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Park Ave: Upgrading creations of decades past.

A renaissance has begun on Park Avenue. The grand boulevard of corporate headquarters is dusting herself off and going in for reconstructive surgery.

Ever since Skidmore Owings Merrill designed Lever House at 390 Park -- its glass curtain walls were dedicated in 1952 as the first corporate headquarters, the Avenue has continued to evolve.

While some appear quite modem from the outside, buildings along the avenue are 30-plus years old and need to be rehabed to accommodate modern technological standards, energy efficiency, asbestos removal and governmental codes such as handicapped accessibility, explains Richard Roth Jr., a principal of Emery Roth & Sons, P.C., the architecture firm that has had its hand in two dozen of the buildings.

"All of these things have impacted buildings that are not only 30 or 40 years old but also buildings 10 years old," he said, "and they have to be brought up to a level of their competition. We have to make these unintelligent buildings intelligent. "

Roth's firm boasts three generations of architects that have designed Park Avenue buildings going back to such beauties as the Drake and Regency Hotels.

What makes these buildings distinctive, Roth says, is that Park Avenue is still the premier office street in the world. "Fifth Avenue is the same thing," he remarked. "People want to be there."

Philip A. Metzidakis, director, Tishman Interiors Corp., who has the perspective of a former broker, said Park Avenue is an internationally recognized address that attracts tenants. Unfortunately, he says, that is not enough to fill the avenue.

"You see that the stock is middle-aged," he said, noting that between 200 Park, at 42nd Street, and 59th Street there are only two buildings constructed in the 80's. None were built in the 70's and, with few exceptions, the rest opened their doors in the 50's and 60's.

"All the stock along this corporate row are buildings that are simply getting old," Metzidakis observed. "Given that the market has a 16 percent vacancy, they have to upgrade to compete with vacant, new state-of-the-art space all over the city."

Weiskopf & Pickwick was a structural engineer for Lever House..Sing L. Chu, P.E., a partner in the firm, says these buildings will need structural changes to accommodate high-speed elevators, enlarged cooling systems and certain floor reconfiguration.

One former Tishman Speyer executive used to refer to the Park Avenue office buildings as "Glass Cash Registers," recalled Richard Seth Hayden, a principal of Swanke Hayden Connell architects, which is designing the transformation of 320 Park.

This building, scheduled to be the headquarters of its new owner, Mutual of America, is being stripped down to the bare bones of concrete and steel and entirely rebuilt to make a new, energy- efficient headquarters, says Mutual of America's President and Chief Operating Officer Thomas I. Moran.

Hayden said his firm is conducting studies for other owners but, since this is the first of the new generation of buildings, they are treating it as a "very important leading-edge building."

As such, they are taking into account new technologies, codes and fit-out "toys" such as mall carts that can go vertically from floor to floor. The new facade will feature a combination of stone and curtain wail construction in colors yet to be decided.

The project has a budget of $73 million, which is being offset to some degree by a new form of the industrial and commercial incentive program (ICIP). Purchased earlier in the year from Olympia & York for $128 million, the former ITI' headquarters was delivered completely empty to its new owners. Coincidentally, Skidmore Owings Merrill had already been hired to design a new facade for the building,

By O&Y prior to the sale.

Other buildings are not so "fortunate," Moran says, to be entirely empty, but they will have to make these kinds of changes and improvements as tenants move in and out.

Roth believes these buildings will be rehabbed according to tenant needs. The owners may redo the lobby and the hallways and speed up the elevators but not undertake electrical wire management except at the tenant level, he explains.

Roth suffered from sick building syndrome last year and blames it on improper maintenance of 460 Park, a building his firm designed. They have since moved their offices. "There isn't any building that can't be maintained," he said, adding that there isn't a law yet written that will ensure its proper maintenance.

Towering over Grand Central Station and facing downtown, 200 Park Avenue, designed in 1962 as a collaboration between Emery Roth & Sons and Gropius & Belluschi, now bears the name of its owner, MetLife, after former lead tenant and namesake Pan Am went out of business.

99 Park was designed in 1954 by Emery Roth & Sons. Equitable's pooled pension fund, the $3.4 billion Prime Property Fund, purchased the 26-story building, located between 40th and 41st Streets, at the bottom of the market in 1977 for $20 million. The building was sold to new owners roughly 18 months ago.

"The building at 99 was purchased for its proximity to Grand Central," recalled Bruce Mosler, vice chairman of Galbreath Riverbank Realty, which represented the purchasers in the $100 million deal and remains as leasing agent. "We've had great success leasing and renewing in what some might consider a soft market, in the mid-to high 30's."

A block of 70,000 square feet has just become available in a corporate pull-back to Cincinnati, but otherwise, they have closed out all the small floors.

Mosler said the building had meticulous maintenance. "In terms of bringing it into the 21st Century it was up to snuff," he said, noting the property merely needed cosmetic lobby improvement, and a willingness to invest in tenant build-out. "For whatever reason, in the last four to six weeks we've seen a tremendous pickup in activity."

On the Western side of the street, 90 Park was also designed by ERS.

