A NY Times article from a couple of months ago...
Drake Hotel’s Prime Space Remains Undeveloped
An opening in the fence allows a view of the lot where the Drake Hotel once stood on Park Avenue at 56th Street.
Louis Verde, of Turnbull & Asser, said: "We're not going anywhere."
By TERRY PRISTIN
November 17, 2009
Enclosed by a dark brown fence, the weedy lot at Park Avenue and 56th Street in Midtown Manhattan is a conspicuous reminder of how ambitions were shattered in the recent real estate debacle. This vacant site, where the Drake Hotel once stood, is likely to leave a gash in the middle of the nation’s costliest office submarket for years to come, real estate specialists say.
Manhattan has 79 other stalled construction sites but probably none to rival the Drake in location. “It is inarguably the best development site in the country and possibly the world,” said Woody Heller, an executive managing director at Studley, a real estate brokerage company. Just north of the site is 450 Park Avenue, an office building that traded in 2007 for a record price of $1,566 a square foot.
In 2006, the New York developer Harry Macklowe bought the elegant Drake Hotel, opened in 1926, for $418 million, or about $847,000 a room. He tore it down the next year and planned to replace it with a 550,000-square-foot L-shaped building with luxury condominiums, an even more elegant hotel and Manhattan’s first Nordstrom store.
The cost of acquiring additional properties to assemble the site increased the project’s cost to at least $724 million, or about $1,300 a square foot before construction, brokers said. They say it is difficult to gauge its current value because the market in Manhattan has fallen so far, and few transactions have occurred.
To shore up his position in the deal, Mr. Macklowe made a huge personal investment in the project by paying off $156.3 million in certain loans in October 2007, which raised his stake in the project to $250 million. In court papers, Mr. Macklowe and his son, William, now the chief executive of the family business, said they invested their personal assets in the Drake site because of repeated assurances from Deutsche Bank that the bank would refinance their loans when they matured in November 2007. But the loans were not refinanced, and the Macklowes defaulted.
Not long afterward, the Macklowes lost a major portion of their real estate empire. Without a fight, they gave up control of seven Midtown office buildings that they had acquired at the peak of the boom, and a few months later, they sold their prized General Motors Building, on Fifth Avenue at 59th Street.
But the Macklowes are tenaciously clinging to the Drake project and have told people they are determined to see it developed, most likely with a financial partner, even if they have to wait for years.
Several brokers said the continuing involvement of Mr. Macklowe, who is considered highly creative but also litigious and a tough negotiator, adds a layer of complications.
In August 2008, Mr. Macklowe’s longtime lender, Deutsche Bank, sued to foreclose on loans for the hotel site and for nearby properties. Mr. Macklowe bought unused development rights, known as air rights, to eight townhouses on 57th Street to be able to add height to the building. He also sought to buy the townhouses themselves to give Nordstrom frontage on 57th Street opposite the Four Seasons Hotel but was only partly successful.
Mr. Macklowe paid a record average price of $520 a square foot for the air rights, according to a case study by two recent graduate students at Columbia, Travis B. Olsen and Evan Woolley.
If the Macklowes’ construction plans were complex, the financing was even more convoluted. Deutsche Bank sliced the $559 million Drake loan into 21 separate pieces, each with a different level of risk. The bank kept about $12 million of the loan and sold the rest to eight investment groups, earning tens of millions of dollars in fees.
Citing a lawsuit, the Macklowes declined to comment publicly on the Drake. But in court documents, they accused the bank of lying to them and betraying their trust “by making false promises it never intended to keep.” Sounding like a jilted lover, they said the bank “strung Macklowe Properties along until Deutsche Bank got what it wanted, then refused to honor its commitments — benefiting handsomely from its willfully dishonest, deceptive, bad faith and fraudulent conduct at Macklowe Properties’ expense.”
If the bank succeeds in foreclosing, the Macklowes’ investment “will almost certainly be a total loss,” they said. Deutsche Bank did not respond to requests for comment.
Despite the foreclosure suit, the Macklowes hold some cards, brokers say. In April 2007, they agreed to pay $47.5 million for a townhouse at 46 East 57th Street, where the luxury jeweler Buccellati is a tenant. The sale has not closed. If it does, it is possible that the Macklowes may successfully argue that this building — and others — are not part of the loan collateral, thus ensuring a role for themselves, according to real estate executives familiar with the Drake site.
In addition to leaving a big hole on Park Avenue, the stymied development has also had repercussions for a fancy shopping strip around the corner from the site that was intended to be included in the Macklowe project.
The town houses are still standing, but several of the storefronts are vacant. At 44 East 57th Street, which was the home for 60 years of Dalva Brothers, a store that specialized in 18th-century furniture, a cracked window is patched with duct tape and cardboard boxes are piled up inside. The Macklowes paid Dalva $2.2 million to move uptown. They also paid $19.2 million to buy the lease of the Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet at 40 East 57th Street and move the store to the north side of 57th Street.
But the Macklowes did not succeed in putting all the parts together. Nordstrom, which had signed a letter of intent to build a store with 253,500 square feet, backed out after the Macklowes failed to acquire all the buildings needed to create the 57th Street entrance.
One holdout is Turnbull & Asser, a men’s clothing store where shirts start at $275. It had been in contract to collect $33 million for moving from 42 East 57th Street to another town house, according a document prepared by Cushman & Wakefield. But in May 2008, the owner of Turnbull & Asser, Ali al-Fayed, exercised his option to buy the building from the previous owner for $31.5 million. Now, said Louis Verde, the manager, “we’re not going anywhere.”
Another holdout is Jacob the Jeweler at 50 East 57th Street, which reportedly demanded $100 million to move. The company had no comment.
Last year, iStar Financial, a real estate investment trust in New York that holds the largest chunk of the senior debt on the Drake, tried to sell its $224 million note at a discount. When the bids came in well below the $160 million asking price, iStar took it off the market.
But Jeffrey W. Baker, an executive managing director at Savills, a mortgage brokerage, said prospects for such deals were improving. Several of his overseas clients have shown interest in acquiring the Drake loan with the intention of gaining control of the property, he said.
“While the complexities and risks of the deal have reduced the number of potential buyers significantly,” Mr. Baker said, “the growing consensus overseas is that market conditions are near bottom and that now is the time to acquire trophy U.S. assets at bargain prices.”