666 FIFTH AVENUE (between 52nd and 53rd
Developer: Tishman Realty & Construction
Architect: Carson & Lundin
View from the southeast
By Carter B. Horsley
There must be some important rule of marketing that
some developers read that emphasized the importance of wrapping
to distinguish an otherwise routine product. Here the developers
wrapped their rather conventional large office building in embossed
Tinsel might have been more effective for despite
a patterned treatment of the aluminum facade panels, the effect
is more dull than glittery. At Christmas time, however, the 39-story,
1.245,000-sq. ft. building hangs up some brightly colored lighted
stars on its facade that add some gaiety and from its completion
the building has sported its street number in big red lights above
the top floor, which happened to house for decades its "Top
of the Sixes" restaurant and bar, which offered very nice
views, one of the very few public places with high-level vistas
in the city. The facility is now private, however.
The street-level of this development, however,
was superb. Here was a great lobby in need of a great building.
It is not unusual for a building's lobby to
be completely different stylistically from its facade, but this
one made one want to cry out to experiment with its aesthetic
in a new building, hopefully somewhere in the city.
Isamu Noguchi, the country's greatest modern
sculptor, created three important elements here: the elevator
bank ceilings and floors and the planted waterfall screen in the
The main design element of the ceilings and
the waterfall screen are sinuously cut thin railings, all different,
that are used to create a rippling wave effect. (The lobby ceiling
effect was clumsily copied on a larger scale at 222 Broadway.)
The ceiling railings are white-painted metal
while the waterfall screen railings, shown at the left, are stainless
The elevator bank floors are covered with irregularly
cut marble pavers, mostly white, some black and others red. The
effect is Mondrianesque.
These effects presage Deconstructivism by a
couple of decades.
The "outside" lobby was also important
because of its unusual layout and its wonderful large slabs of
slate covering the floor. The Fifth Avenue frontage had two broad,
unobstructed alleys, shown below, that penetrated deep into the
building all the way back to the waterfall and the entrance to
the elevator bank areas where the alleys were met by a through-block
alley or galleria between 52nd and 53rd Streets. In the middle
of the Fifth Avenue frontage, between the two alleys, was a rounded
glass retail area that was been handsomely occupied by Alitalia.
The retail spaces on the north and south sides of Alitalia had
large clear store windows so that the alleys were well lit and
did not suffer from blank wells.
Built before the city changed its zoning to
encourage open plazas or enclosed public spaces such as atria
or gallerias, this building innovatively opened up its ground
floor spaces with high regard for the public and visitors. While
the facade experiment was less successful, the building has aged
well and is an inoffensive, modern background building with an
abundance of respect for weary pedestrians.
The building replaced nine buildings and part
of the site was once occupied by a mansion designed in 1882 by
Richard Morris Hunt for William K. Vanderbilt that was torn down
in 1927 for a commercial building and another mansion designed
by McKim, Mead & White in 1905 for Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt
In 1998, however, the southern avenue retail
frontage of this building was taken over by the National Basketball
Association and the northern retail section was being converted
for use by Brooks Bros., the famous Madison Avenue clothing store.
The renovations were substantial and at complete odds with the
building. Whereas before, the retail spaces were neatly contained
beneath the building, the new stores are flamboyant and large.
The basketball store's facade, shown at the right, is rather amusing
with a design of nets and basketballs, but a unified vision of
architecture has given way here, once again, to eye-level design.
In 2000, the owners of the building decided
upon another major change and installed a new retail store, Hickey
Freeman, at its avenue entrance, which was then closed.
A well-known architect liked to tell the story
of Le Corbusier decided to build a country house for his mother
and putting up a wall with small window spaces to focus the view.
Preservationists should understand that changes can be well done
and poorly done but in no case should an architectural decision
be made by a marketing manager!
Rear of building as viewed on West 53rd Street
In 2002 the building replaced the large
red "666" at the top of the building with "Citi."
On January 15, 2009, the following article
by Sarah Mulholland and David M. Levitt appeared in the on-line
edition of Bloomberg with the headline "Kushner’s 666
Fifth Avenue Is Depreciating Record-Setting Tower":
Jan. 15 (Bloomberg) -- When Jared Kushner
closed on 666 Fifth Avenue, the Manhattan trophy property, for
a record $1.8 billion two years ago, little did he know it was
the peak for an investment that shows no signs of bottoming.
Since Kushner bought the building, its occupancy
rate has dropped 10 percent and rental income has declined. Citigroup
Inc., Kushner’s biggest tenant, vacated about 80,000 square
feet of space in August and the skyscraper had about 69 cents
in rental income available for every $1 owed in the third quarter,
down from 80 cents in the second quarter, according to loan servicing
documents examined by Bloomberg.
