Jamestown to Redevelop One Times Square to Match Metaverse Version
The $500 million redevelopment will outfit the building with new augmented reality perks, and open six previously hidden floors to the public.
Oh, how the tables turn.
After bringing One Times Square to the metaverse, Jamestown will bring the metaverse to One Times Square.
The landlord built the digital version of the tower — home to the iconic New Year’s Eve ball drop — based on its real counterpart last year. But the real estate developer announced May 6 that it would use $500 million to redevelop the physical version of the 118-year-old building to make it more like its Decentraland twin.
The redevelopment will create a new viewing deck and museum experience across six floors; 12 floors of digital, virtual and augmented reality installations; and a new subway entrance when the property reopens in summer 2024. But not to worry: The tower’s north-facing LED signs will keep shining bright-as-day advertisements down onto Times Square throughout the 27-month construction process, according to the landlord.
“It’s designed as a sort of physical twinning of a metaverse experience, which is the opposite of what people have been doing,” Michael Phillips, Jamestown’s president, told Commercial Observer. “We designed a metaverse and a virtual experience, which we’re now going to build in [the building], which I think is the really compelling piece of how the physical real estate comes to life with the technology that’s now available in the digital world.”
At the intersection of 42nd Street, Seventh Avenue and Broadway, the physical One Times Square is already something to behold. Built in 1904 as The New York Times’ headquarters, the building is known globally for its bright neon signs that can fetch anywhere from $75,000 to millions of dollars per ad campaign, depending on the length, per the landlord.
Jamestown “built” the 26-story building’s metaverse counterpart in December 2021 after hosting a virtual New Year’s Eve party in 2020 due to pandemic restrictions on in-person gatherings. The firm partnered with Digital Currency Group to bring One Times Square into the Decentraland metaverse, increasing engagement in the ball drop from 1 billion impressions in 2019 to about 2.4 billion impressions in 2022, according to the landlord. The online gathering boasted immersive virtual games, rooftop VIP lounges and art galleries as real-world COVID-19 cases surged and local festivities were canceled. At least in the metaverse, last December One Times Square was the tallest building around.
The newly renovated One Times Square will be, for the first time in its recent history, open to the public as a “21st century visitor’s center for New York,” as Phillips put it. While the 21st floor has been occupied by the team that plans the New Year’s Eve ball drop, for the most part the building is empty, said Tom Harris, president of the Times Square Alliance, which partners with Jamestown each year for the New Year’s Eve festivities. The renovations would give the public a glimpse at the inside of the property, unseen and mostly unoccupied since the 1990s.
One Times Square hasn’t needed tenants — the building’s advertisers suffice. When Lehman Brothers — the financial firm that went bankrupt during the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008 — purchased the building in 1995, it renovated the facade with billboards, snagging skyrocketing profits on the mostly vacant tower. After $500 million worth of renovations, the property’s iconic exterior won’t be its only part sporting advertisements anymore — inside the building, visitors viewing the space through virtual reality glasses will be able to see messages from different brands. There will be a game component to the space as well, Phillips said.
“We have a design that will start out in the public realm, and you could use your [virtual reality] for the exterior, which will start the experience,” Phillips said. “Once you’re in the building, there’ll be a sequenced series of events that tie into the different history and brand experiences as you travel through the building. It’s taking the technology and harnessing it in a way that’s both exterior and interior to physical space.”
Jamestown is partnering with AECOM Tishman to design the project, and JPMorgan Chase will provide financing, though the landlord declined to provide the details. S9 Architecture is the team’s design architect, SLCE Architects is the executive architect, DeSimone Consulting Engineers will handle structural engineering and Tishman will also serve as construction manager, according to a spokesperson for Jamestown.
The redevelopment project has been more than a year in the making, Harris said. At the start of its planning process, Jamestown solicited feedback from the Times Square Alliance, the nonprofit dedicated to promoting local business and economic development in the square. The alliance even considered its own metaverse presence, but ultimately decided it would focus on the physical Times Square instead, Harris said.
“I applaud Jamestown for this investment in Times Square, and it just goes to show the value people are placing on Times Square,” Harris told CO. “We will work very closely with contractors and with Jamestown to make sure the [process] is seamless with minimal impact to the neighborhood. … We are very excited with this level of investment and creative vision for both Times Square and for New York City.”
The redevelopment isn’t the only way Jamestown is integrating its real world operations with the virtual universe. The firm will accept rent payments in the form of cryptocurrency through a partnership with the blockchain payment processing company BitPay, Jamestown announced on April 27.
“Customers want to pay for day-to-day items like food and rent in bitcoin or ethereum,” BitPay CEO Stephen Pair said in a statement at the time. “Working with Jamestown lets them not only live life on crypto, but live and work in transformed spaces and innovation hubs across major cities.”
Those transformed spaces will soon include One Times Square, where construction began in April. While other real estate companies have been hesitant to jump into trading cryptocurrency for cash, or build real estate properties in the metaverse because of the speculative nature of how such property is valued, Jamestown has charged forward in the virtual world. Now, it’s putting its money where its mouth is — and $500 million at that.
Update: This story has been updated to include the construction and design team behind the redevelopment.
Celia Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.