It’s hard for any journalist who’s ever worked there, or visited its offices, to imagine The New York Times’ former building, at 229 West 43d Street, becoming just one more Manhattan midtown property under development by a foreign investor. Long-time employees remember the daily tremors as the presses started rolling, and the truck bays are still there, ready to deliver papers now printed elsewhere. The lobby, entered by a small revolving door, was surprisingly small, even cramped, with a house phone you used — as in the new building — to call whomever you were there to see.
The new building, which is gorgeous if comparatively soul-less, even with its turmeric and cayenne-colored walls and its spectacular cafeteria, just feels like one more tower.
Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev, who paid $525 million for the premises in 2007, plans to turn the old 15-story building into condos, shops, seven restaurants and a high-end hotel, the paper reports:
“The strongest thing going for the property is its location and the continued vibrancy of Times Square as a tourist center and a magnet for visitors,” said Richard A. Marin, chief executive of Africa-Israel USA, Mr. Leviev’s American real estate company. The new plan, he said, “will allow us to create the most value and make the greatest contribution to the Times Square neighborhood.”
It is anyone’s guess whether this plan will work any better than the last one, given the soft condo market, competing bowling alleys in the Times Square area and falling hotel rates. But there is no better place for a radical reinvention than Times Square, where peep shows, T-shirt shops and prostitutes have given way to Bubba Gump, the Hard Rock Cafe, theaters, French cosmetics shops, bankers and millions of tourists.
“Times Square has a special kind of alchemy that’ll make your head spin,” said Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, a business group. “Sleazy becomes sexy, a bank becomes a theater, decaying landmarks become multiplexes or luxury condos, and a gritty newsroom and printing plant become a boutique hotel. The only thing you know is that you don’t know what’s next.”
Mr. Leviev, a diamond magnate who travels with a coterie of bodyguards, had been having trouble paying the $711 million in loans he had piled onto the former Times building, which the newspaper occupied for nearly a century before selling it to move to a new tower on Eighth Avenue in 2007. Mr. Leviev was so intrigued with New York real estate, brokers said, that he did not even tour the building before he bought it.
Reader’s Digest, whose palatial 700,000 square foot building in Pleasantville, a suburban town about 30 miles north of New York City, will be leaving its iconic building next summer, after 71 years there. In the current, lousy economy, the owner of the 116-acre property, SG Chappaqua, is having a tough time finding tenants thanks to restrictive zoning laws demanding each one take huge spaces, one at least 200,000 square feet.
It, too, was a place of history and presence, the walls hung with Impressionist paintings, a hushed 1950s elegance evident the minute you stepped in the door.
The county office market has been hit hard once again by an economic downturn. The volume of commercial transactions in Westchester is down, to about 900,000 square feet at the end of the third quarter of this year, from 1.6 million square feet for the same period a year ago, according to numbers tallied by CB Richard Ellis.
The vacancy rate countywide increased to 17 percent in the third quarter, from 16 percent at the end of the period a year ago.
Separately, when SG Chappaqua acquired the property, it also proposed building about 220 luxury condominiums and town houses and 56 middle-income housing units on the Reader’s Digest campus. That application is wending its way through the approval process and a decision is expected sometime in the next year.