News
09.07.2005
A Sign Of the Times
As The New York Timess new headquarters rises, it's worth remembering how the development evolved as part of the larger, often controversial revitalization of Times Square. Clay Risen reports. Photograph by Katsu Tanaka.

The New York Times Company's headquarters fills the block between 40th and 41st streets, along 8th Avenue.

In October 1999, the New York Times Company announced that it had entered negotiations with city and state officials to relocate its headquarters from West 43rd Street to a plot between 40th and 41st Street along 8th Avenue, across from the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Almost six years later, that building is well under way, with steel up to the tenth floor of what will eventually be a 52-story, 1.67-million-square-foot tower.

Along the way, the buildinggwhich is being developed in partnership with Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC) and was designed by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop with Fox & Fowleehas faced more than its fair share of bad press. A high-profile lawsuit challenging the city's eminent domain powers to shutter the existing properties on the lot, followed by a poorly received application for Liberty Bonds by FCRC, have left the impression among many New Yorkers that the company was using its position as the city's newspaper of recordd to get sweetheart treatmenttan impression facilitated by the paper's many competitors, most notably the New York Post.

But as real estate and city planning expertssas well as courtssattest, the history of the Times project is one of neither corruption nor favoritism. Rather, it is one of the more high-profile examples of powerful companies making use of the government's immense power to shape the urban landscape, a power often forgotten at a time when a developer seems to be running the show at Ground Zero and the mayor can't rally enough support to build a football stadium. But the story also shows how in New York, even the best-laid urban development plans can turn into a PR nightmare.

In 1980, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), a state-level public entity, created the 42nd Street Development Project, a 13-acre urban renewal zone along 42nd Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue. The parcel on which the Times building is now rising, though not on 42nd Street, was included in the zone because the ESDC initially saw it as a space for a massive merchandise mart, a plan that was never realized.

There was a sense that the area was blighted in every way and was an underachieving aspect of the city,, said Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association (RPA). The Times parcel was one of last to come together..

The 42nd Street Development Project offered tax breaks to development within the zone and allowed the city to use eminent domain to facilitate new construction. In 1999, these breaks helped convince the Times to select the site for its new headquarters, having outgrown its current location on nearby West 43rd Street.

In February 2000, the Times selected FCRC as its partner in developing the parcel. The building will be split as a condominium between the paper, which will own and operate floors 2 through 28 as well as an adjoining auditorium, with FCRC taking the top 24 floors, which it will lease as office space. The company has yet to find its first tenant.

At the time, the partners said they planned to begin building by late 2000 and that Times staff would move in by 2004. That timeline was perhaps unrealistic; major negotiations did not end until early 2001. The same year, the company announced that Renzo Piano Building Workshop with Fox & Fowle had won an international competition to design the building. By then, the 42nd Street Development Project had proved a remarkable success, having turned a blighted district into a major entertainment zone, adding some 6.4 million square feet of theaters, shopping, restaurants, and hotels.

But the district's transformation was a road paved with legal misfortunes; pre-project Times Square businesses held up the area's sanitizing developments in courts until 1990. The same fate befell the Times project soon after it was announced. The Times, FCRC, and the ESDC were sued by a developer, Gary Barnett, who owned a parking lot to be condemned on the site, accusing the trio of fraud, bad faith and collusion against the taxpayers of New York.. He argued that ESDC had low-balled the property's value and, thanks to the various benefits in the deallincluding an 85 percent rebate if acquisition costs rose above $85 millionnwas playing favorites.

Other New York newspapers jumped on the news and the Times soon found itself in the middle of a PR crisis. But such criticism, experts say, was wildly misplaced.

That's not a fair attack,, said Lynn Sagalyn, a real estate professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has written a history of Times Square's redevelopment. [The site] is and has been from day one a part of the larger 42 Street Development Project, which always intended and did use condemnatory powers. Eminent domain is a historical part of that project and everything was done through the correct legislative procedures..

Working against the Times was the fact that it had come late to the 42nd Street game. By 2000, the district was no longer a street of peep shows and drug dealers but a vibrant, family-friendly district of theaters and chain restaurants. This led many observers to question why the city was giving away such lucrative benefits in an area that was, in their eyes, no longer blighted.

But according to Sagalyn, the area's relative health was irrelevant to ESDC's obligation to redevelop every plot within it. One could say, Let the market do it,' but that's not logical within the context of [the city's] public policy. Getting that site developed was the last piece of [the city's] larger public policy development,, she said.

