Volume 77 / Number 38 - Feb. 20 - 26, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

A rendering of the design for Edward Minskoff’s new mixed-use office building at 51 Astor Pl.

Minskoff works the angles in new Astor Pl. building

By Lincoln Anderson

Last week, The Cooper Union for the Advance of Science and Art announced that it has entered a $97-million, 99-year ground lease with Edward J. Minskoff Equities, Inc., for 51 Astor Pl., the current site of Cooper Union’s Engineering Building.

Minskoff plans to raze the existing building and develop a 13-story, 212-foot-tall, mixed-use, rentable building on the spot. The new building will have 410,000 square feet of space, mainly for office use, plus retail and possibly educational use, and will be ready for occupancy in 2010.

According to Studley’s Capital Transactions Group, which represented Cooper Union in the transaction, in addition to the one-time initial payment, the lease entitles Cooper Union to participate in the building’s future income.

The ground lease is part of Cooper Union’s master plan to secure its financial future and continue its policy of providing a full-tuition scholarship to all its students, as it has done since its founding in 1859 by inventor and industrialist Peter Cooper.

“This transaction is a critically important step toward creating a sustainable financial infrastructure for the future,” said George Campbell Jr., president of The Cooper Union. “The development of 51 Astor Pl. as an income-producing, mixed-use commercial and academic property will be a significant milestone in our master plan, allowing us to continue our unique mission in higher education for generations to come.”

Cooper Union will lease back the current Engineering Building at 51 Astor Pl. from Minskoff until mid-2009, when the school expects to complete construction of and move into its new building at 41 Cooper Square designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne.

Minskoff’s new office building is being designed by Fumihiko Maki, another Pritzker Architecture Prize winner. Other recent projects in the area include the residential building by Gwathmey Siegal on Astor Pl. and the Cooper Square Hotel by Studio Carlos Zapata on Cooper Square. Taken together, all these new buildings “have vaulted Cooper Union’s neighborhood to New York’s premiere showcase for world-class contemporary architecture,” said a press release from Cooper Union.

“We’re very excited about developing an architecturally distinctive, signature building in this burgeoning office location, while helping a great New York institution like Cooper Union meet its academic and programmatic goals,” said Edward J. Minskoff, president of the prominent development company.

Minskoff told The Villager that the building will be a unique addition to the cityscape.

“It’s going to be one of the great architectural buildings of New York in the last 20 years,” he said. “I do distinctive buildings — that’s all I know how to do. It’s critical to attracting top tenants. It’s not a back-office-type building. It’s going to be a fun building and an exciting building. I think, at the end of the day, everyone will agree it’s an architectural gem.”

The new 51 Astor Pl.’s facade will combine black granite and clear glass in a manner accentuating its angularity. Minskoff said the design shown above is still preliminary, and that a final design will be released in three to four weeks. As for why they released the initial design, he said, “Everyone was asking to see it.”

Minskoff said among the Astor Pl. location’s attractions are that it’s a full square block, allowing for floor plates of up to 38,000 square feet; public transportation is at the building’s doorstep; and there is quality housing and shopping nearby. He added that having New York University in the neighborhood is another big plus.

“The proximity of N.Y.U. is very valuable, because they draw on the strengths of N.Y.U.,” he said of the building’s potential commercial tenants.

He said the building may have a distinctive name, similar to Lever House or the Seagram Building, but that they haven’t thought of one yet.

“I think it deserves that at the end of the day,” he said.

Minskoff said, initially at least, Cooper Union probably won’t have any space in the building.

Marilyn Appleberg, president of the 10th and Stuyvesant Sts. Block Association, said she couldn’t tell from looking at the above image if Cooper Union and the developer had made good on a pledge to return most of the Stuyvesant St. roadbed to the community as a public amenity. Cooper Union acquired the roadbed in 1959 for “academic purposes” — though the space eventually became a Starbucks.

“The first word that came to mind was ‘unfortunate,’” Appleberg said after The Villager e-mailed her the image of the new building’s design. “I don’t know if I’m missing something that is there — but I don’t see an open area.”

However, Ben McGrath, Minskoff’s C.F.O., said every element of the design adheres to the restrictive declaration hashed out between Cooper Union, the Department of City Planning and the community and approved six years ago as part of Cooper Union’s general large-scale development plan. Those restrictions called for 3,950 square feet of space roughly along the lines of the true east-west Stuyvesant St. roadbed to be a public plaza, the design of which is to be approved by City Planning. There is no final design for that space yet, McGrath said.

“The approval process was definitive,” McGrath said.

The initial building design proposed for the spot by Cooper Union was larger, McGrath noted.

Woody Heller, executive managing director and group head of Studley’s Capital Transactions Group, said Cooper’s deal with Minskoff is a good sign for commercial real estate.

“This transaction affirms the ongoing strength and expanding scope of Manhattan’s commercial real estate market,” he said. “This ground lease will bolster a part of the city experiencing a surge in office demand from an expanding universe of tenants.”

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