As Verizon computerized, it consolidated its own needs into three lower floors and in 2007 sold the remainder of the building to Taconic Partners. That company hatched a pricey plan to completely reskin the 31-story tower with a beautiful glass curtain wall.

But despite being near the Water Street office corridor, large anchor tenants still balked at the location as the City’s Police Dept., worried about security and housed in the adjacent One Police Plaza, cut off some pedestrian paths from the Municipal Building. (After the City agencies leased there, access was restored.)

Enter Sabey Data Center Properties, one of the largest privately-owned data center operators in the United States which now operates over three million square feet. Seeing an opportunity, it obtained the property through a deed in lieu of foreclosure and turned it into a secure data facility housing backup facilities and server farms.

To protect its client’s backup computers, Sabey also raised all the mechanicals and generators to the fourth floor so when Sandy struck in 2012, the building sailed through with nary a blip to its bits.

As CBRE took over the leasing assignment in 2014/15 Sabey was already in conversations with its next-door neighbor, the NYPD, for about 20,000 square feet of offices.

“We immediately recognized [renting space to the City] was best purpose for the building,” recalled Gregg Rothkin of CBRE who along with colleague Gerry Miovski are the agents on the property for Sabey. “We [also] got DCAS reps [Dept. of Citywide Administrative Services] to walk over.”

Once they saw the possibilities for City offices, the building kicked in a new leasing program and the transformation began. “A decision was made to take the inward-looking building and make it an outward looking building,” Miovski said.

Sabey agreed to swap windows for the façade panels on the six top floors, create a more inviting lobby and redesigned the street level plaza area with plantings and seating areas – and they added a Starbucks.

Once DCAS got involved, as the gatekeeper for City leases, the demand for office floors escalated.

The Human Resources Administration (HRA) needed to move out of a Water St. building and wanted to lease the 26th through 30th floors. “Then the Dept. of Finance (DOF) – housed at the Municipal Building -- said `We need to bump those guys,’ and there was a fight within the city agencies,” Rothkin said. “Instead of six floors we did 14 floors of new windows.”

DOF won the floor race and took floors 26th through 30th. HRA was bumped to the 21st through 25th floors and then the Dept. of Sanitation came in and leased another 73,000 square feet on the 18th and 19th floors, which also received the new window treatment.

As the Post first reported in May 2015, with NYPD committed to 18,000 square feet on the 20th floor, the remainder of the floor was shared with HRA.  Loving the building, NYPD expanded by another 106,000 square feet and leased the 15th through 17th floors, even though it has the older windows.

Indeed, despite looking windowless, the building has ribbons of long large vertical windows.

“The windows are narrow, but they do have height, and with the efficient floor plate and light from every direction and tremendous views it maximizes the windows and light for the entire floor,” Miovski explained.

First Prize Henry Hart Rice Achievement Award
(L-R) Andrew Albstein, Goldberg Weprin Finkel Goldstein LLP, judge for REBNY’s Sales Brokers Most Ingenious Deal of the Year Awards; David Robinov, Ackman-Ziff Real Estate Group, co-chair of REBNY’s Sales Brokers Committee; Gregg Rothkin and Gerry Miovski, CBRE, first prize winners; Woody Heller, Savills, co-chairs of REBNY’s Sales Brokers Committee | Photo by: Ed Lederman

CBRE has a monthly Downtown broker meeting and by chance, Miovski sat next to the now retired Gerry Friedman who was representing Raphael Viñoly along with colleague Robert Stillman. Viñoly was being bumped from his offices of 28 years at 50 Vandam St. as the building was going to be demolished for the Disney headquarters. Here they have two floors, a giant model shop and controlled how it looked from the time a visitor walked in and they were looking for something to replicate that space.

“Gerry said he had a tenant who wanted high ceilings, views, and wide column-spacing and after some back and forth, I realized the 31st top floor, which has extraordinarily high ceilings, could be a terrific fit,” recalled Miovski.

The architect also wanted street access parking exclusivity, “and all these wish list items.”

“They did an initial tour and were very interested,” said Rothkin. At the time, the windows were being installed and Viñoly determined a 500-square foot terrace could be created on the southeast side of the building and it was added to the final transaction.

As the floor has 23-foot high ceilings, Viñoly also worked with the building to insert an 8,000 square-foot mezzanine that will serve as the architecture firm’s model area. The architects also negotiated the ability to skip the lobby and enter through a loading dock and use the freight elevator to go directly to the 31st floor. They can also use this area for the waiting vehicles that shuttle the architects back and forth to their many projects.

“The most intriguing part of the deal for Viñoly,” Rothkin added, “is that because the building is already a condominium and Verizon owns its floors, the architects have the ability to purchase their floor in the future.”

There were many moving parts and Rothkin’s background as a lawyer and Miovski’s as an architect were critical to move the complicated deal forward through the 18 months of negotiations that included the architectural changes and construction needed to create the mezzanine and terrace.

“This was always considered one of the ugliest buildings and now is one of the prettiest buildings in Manhattan,” said Rothkin. “And on July 4th, there are parties to view the fireworks.”

Viñoly’s going to love it.

> READ MORE BY LOIS WEISS: The Stories Behind the Best Deals of 2018