Even in the best neighborhoods of Manhattan,
buyers who expected revenue to rise are struggling as vacancies
increase across the U.S. While Kushner isn’t in danger of
default because he has a fund to meet declining income, the January
2007 purchase shows the challenges facing investors who borrowed
heavily to make acquisitions in the property boom. Loans more
than 60 days late climbed to 0.91 percent in December from 0.32
percent a year earlier, data compiled by Barclays Capital in New
“Cheap and plentiful financing made
these deals possible,” said Jeffrey Lacilla, an instructor
at New York University’s Schack Real Estate Institute who
has almost two decades of experience in Manhattan commercial property.
“The question now is whether they can live long enough for
the building to be able to sustain itself when the reserves run
Kushner, who also owns the weekly New York
Observer newspaper, said new leases at the 41-story building will
help bolster cash flow.
The reserve fund had $98.2 million as of
Nov. 24 to cover debt payments and other expenses, according to
a servicer report. Kushner sold a 49 percent stake in the building’s
retail space in July for $525 million. Part of the proceeds were
used to increase the fund, which had fallen to about $32 million
as of the end of May, records show. The fund started at $100 million
when the loan was originated.
“There’s eight years left on the
debt, and we have $100 million in reserve so any inference that
this building is in trouble or distressed is ridiculous, even
in this crappy real estate market,” Kushner, 28, said in
So-called pro forma loans allowed borrowers
to take on more debt on the assumption that higher income in the
future would cover the interest and principal.
About 14 percent of commercial real estate
loans that were bundled and sold as bonds in 2007 are not generating
enough income to cover debt payments, JPMorgan Chase & Co.
analysts, led by Alan Todd, said in a Jan. 6 report. There was
a record $237 billion of commercial mortgage-backed bonds sold
in 2007, according to JPMorgan estimates.
Kushner is a principal at Kushner Cos.,
the Florham Park, New Jersey-based real estate company founded
by his father, Charles. Jared Kushner took on increased responsibilities
for managing the company in 2004, the year his father stepped
down as chairman after he pleaded guilty to tax evasion and lying
about political donations.
When Jared Kushner stepped in, the company
had more than 24,000 apartments in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware
and Maryland, said Steven Solomon, Kushner’s spokesman. He
made his largest purchase in January 2007, when he bought 666
Fifth Avenue at 52nd Street in New York for what at the time was
the most paid for a single office building in the U.S.
Later in 2007, Kushner sold almost 17,000
apartments for about $1 billion in cash and $920 million in assumed
When Kushner bought 666 Fifth Avenue, he
got $1.215 billion from Barclays Capital. The loan was divided
and sold as part of three commercial mortgage bond offerings,
according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The purchase was financed
with another $535 million in debt, which has since been paid off.
Kushner estimated the building would have
average revenue of roughly $110 a square foot per year, according
to loan documents. That’s more than double the average of
$48.99 per- square-foot tenants were paying in rent at the time
of the sale, the documents show.
Office rents in the neighborhood, which
includes the landmark Plaza Hotel, averaged $86.26 a square feet
in the fourth quarter, about 25 percent less than the peak of
$115.66 in May, according to Colliers ABR data. Kushner said the
average rent in the building is now almost $50 a square foot.
The building’s debt-service coverage
ratio fell to 0.69 during the third quarter from 0.80 in the prior
quarter, loan documents show. Income at 666 Fifth Avenue had been
rising until the third quarter. The debt-service ratio was 0.65
when Kushner bought the property and was 0.73 on Dec. 31, 2007.
“Our cost issues aren’t debt payments,
they’re tenant improvements and leasing commissions, which
are fully funded for,” Kushner said. “We are well capitalized
and conservative and feel confident that we will do well with
this over time.”
Victor Calanog, director of research at
property data service Reis Inc,, estimates that 666 Fifth Avenue
is worth no more than $1.25 billion when taking into account “prevailing
data from recent transactions.”
Kushner now is seeking to retain current
tenants at higher rents.
Citigroup has more than 482,000 square feet,
according to a report by CoStar Group Inc. One of its units is
being offered a 28,248 square-foot lease renewal for $91.50 starting
in September 2009, according to the servicer. The second-largest
tenant, law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, is being
offered a lease on 300,000 square-feet at $91.50 per-square- foot,
records show. Its lease expires in 2010.
Built in 1957, the 1.5 million-square-foot
building was known for its “Top of the Sixes” penthouse
restaurant until it closed in the 1990s. The building is prized
by tenants for its central location at Fifth Avenue and East 53rd
Street, adjacent to Rockefeller Center, the Museum of Modern Art,
St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Cartier jewelry boutique.
“It’s one of the true trophy buildings
in New York, one of the first great postwar buildings,” said
Lawrence Longua, director of the REIT Center at NYU’s Schack
Kushner said he has no plans to sell the
“We’re a family company,”
he said. “We didn’t buy it to flip it. Right now as
long as you don’t have to refinance today, you’re all
right. There are buildings all over town with potential refinancing
problems. 666 isn’t in any trouble.”