57th Street Skyscraper Up in the Air
Dana Rubinstein Sept. 15, 2009, 7:41 a.m.
A developer’s vision for a stunning, hourglass-shaped skyscraper at the corner of 57th Street and Second Avenue is moving forward, albeit in an ill-defined form.
The city’s Educational Construction Fund, which is working with luxury residential developer World-Wide Group on the project, filed plans with the Department of Buildings on Sept. 10 for the project’s first phase: an 11-story building, containing 240,549 square feet for the two public schools originally located at the development site (P.S. 59 and the High School of Art & Design) and nearly 40,000 square feet of retail space.
Phase one is itself an amended version of the original plan, which called for the first phase to include 70,000 square feet of retail space. A spokesman for the developer acknowledged that the reduction is an adjustment to new economic realities.
Phase two remains largely in flux. The original plans, first unveiled at the close of 2006, call for a 59-story residential skyscraper to rise on the site. Both the scraper’s height and its composition are now up in the air.
“In terms of rentals or condos, it is too soon to commit one way or the other,” wrote World-Wide spokesman Lee Silberstein in an email. “This goes for the size, and therefore number of units.”
THE PROJECT IS a complicated public-private partnership that harks back to a more optimistic time.
When first announced in late 2006, The New York Sun reported that World-Wide would lease the 1.5-acre site from the City of New York for 75 years. The city would allow World-Wide to relocate P.S. 59 to a new school, to be funded and built by the developer. Then, World-Wide would demolish P.S. 59’s old digs and build a new school building in its place, adjacent to the high school. Once that building was complete, the high school would relocate next door, and its original building would be demolished. Then construction would begin on the residential portion of the project.
Essentially, the Department of Education would have emerged from the process with three new developer-funded school buildings, along with $325 million in rent over the course of the 75-year lease. For its part, the developer would be allowed to build a magnificent, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill–designed skyscraper in what was then a booming residential real estate market. Even better, the state would issue $130 million in tax-free bonds to help finance the schools’ construction.
At first, construction moved forward according to plan. In August 2008, retail brokerage Robert K. Futterman & Associates announced that Whole Foods would anchor the project’s retail, opening an outlet there in 2012. By the end of 2008, World-Wide had finished construction of the temporary 63rd Street school for P.S. 59, the city’s first green school building. Industry trade New York Construction reported in October 2008 that construction on the new schools at the development site was to begin that fall. Nearly a year later, construction has yet to begin.
“The temporary site of PS 59 has opened and the school relocated; the rest of the timeline is being finalized,” Mr. Silberstein wrote.
The project’s future remains somewhat murky, but Education Fund executive director Jamie Smarr expressed confidence that the state would still issue bonds to finance construction, and the project would still be completed largely as planned. “The developer is still very much involved as this is [a] public-private venture,” Mr. Smarr said in an email.
“We are moving forward with the planning of this project and, other than some redesign, it remains the same as previously announced.”