100 Park Avenue has been handled by for the last 12 years by Cushman & Wakefield for Prudential. Joseph G. Costabile, senior director and head of strategic agency services in New York City for Cushman & Wakefield, said two years ago Prudential was facing the possibility of 200,000 square feet of vacancy and decided that to effectively compete, they had to redo the lobby and other facilities.

The facade was redone for the first two levels with granite and tasteful lighting, Costabile recounts. They improved the elevator cabs aesthetically and mechanically, conducted a total asbestos abatement, sprinklerization, and renovated the bathrooms with quasi-art deco while complying with ADA and Local Law 58 requirements.

"ADA was beginning to be a lease negotiation issue," he noted. Lot line windows were permitted to be replaced with clear glass. They spent about $6 million and are continuing to spend as floors are reclaimed, but, Costabile notes, they leased more than 200,000 square feet to new tenants last year.

"The problem is that you need an ownership with the wherewithal to make that capital commitment," he said. "Others can't."

At 42nd Street, the Philip Morris Company has installed a branch of the Whitney Museum as a pleasant greeting for tourists straight off the trains, planes and buses that bring them to Grand Central Station.

The Grand Central Partnership is executing a $35 million capital improvement program of the streets in the area stretching from 39th to 48th along Park. That program includes the lighting along the viaduct, as well as turning the block from 41st to 42nd into a pedestrian mall. A restaurant is planned to be tucked underneath the viaduct there.

The Helmsley Building at 230 anchors the northern section of the most famous part of the corridor that provides views straight to Riverdale. That tower is undergoing restoration and maintenance and the building was regilded in the 80's.

The Posture Building is located at 250 Park while Bear Stearns resides at 245 across the street in the former American Brands headquarters.

Some buildings, such as 270 Park, have been upgraded and changed several times. Skidmore Owings Merrill designed 270 Park originally for Union Carbide in 1962. The firm gave it a whole new identity by installing a new plaza and red core for Manufacturers Hanover in 1983 in addition to renovating more than 1 million square feet for that headquarters.

Weiskopf & Pickworth were involved with these same changes, noted Chu. The lobby at 270 was also switched to the second floor by Manny Hanny at that same time. "They opened up the entire second floor which was a major structural renovation," Chu said.

Most recently, Skidmore Owings did the planning and programming for the consolidation, merger and relocation of Chemical from its building at 277 Park across the street into Manufacturer's Hanover Trust building at 270 Park in the creation of the Chemical Banking Corp. Hayden is designing some of the new interior floors. Weiskopf & Pickworth is again involved in developing the structural loads for a trading floor, with Tishman Interiors Corp. as the construction manager for the new technology in this trading area. "They are making a commitment to the avenue," noted Metzidakis.

Mutual of America, he says, has to make the investment in order to have systems that make sense both for themselves and to rent out. "This is the same reason Rockefeller Center is upgrading its systems," he explained. Since the World Trade Center bombing, he adds, large tenants are very concerned about fire and life safety systems. "These buildings are not up to speed," he noted.

The Stanley Stahl-owned 277 Park is seeking new tenants to replace the outgoing Chemical, brokers say. Calls to his office were not returned. That building underwent a major renovation and expansion of a portion of its curtain wall to a glass atrium in the 1980's.

Bankers Trust at the Emory Roth-designed 280 Park is taking the opportunity of a recent fire to upgrade some of its systems.

The Schultze & Weaver-designed Waldorf Astoria, diagonally across the Avenue, is home away from home for world leaders and international travelers. It contains private apartments that have been redone by Hayden's firm.

Hayden is currently working on the Colgate Palmolive building at number 300. These are modifications to their interior space to meet ongoing needs and provide training facilities.

Mies van der Rohe designed the Seagram Building at 375 Park in the 0O'S.

Roth's firm designed the Rudin's 345 Park; 400 Park, that Fisher Bros. developed; 410 Park, where Chase Manhattan resides; the last remaining apartment house at 425 Park; 430 Park, a residential building that was converted to commercial use; and three of the corners at 57th Street including 460 Park.

The South east corner building was designed by Hahn Jacobs.

At the corner of 59th Street, Park Tower Realty owns the 13-year-old 499 Park, which has 10,000-square-foot floor plates attractive to an international clientele that is concerned about location and image. It does not need any renovations at this time, a spokesperson said.

Across the street, the current 500 Park & Tower Pepsi Headquarters was known as the Olivetti Building in 1959 when designed by Skidmore.

Costabile says many Park Avenue owners will try to compete in the marketplace, but some buildings may be taken back by the lenders and others will not be able to cover the cost of capital improvements.

"A lot of buildings refinanced in the late 80's will suffer from costs and the lower rent levels," he added, noting that many of them have been saved by the improving market.

"They might be one of the ones that will be a beneficiary of the turnaround, transforming the building," he said. The tenants, the rents, and the market will be stronger than they are today, he predicts, and the investment needed to bring these buildings into the 21st Century will be more plausible.
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Title Annotation:Emery Roth and Sons P.C. on improving buildings on Park Avenue, New York, New York
Author:Weiss, Lois
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:May 19, 1993
Words:1965
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