Little Pink Hardhats: PBC’s Alicia Popper Repositioned HSBC’s Headquarters


The pink construction helmets, three of which are proudly displayed in Alicia Popper’s office, collectively serve as touching reminder to the PBC USA Real Estate broker that construction workers and tenants alike appreciate her for her work.

“I’m accepted, I’m embraced,” said Ms. Popper, a senior vice president of leasing and construction. Standing inside her temporary office at 452 Fifth Avenue, a building she helped transform from the former HSBC headquarters into a multi-tenant building, Ms. Popper showed off a bright-pink helmet that bears the logo of the Otis Elevator Company. The helmet was, like Ms. Popper, attractive yet tough.

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img 1293 Little Pink Hardhats: PBCs Alicia Popper Repositioned HSBC’s Headquarters“They go out of their way to get me pink hardhats,” Ms. Popper said.

She may receive another pink construction helmet when she is finished overseeing renovations at 452 Fifth Avenue, a Class A, 865,000-square-foot office tower that once held HSBC as its sole tenant. That changed in 2009 when IDB Group, the Israel-based parent company of PBC USA, paid $352 million for the tower. The company then embarked on an ambitious $22 million capital improvement campaign that included a $7.5 million renovation of the lobby (out with the rusted marble, in with the Jerusalem stone and French limestone).

The results, so far, have been satisfactory for Ms. Popper and PBC USA. Nearly all of the space has been leased out, and now, flush with a $400 million loan from JPMorgan Chase, the firm is in the process of building out 10 floors.

“Space was never available here,” Ms. Popper said. Walking the 29th floor of 452 Fifth Avenue, it’s not hard to see why HSBC would want to keep the space to itself. The floor offers a rare glimpse into an outdoor patio on the landmarked Lord & Taylor building at 424 Fifth Avenue and sweeping views of the New York Public Library and Bryant Park. The views from the top three floors, meanwhile, were so special that Edmond Safra, a Lebanese-Brazilian banker who once owned 452 Fifth Avenue, chose to build one elevator each for the top two floors.

To get to those upper floors today, a security guard-slash-chaperone is required (Mr. Safra, who was reportedly obsessed with safety, died in 1999 during an arson attack inside his Monaco home.) For a visitor, this is impressive. For a tenant, this can be exhausting.

This is why PBC USA currently has a bulkhead on the roof of the building that, when complete, will allow all five elevators in 452 Fifth Avenue to access the top three floors, Ms. Popper said. With that done, those top floors are expected to hit the market by November, with asking rents expected to hit as high as $140 per square foot.