By Carter B. Horsley
This huge mixed-use project became a significant
new landmark for east midtown when it was completed in 2005.
Designed by Cesar Pelli & Associates, the
architect of the World Financial Center at Battery Park City and
the Museum Tower on West 54th Street, it is a gleaming, full-block
redevelopment of the former site of the Alexander's store, a five-story,
marble-clad structure designed by Emery Roth & Sons in 1965.
Its white facades, modulated by thin horizontal
bands, nicely compliment the slightly larger Citicorp Center tower
four blocks to the south.
The 870-foot-high tower also nicely compliments
the twin towers of the Time Warner Center across town at Columbus
Circle, which was completed a few months earlier, both buildings
giving the northern boundaries of midtown important visual anchors.
The base of this project contains office space
for Bloomberg L.P., the financial news concern, and the upper
floors of the tower, which is set back from Lexington Avenue on
the western half of the site, are occupied by 105 luxury condominium
apartments on the 30th to 55th floors.
In the center of the block on 58th Street is
an elliptical court that opens almost fully on 58th Street but
has a smaller, punched opening on 59th Street. The entrance to
the apartment portion of the complex is on the west side of the
court. The office entrance is at 731 Lexington Avenue between
58th and 59th Street.
The building has about 900,000 square feet
of office space, of which Bloomberg L.P., has taken about 700,000.
It also has about 160,000 square feet of retail space.
The project was many years in the planning
as the developer, Steven Roth, chairman of Vornado Realty Trust,
studied many schemes and waited for a major tenant long after
Alexander's had closed its low-rise, marble-clad building, which
was demolished in 1998. It was directly south of the full-block
occupied by Bloomingdale's and some observers wondered why Mr.
Roth did not pursue an even larger project that might have bridged
59th Street and provided a new "home" for Bloomingdale's
that could have utilized its considerable unused "air rights."
At one point, a hotel was considered as a component of the mixed-use
plans and major auction houses also considered the site.
The project was a long time in the making.
In an article November 25, 2003 in The New York Post, Steve
Cuozzo wrote that "It took Vornado CEO and Chairman Steve
Roth a decade to develop the old Alexander's site - a decade in
which he put up with sniping from all sides over his seeming indecisiveness."
In an interview, Mr. Cuozzo asked Mr. Roth if he felt "vindicated":
"As head of a huge, publicly traded REIT with shareholders
to think of, Roth said: 'We're business people. We do things methodically
and by the numbers. We knew we had a great asset at a unique spot,
and we weren't going to do transactions prematurely that wouldn't
get us the values we eventually expected to get.'" Mr. Cuozzo
wrote that Mr. Roth was once dubbed the "Hamlet of Lexington
Avenue," after Vornado "bought control of Alexander's
Inc. in 1991," adding that "He demolished the shuttered
store in 1998, and then pondered what to do with the full-block
crater until he signed up then-private citizen Michael Bloomberg's
media company as anchor tenant in spring 2001....Roth said it
was 'obvious' that the deals for the site available to Vornado
in the 1990s 'were not going to ring the bell. Remember the auction
houses?' he added - a reference to flirtations with Sotheby's
and Christie's. 'Notwithstanding pressures to do things prematurely,
I have pretty strong convictions about what's right arithmetically.'
The arithmetic of 731 Lexington includes its
$630 million development cost and a $490 million construction
loan from Hypo Vereinsbank. According to Vornado's SEC filing,
Bloomberg, under a 25-year lease, is paying a base annual rent
of $34.53 million for each of the first four years - about $49.68
a foot. It rises to $38.53 million in the fifth year, with a "similar
percentage increase" every fourth year after that. Bloomberg's
decision to take nearly 700,000 feet - not 400,000 it had earlier
sought - got the project off the ground after false starts that
included schemes for department stores and a hotel.
Roth, with some amusement, said, "We still
have 100 models of different buildings as the ideas changed -
the tower on Third Avenue vs. the tower on Lexington; multiple
towers and much lower buildings with no towers at all." So
why was the tall tower ultimately built on the Lexington side?
