Diamond From the Rough

But the West Side area around Times Square, envisioned for a sort of “Rockefeller Center South,” was not the most desirable spot in Gotham. “The area was very rough then,” Douglas Durst, Seymour’s son, said. “It used to have all sorts of unsavory massage parlors with men handing out fliers, saying, ‘Check it out, check it out.'”

His father set out to build 10 office buildings on Sixth Avenue from 42nd to 47th streets on the Avenue of the Americas in the mid-1960s. Seymour Durst told The Times in 1969 that he had just finished the four-year job of assembling a 160,000-square-foot block-front on 42nd between Ninth and 10th avenues and was preparing to move the company’s headquarters from the Lorillard Building at 42nd and Third to the new 49-story tower under construction at 1133 Avenue of the Americas. Also in the late 1960s, Durst paid $10 million for a site on Broadway between 44th and 45th streets; earlier, it had bought the first two plots for the future One Bryant Park, White’s Seafood Restaurant and the Hotel Diplomat.

Though Seymour Durst told The Times he had no immediate plans to develop the companies’ West Side properties then-the 160,000-square-foot site would take between 15 and 20 years alone to develop, he estimated-the younger Durst said the firm had almost completed a deal on the site of what would become One Bryant Park when the economy crashed.

“We put most of it together by 1970 or 1971,” Mr. Durst said. “But then we had to give up a number of the properties in 1970s because of the recession. We finally put it together again in 2004.”

One Bryant Park was not the only one of Durst’s projects that was scuttled-all that remains of the vision for Rockefeller Center South is a copy of the plan at Durst’s office-but it was by far the most difficult to get back on track. Between 1973 and 2003, Durst slowly bought back some of the parcels the company lost in the early 1970s. Along the way, countless deals with holdouts have fallen through; the city flirted with the idea of condemning parts of 42nd Street; and prices skyrocketed.

“One of the pieces that we gave up in the 1970s we paid $650,000 for,” Mr. Durst recalled. “When we bought it again in the 1990s, it was $6 million.”

 

BY 1999, DURST HAD regained control of 85 percent of the block from 42nd Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues, according to The Times‘ Charles Bagli, who exhaustively chronicled the negotiations surrounding One Bryant Park. In 2003, Durst and Bank of America finally wrested control of the last two parcels of property from Rafi Albert Nasser, Rafi Morris Nasser and Joseph Bernstein, a former ally who had been fighting the company ever since a deal for another parcel of land fell through in 1986, according to The Times. In the end, Durst paid $46 million, or about $384 a square foot, for the two properties, more than twice the price of the most expensive deal on record at the time.