A series of court rulings concurred, finding that the agency's charge was to do what it thought was best in the long run for the zoneewhich meant, in this case, signing a generous deal to land a high-profile development. About the case, which was dismissed, Justice Martin Schoenfeld of the New York County Supreme Court wrote in April 2002, The urban renewal law authorizes the sale of property to an applicant which does not necessarily offer the highest price but proposes to develop the property in accordance with the purposes of the site's urban renewal program..

Meanwhile, the Times and FCRC found a new enemy in Steve Cuozzo, a real estate reporter for the New York Post who hounded the paper in more than a dozen columns between 2002 and 2004. Cuozzo accused The New York Times of shilling for a partnerr by publishing negative accounts of the downtown real estate market and positive accounts of FCRC's other projects. Catherine Mathis, a spokesperson for the Times, denied any wrongdoings and Cuozzo was never able to move his charges beyond conjecture.

The partners took control of the site in September 2003, but the project was halted again when FCRC found itself unable to secure either a sizable loan or a major tenant. Claiming that the real estate market had deteriorated since the project began, the company had applied for $400 million in Liberty Bonds in July 2003. Congress had set aside $8 billion in Liberty Bonds, of which $2 billion could go outside Lower Manhattan.

The Liberty Bond application once again drew public flak, even though other midtown companies were also applying for Liberty Bond loans and the program in general was undersubscribed. In fact, said Sagalyn, given the relative lack of interest, FCRC's application was actually a good thing. If you're not using the benefits the feds are giving, the feds will be quick to take them back,, she said. (When the authorizing legislation for Liberty Bonds expired in January, only half of the federally approved $8 billion had been allocated.) FCRC's application was nevertheless poorly received downtown, and in May 2004 it dropped the request, announcing a month later that it had secured a $320 million conventional loan from the newly created General Motors Acceptance Corp. (GMAC) Construction.

Though the $800 million project is on track for 2007 completion, yet another wrinkle has arisen, this time involving FCRC's application for $170 million in tax breaks through a state program that encourages brownfield development. But a revision to that program passed earlier this year allows the state to deny funds to projects whose clean-up costs do not represent a significantt portion of the total cost, a change that, according to the Post, some say was designed specifically for the Times building.

We have applied for the program,, said Michelle de Milly, a FCRC spokesperson. No decision has been made..

The building's PR woes seem never-ending. Just two weeks ago, the Village Voice ran the front-page story, Times' to Commoners: Go Elsewhere: Don't soil our publicly subsidized new HQ with your riff-raff,, which took issue with the building's extensive lease restrictions. A Times spokesperson responded by stating that the company and FCRC are seeking tenants that will complement our new building.. When the tower is completed, New York will have seen how to build a first-class building and how hard it is to get it built.
CLAY RISEN IS AN ASSISTANT EDITOR AT THE NEW REPUBLIC AND IS A REGULAR CONTRIBUTOR OF AN.

Credits

 

Project: The New York Times Building

Location: 8th Avenue between 40th and 41st streets

Gross square footage: 1.6 million square feet

Total construction cost: $800 million

Owner: The New York Times Building LLC, a joint venture of the New York Times Company and Forest City Ratner Companies in Partnership with ING Real Estate

Architect: Renzo Piano Building WorkshoppRenzo Piano, principal; Bernard Plattner, principal; Erik Volz, associate; Serge Drouin, designer. Fox & Fowle ArchitectssBruce Fowle, principal; Daniel Kaplan, principal; Gerald Rosenfeld, project manager, Fox & Fowle.

Associate architect: Gensler Architecture, interiors.

Engineer(s): Flack + Kurtz; The Thornton Tomassetti Group

Consultant(s): Landscape:  H.M. White Site Architects, landscape; Office for Visual Interaction, lighting; Susan Brady Lighting, interior Lighting; Cerami & Associates, acoustics; Pentagram, graphics; Jenkins & Huntington, elevator; Heitmann & Associates, exterior wall; Kroll Worldwide, security; Walsh Lowe, tel./data.

Construction Manager: AMEC

Software: Microstation, Prolog Management sSystem

GENERAL SPECIFICATIONS

Structural system: DCM

Exterior cladding: Benson (metal/glass curtainwall); Haywood Berk (wood)

Glazing: Viracon (glass); Supersky (skylights)

Doors: Seele (entrances); McKeon (fire-control doors, security grilles)

Hardware: Corbin/Russwin (locksets)

Interior finishes: Island Diversified (Interior Marmorino Finish)

Lighting: ERCO (exterior and interior lighting); Lutron (controls)

Conveyance: Fujitec (elevators/escalaters)

Plumbing: Stern (faucets); American Standard (toilets)

Clay Risen