Marketing

650 Fifth Avenue, A Building With Alleged Ties to Iranian Bank, Celebrates New Coming-Out Party

“This is a schlock fest.”

So sniffed one junior real estate broker last week, who was standing in a raw, white-washed space on the 29th floor of 650 Fifth Avenue. Formerly known as the Plaget Building, 650 Fifth Avenue now had an ownership group and a new leasing team that were both aggressive in their efforts to simultaneously lease space and erase any lasting impressions left by the building’s alleged ties to an Iranian bank.

img 3384 e1349736127356 650 Fifth Avenue, A Building With Alleged Ties to Iranian Bank, Celebrates New Coming Out Party

Brokers congregate over food and a cash prize at 650 Fifth Avenue

The broker’s snarky critique was overheard as that person sipped from a complimentary martini glass filled with gazpacho, garnished with a singular shrimp. The marketing event was arranged in part by the new CBRE team that was hired this summer to lease out the 140,000 square feet of vacant space in the 36-story building.

CBRE veterans Molly Concannon, Zachary Freeman, Paul Haskin and Robert Stillman had sexed up the event by including a lavish lunch spread, free umbrellas and a raffle for $6,500. The raffle, and perhaps the intrigue surrounding the building’s history, was enough to attract brokers from Cushman & Wakefield, Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, CresaPartners and Transwestern into the crammed Midtown space.

“Most of people in the room will not earn commissions of $6,500 this month, so that’s pretty good,” said Mr. Stillman of the cash reward.

Indeed, brokers—and this reporter, admittedly—who were excited by the prospect of winning $6,500 exited the elevators and walked the red carpet to a table with a hostess and a glass bowl, eagerly placing their cards inside the bowl for a chance at the handsome award.
The space on the 29th floor was being presented as a flex space, which could fit anywhere from 43 to 74 people, depending on the layout.

The building’s owner, 650 Fifth Avenue Company, spent $11 million installing new elevators and renovating the entire lobby, hiring architectural firm Swanke Hayden Connell for the job. The result was a new, clean feel to a building that perhaps had been in need of an image makeover.

In 2008, the United States Justice Department claimed that 40 percent of the building had been owned by Assa Corp., a shell company believed to be run by Iran’s Bank Melli. That bank was accused of being a key backer to the Middle Eastern country’s nuclear and weapons programs. The bank also had reputed ties to Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Quds Force, both of which had been previously linked to terrorist organizations.

Two years later, Farshid Jahedi, the president of The Alavi Foundation, the non-profit that is a part-owner of 650 Fifth Avenue, was sentenced to three months in federal prison for obstruction of justice.

Since then, the building and its expenditures are overseen by a federally-appointed monitor, Kathleen Roberts, a former federal judge who works for JAMS, an alternative dispute resolution provider, said a person close to the building.

Those controversies aside, the owners of 650 Fifth Avenue and its new management team appeared eager to boast the building’s new appearance and overall freshness.

“I think people haven’t been in the building, and they know it’s reasonably priced,” said Mr. Stillman. “If you’re a young broker like that, and you have small requirements, you need to know the space.”

CBRE is replacing Jones Lang LaSalle as the building’s managers. “One of the brokers said to me ‘I made deals, but it was always difficult.’ I said ‘that’s not the deal anymore,’” he said.
The 382,500-square-foot Class A building by the Rockefeller Center was built in 1979. Tenants in the building include Citigroup, the Doris Duke Foundation, Delta National Bank, and Sterling National Bank.

After a brief presentation by Mr. Freeman, the CBRE team announced the winner of the raffle: Robert Galluci of Cushman & Wakefield won the honor. As he was presented with the kind of oversized check customarily given to lottery winners or charities, a mass of brokers quickly fled for the new elevators, grabbing a complimentary umbrella while on their way out.

drosen@observer.com