Back to start at 70 Pine St.
By STEVE CUOZZO
March 29, 2011
Plans for 70 Pine St. are up in the air again even as the 66-story, Art Deco skyscraper finally appears headed for official city landmark designation.
The 1930 tower's new owners, a consortium led by Korea's Kumho Investment Bank (KIB), have nixed an earlier proposal to divide it into office floors at the base and condos above them to sell for $2,000 a square foot.
And New York developer Young Woo, widely reported to have "bought" the tower with KIB, has no equity in it at all, according to the bank -- and seems to have been reduced to a mere "adviser."
"We are fine-tuning our mixed-use development plan," KIB general manager Han J. Cho told The Post. He said restoration architects Beyer Blinder Belle have been tapped to work on a new proposal for 70 Pine, which is empty except for the Captain's Ketch restaurant and a few stores. A different source said prominent construction manager/architect Frank Sciame is also on board, perhaps as a joint-venture partner.
Cho also wanted to make clear that 70 Pine St. is wholly owned by the KIB-led group, which holds "100 percent," he said.
Woo "is one of the unit holders of the asset management company that we created to manage the building," Cho said. "They are just a part of the advisers."
Although developers identified as "owners" often hold smaller equity stakes in properties than their financial partners, it's less common, although not unheard of, for them to have none at all.
Woo has developed numerous residential and commercial projects in New York, including the "Sky Garage" condos at 200 11th Ave. He was widely reported to have purchased 70 Pine St. and a smaller adjacent building, 72 Wall St., from AIG in September 2009 for a lowball $150 million with a little help from KIB.
Woo announced the condos-and-offices scheme at a real estate forum a month later.
But after that, the conversion project at one of the city's most often photographed, iconic office buildings fell off the radar.
Although AIG finally moved out on Dec. 31, both Community Board 2 and the Downtown Alliance, which tend to be on top of everything in their territories, said they'd heard nothing recently.
The murkiness extends to the office-leasing plan. Online databases continue to list a Cushman & Wakefield team including Andrew Peretz as the leasing agent for nearly 500,000 square feet, nearly half of the tower's total floor space.
But asked whether the office space was still being marketed, Cho told us yesterday, "No. A master plan has not been finalized yet, so we're not talking to any commercial tenants." Peretz declined to comment.
Cho said KIB sold off most of 72 Wall St. but still owns a portion of that building called 74 Wall St. -- an 11-story brick structure connected to 70 Pine St. by a skybridge on the seventh and eighth floors. He wouldn't say what role 74 Wall would have in a future reuse of 70 Pine.
Downtown sources speculated a new plan for 70 Pine would likely be unveiled in a few months and include a mix of hotel, condo apart- ments and retail, but not offices.
Woo's office said he was out of the country and couldn't be reached. Calls to Gregory Carney, a principal of Woo's firm, Youngwoo & Associates, were not returned.
Neither did Sciame Vice President Steven Colletta return calls. A person at his company said he was the project manager for 70 Pine.
Landmark plan for iconic tower
Lovers of architecture hailed the news that the Landmarks Preservation Commission has "calendared" 70 Pine St. for a public hearing on May 10 -- the first step in a process likely to result in formal city landmark designation, which would protect it from demolition or alteration without the panel's approval.
Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy -- a private, preservationist-oriented nonprofit organization that lobbied for the tower's designation -- said, "Clearly, 70 Pine is one of the most important Lower Manhattan skyscrapers that has not been landmarked. So we were thrilled to see it calendared and look forward to its designation soon."
David Childs, architect of the new 1 World Trade Center, calls 70 Pine "one of my all-time favorites -- not a high-rise, but a true skyscraper, Deco in style but with Gothic influences." Ironically, 952-foot 70 Pine, which was once downtown's tallest tower, reclaimed the title after 9/11 -- but will relinquish it when 1 WTC is completed.
Han J. Cho, general manager of 70 Pine's principal owner, Kumho Investment Bank, said KIB is "supporting the designation and working with [LPC chairman] Bob Tierney and his team.
"We are happy with 70 Pine. We want to keep its magnificent façade as it is," he said, although they're "working with" the commission on certain things."
The mystery is why it's taken so long for an edifice that's symbolized "Wall Street" for more than 70 years to receive landmark protection -- especially when other downtown skyscrapers such as 40 Wall St. and many lesser properties were designated long ago.
Originally built for Cities Service energy company and sold to AIG in 1976, 70 Pine has long loomed as the brooding conscience of the Downtown skyline -- a defining element of the area's "wedding-cake profile" still visible amidst more modern, bulky towers that went up later.
Beause it's boxed in, what the LPC calls a "slender pinnacle crowned by an illuminated lantern and stainless steel spire" is best viewed from afar. The panel is considering for designation not only the exterior, but its first-floor lobby, "one of the finest Art Deco style interiors in New York City."
An eye-popping top-floor observatory -- which I visited in the 1980s with architectural historian Carter Horsley, who called it "the greatest room in the world" -- is not up for designation. But the new owners would be foolish to lose a great amenity for apartment owners or hotel guests.
The story of 70 Pine and its role in history is told in a 2001 book, Daniel M. Abramson's "Skyscraper Rivals: AIG and the Architecture of Wall Street." It chronicles the efforts of 70 Pine's owners and the architects, Clinton & Russell, Holton & George, to erect downtown's tallest tower in a race against oth ers nearby.
But AIG appar ently wasn't en thusiastic about landmark status for 70 Pine. It's wonderful news that the com mission appears poised to rectify the oversight at last.
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