In what may prove to be the final round of bidding for the New York Coliseum site, developers Jerry Speyer and Donald Trump have offered the highest prices for the coveted site, The Observer has learned.
According to sources among the developers competing for the Coliseum, Mr. Trump and Mr. Speyer have both submitted $365 million bids for the 3.4-acre property on Columbus Circle owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The sources said Millenium Partners has offered $325 million, developer Stephen Ross bid $310 million, and a partnership of Daniel Brodsky and Bruce Ratner is seeking to pay $290 million.
Mr. Trump’s and Mr. Speyer’s high bids could improve their chances in the Coliseum auction, one of the longest-running real estate melodramas in the city. What’s more, the two developers, long considered dark horses in the competition, have produced new designs for the Coliseum that could also give them an edge.
The five bidders have provided the M.T.A. with revised designs for their proposed mega-structures that include a concert hall for the independent, nonprofit performing arts organization Jazz at Lincoln Center, a requirement thrust upon them by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani last February.
Sources among the developers said Jazz at Lincoln Center’s artistic director, Wynton Marsalis, the Grammy Award-winning trumpeter, wants a separate entrance on Columbus Circle so it can establish a strong presence at the southwest corner of Central Park. Moreover, they said, Mr. Marsalis is concerned about noise from the surrounding mix of shops and hotels envisioned by the developers at the site. “They … want to be segregated,” said a source close to one of the bidders.
People who have seen the five new designs said both Mr. Trump and Mr. Speyer offer Jazz at Lincoln Center a separate entrance near the corner of 60th Street and Broadway. They said the other three development teams would put Jazz at Lincoln Center inside a large public atrium. “The others have tucked it way inside into the bowels of the building, and it can never be successful,” said the source.
Jazz at Lincoln Center declined to comment on the Coliseum bids. The concert series has no say in the M.T.A.’s selection process.
What’s more, the M.T.A. has forbidden the bidders to have any contact with officials at the concert series. Still, Jazz at Lincoln Center is reviewing the designs, and it’s hard to believe that its officials wouldn’t have the ear of Mayor Giuliani, who has the power to veto the M.T.A.’s selection.
According to people familiar with the process, the M.T.A. is hoping to announce a winning bidder at its board meeting on June 30.
Neither the state-controlled M.T.A. nor Joseph Rose, chairman of the City Planning Commission, returned calls about the Coliseum. Mr. Rose has been attending meetings with the developers and the M.T.A. on behalf of Mr. Giuliani.
None of the developers would discuss their bids publicly. (A source among the developers insisted that the Ratner-Brodsky bid was higher than $290 million, although he declined to give a specific number.) However, architects for Mr. Ross and the Ratner-Brodsky team defended their plans for Jazz at Lincoln Center, saying they suited the concert series perfectly.
T.J. Gottesdiener, a managing partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill L.L.P. and one of Mr. Ross’ architects, said the developer would build a grand theater for Jazz at Lincoln Center on the fourth floor of his dual-towered project with a lobby overlooking Central Park. Mr. Gottesdiener said the theater would be reached through an entrance on 59th Street that, while not private, would still trumpet Lincoln Center’s presence on Columbus Circle
“It really will be a strong symbolic iconoclastic entrance,” he told The Observer . “They are getting a street presence for the symbolism, and upstairs they are getting a space like no other in the city because of this panoramic view of Central Park and actually the whole cityscape.”
A Grand Entrance
Hugh Hardy, a partner at Hardy, Holzman, Pfeiffer Associates and one of the Ratner-Brodsky team’s architects, said his clients would put Jazz at Lincoln Center on the seventh floor and create a grand entrance that would lead its audience to the concert hall “though a series of linked public spaces.”
Mr. Hardy said he was aware that some thought the concert series would be better off segregated from the rest of the development. But he disagreed: “We think you want the public that’s going to those jazz events to be part of the life of that place.”
A spokesman for Millenium Partners would not discuss that company’s plans. But people who have seen the design said Millenium Partners wants to put Jazz at Lincoln Center next to a huge hotel ballroom on the second floor of an impressive atrium much like the World Financial Center’s Winter Garden.
Of course, the M.T.A. and the Giuliani administration are looking at other things besides price and the location of Jazz at Lincoln Center as they comb through the five proposals. Mr. Ross boasts that Time Warner Inc. would take up residence in his building if he is selected as the winning developer. In addition, he has said Time Warner is eager to broadcast and promote Jazz at Lincoln Center events, a prospect likely to interest both Mr. Marsalis and Mr. Giuliani.
Mr. Brodsky and Mr. Ratner say they have commitments from both the Westin Hotel and Sears. Still, it is generally believed that neither the city nor state are interested in having a Sears in a location as prestigious as Columbus Circle.
Phil Aarons, a principal in Millenium Partners, has said he and his financial backers–Goldman, Sachs & Company and Vornado Realty Trust–are ready to buy the Coliseum and assume financial responsibility for any lawsuits the project may face if they win. The M.T.A. already is defending itself against a lawsuit filed by a community group called the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development. The committee alleges that a huge new development on the site would mean more carbon monoxide-spewing vehicles in the area.
Without a glitzy tenant like Time Warner and unwilling to make a bold pledge like Millenium’s, Mr. Trump and Mr. Ross weren’t considered strong contenders for the Coliseum. Indeed, Mr. Trump is keeping silent about his prospective tenants. For his part, Mr. Speyer has been saying his lack of tenants gives him “flexibility” that his competitors lack. However, a spokesman for the developer said casino mogul Steve Wynn would be involved in designing a hotel for Mr. Speyer if he is the winning bidder.
That could still happen if Mr. Speyer is willing to outbid his rivals. Nothing seems to sway the M.T.A. so much as the glitter of money. The M.T.A. nearly sold the site to Millenium Partners last year because of its promise to buy the site regardless of its potential legal liabilities. But in July, Mr. Giuliani upset the M.T.A.’s well-laid plans when he suddenly called for the project to include a theater of some sort so it would have something to offer ordinary New Yorkers.
In February, the Mayor announced that the theater would be for Jazz at Lincoln Center. State officials didn’t protest. But privately some Pataki administration officials still are fuming about Mr. Giuliani’s 11th-hour intervention. They argue that one of the bidders might be erecting a glittering new project right now on the bedraggled site if the Mayor hadn’t mucked things up.
As it stands now, some people worry that the Coliseum may never get redeveloped. They fear that the longer the city and state wait to sell the valuable site, the more they risk seeing the project collapse in a coming real estate recession.
After all, it happened before. In the 1980′s, the M.T.A. tried to sell the site to developer Mortimer Zuckerman, only to have the deal fall apart because of community lawsuits and the end of the decade’s real estate boom.