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Volume 77, Number 22 | Oct. 31 - Nov. 06, 2007

St. John’s checking out hotel if Related gets Pier 40

By Patrick Hedlund

The massive St. John’s building near the Hudson Square waterfront could possibly see a hotel or luxury condominiums rise above its roof depending on the outcome of negotiations over future development in the area, the property’s real estate director stated last week.

The comments, which came as a host of community members feted the first public display of the Envisioning Hudson Square design project last Friday at the St. John’s Center, marked the first time property representatives hinted at the direction future development might take along the superblock.

According to Richard Forte, director of real estate operations for Eugene M. Grant & Co., which owns the massive building at 550-570 Washington St. — which spans the west end of Houston St. — the company could be interested in building a hotel on the property if a current development proposal for an entertainment complex at the nearby Pier 40 is approved.

The Pier 40 plan, a $626 million concept by The Related Companies, would bring in a mix of entertainment uses, including Cirque du Soleil, movie theaters, retail and restaurants. The Hudson River Park Trust will vote in January on whether to choose Related to redevelop the 14-acre Houston St. pier.

The Related plan’s attractions would bolster Pier 40 as a “destination” area, Forte said, making it more desirable for the property owner to construct an as-of-right hotel on the St. John’s roof.

“So, therefore, from a developer’s standpoint, I would think that it’s a pretty good partnership having Related do what they do,” he noted.

While not expressly offering support for or opposition against the Related proposal, Forte did acknowledge that constructing residential condominiums instead of a hotel on the property would not jibe with Related’s plan.

“It’s not an attraction, per se, [for residents],” he said of having Pier 40 become an entertainment and arts location. “[St. John’s owners] would prefer something a little bit…attractive” at the pier, he said.

Forte said that the center currently possesses 300,000 developable square feet of air rights, which could accommodate condominiums located along the Lower Manhattan waterfront, dubbed “The Gold Coast” by the real estate industry.

“It’s riverfront property,” Forte said. “This is the most valuable real estate in Manhattan.”

Forte acknowledged the major tax benefit to the city if luxury residential properties were to go up at St. John’s. He condemned a Sanitation Department proposal to add a 140-foot-tall garage just south of the site as something he “can’t imagine.”

“Something’s got to give at this point,” Forte added. “There are a lot of different obstacles, but a lot of different options as well.”

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