His Schedule’s Full

charles cohen His Schedule’s FullThe Commercial Observer: You’ve done a lot of work redeveloping design centers across the country, including the Decoration & Design Building in Manhattan and the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, which is currently under construction.

Mr. Cohen: The Pacific Design Center is in the third phase, which is a great office building that’s presently under construction, to be completed in about 16 months. And that building is a Caesar Pelli-designed office building and it’s spectacular.


You sound proud of that development in particular.

It’s going to be great when it’s finished, absolutely. I’ve been working on it for a long time. Yeah, I am particularly proud of it.


With all of these design-oriented buildings, do you have an interest in design yourself?

Of course I do. I just respond to design, very much so. Design is what distinguishes us as individuals, and I’ve always been interested in art and architecture and the arts. With each of our buildings-whether they be design centers or office buildings or anything else-we’ve tried to develop a distinctive style, which is often a little different in each one, but distinctive, to differentiate us from the other buildings.


Has that become more difficult to accomplish with the economy struggling?

I think we’re unique in what we do because now more than ever we’ve reinvested in our buildings. We have a building on Park Avenue South, at 32nd Street, known as 475 Park Avenue South, which is our first office building. It was built in the late ’60s. That building is being totally redone from top to bottom, with a new facade, a new lobby. Caesar Pelli’s doing the facade; another group is doing a lobby in the public areas. So we’re reinvesting because we believe in New York and we believe in our projects. We need to have them distinguish themselves from the competition.


How many projects do you currently have under way?

Probably 10.


That sounds like a large number.

It is. There’s a lot of things that are being redone, created, reinvented, redeveloped.


Give me a few examples.

I’m in the process of redeveloping the Design Center of the Americas in southern Florida, and I’m also working on a plan to build some office buildings on that site as well, which is down the road a year or two or three from now. I’m doing some work on my design center office building in Houston. We’re doing the 475 Park Avenue South job in New York. We’re doing projects within the D&D Building; we’re doing projects within the Pacific Design Center.

There’s just lots of things. I’m working with art galleries in California on redoing some space to accommodate them. There’s just a lot of projects going on, from the simple to the complex.


I imagine you’re busier today than you were about a year ago.

Things are getting a little busier. I like to say that last year we were going one mile an hour and now we’re going five miles an hour.


How many miles an hour would you prefer to be going?

As fast as I can go without losing control.


You’ve worked with a bevy of renowned architects, including Helmut Jahn. Are there any that you consider a favorite to work with?

They’re all my favorites. I really find that there’s a lot about each of them that make them unique, and yet they’ve all achieved a level of success for the reasons that make them unique. It’s great to work with different people on different projects. It’s challenging and refreshing and involving, and the results speak for themselves.


With the Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield office building in Manhattan, you successfully leased what was a vacant 1 million-square-foot tower. How were you able to pull that off?

We turned it into a multi-tenanted building. We have a number of buildings that we purchased that were corporate headquarters that had never been occupied by multiple tenants. One was the Swiss Bank Tower, which became 623 Fifth Avenue; 622 Third Avenue; 333 Westchester Avenue in White Plains, which we redid with Philip Johnson’s help. We bought that from Philip Morris. It had been General Food’s headquarters.

So we’ve done this a number of times. We do it by figuring out how to make the building work for more than one tenant and yet take advantage of all the great infrastructure. So each has a different architectural style and each are, we think, among the best buildings in their class and location.


You were the executive producer on the film Frozen River and the author of the 1985 movie-related trivia book TriviaMania. Any new film projects under way?

I have some ideas for some things I’m working on. I’m looking at a few things. Nothing I can talk about today, but it’s an area that continues to interest me. And I think that I’ll get into a project in the next few months and we’ll see where that goes. It might not be a production deal. It might be on the distribution side.


What’s the last good movie you saw?

You know something? I don’t remember. That’s how long it’s been. I think I’ve been disappointed a lot lately.


What about last year’s Oscar contenders? Anything?

There were a few. What about you? What did you like?


The Hurt Locker was O.K..

I didn’t like it. I really didn’t care for it. I liked District 9. That was provocative. I really like movies that challenge me. Just like work. I like being challenged.



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