"Two reasons," Roth said. "It's a better office
address. And it's 400 feet closer to Central Park" - no small
issue for buyers of the apartments on floors 30 to 54, atop the
Some reactions to the final renderings for
the project were a little disappointing as it initially appeared
to be just another boxy tall tower. As it began to grow out of
the ground and take on its facades, however, the project was greeted
with widespread enthusiasm as its sleekness and impressive scale
became undeniable entities on the skyline. Perhaps the best view
of the tower is from high up on the tram to Roosevelt Island.
The top of the tower is a rectilinear illuminated
crown that is about 6 stories high.
The façade of the building has floor-to-ceiling
windows and each floor is separated by a protruding string-course
that during construction was covered with blue paper that gave
the tower very handsome accents. The paper peeled off revealing
a steel element that was almost as handsome.
The building's façade is very slick
but the protruding stringcourses make it not too glossy and more
The "court" is located slightly east
of the block's center and the eastern wing has an angled roofline
along the side-streets.
Because 59th Street is one of the main approach
streets to the Queensborough Bridge to the east there is a lot
of traffic at this location and Bloomingdale's, of course, attracts
a lot of shoppers.
There is a subway stop at Lexington Avenue
and 59th Streets. There are numerous restaurants nearby, especially
on 58th Street between Third and Second Avenues.
Although the building technically only has
55 floors, the apartments have stupendous views.
It is diagonally across Lexington Avenue from
International Plaza at 750 Lexington Avenue, a blue-glass office
tower with a Sumerian-like crown designed by Helmut Jahn.
The developer used the city's "inclusionary
zoning" provisions to create almost 260,000 square feet of
added residential space by developing one building and purchasing
the "bonus" square footage from two other projects in
the same community board district. The program permits developers
to get four square feet of bonus space for luxury housing for
each square foot of lower-income housing they produce. Vornado
Realty Trust used 97,372 square feet from the 53-unit senior project
at 351 East 61st Street developed by RFT and Davis & Partners
and another 42,507 square feet were purchased from BFC Partners
that developed 346-8 East 21st Street. The remaining 118,900 square
feet was obtained from a 41-unit project for the Metropolitan
Council on Housing that Vornado developed at 171 Lexington Avenue
with Jeff Levine.
In a June 12, 2003 article in The New York
Times, David W. Dunlap wrote that the architects of this project
said that its courtyard "received the blessing of Michael
R. Bloomberg before he became mayor." Mr. Bloomberg visited
the Pelli office in New Haven to see the project's renderings
"'Bloomberg himself was quite captivated
by the idea of the space,' said Rafael Pelli, a principal in the
firm that bears his father's name. 'No one knew how he'd react,
because it came at the cost of larger floors. But he loved it.
He saw how it could bring personality to the project,'" Mr.
The courtyard has 110-foot-high walls that
are canted inward 7 degrees, creating the effect of what Mr. Dunlap
called an "upside-down bowl."
The building has a fitness center on he 29th
floor and Richard Johnson of Page Six of The New York Post
reported November 30, 2003 that "Future residents of
One Beacon Court, the luxury condo apartments rising on top of
the Bloomberg offices at 731 Lexington Ave., get the use of the
building's concierge as soon as they sign their contract, even
though they might not be able to move in for a year or more,"
adding that the developer had hired Quintessentially, the London-based
upper-crust firm run by Camilla Parker Bowles nephew, Ben Elliot,
to handle the residents of One Beacon, its first U.S. client."
Two-to-four bedroom apartments range from 1,364
to 4,485 square feet and were priced initially at $2,275,000 to
$12,000,000. Large penthouses on the top five floors were more
The building's retail tenants include Home
Depot, The Container Store and Le Cirque, the restaurant that
relocated from the Villard Houses on Madison Avenue between 50th
and 51st Streets.