Gary Barnett continues to bulldoze his way across the city. Just last week, his Extell Development unveiled plans for a new tower at Riverside South; found a partner for a stalled 50-story hotel near Times Square; and secured $700 million in financing from Abu Dhabi toward One57, the condo-hotel tower on West 57th Street that will be the tallest, and likely most expensive, when it is completed. As if that were not enough, the developer has begun work just down the block on another of its long-simmering projects.
At the corner of Broadway and 57th Street, Extell has plans for yet another soaring tower; it will be either commercial or residential, an official decision has not been made. That has not kept the developer from moving ahead with demolition of some of the buildings it owns on the site, a controversial task since Extell fought off an effort by the Landmarks Preservation Commission to preserve two of the structures in 2009.
Extell assembled the T-shaped plot last decade and then took out a $256 million mortgage on it, leading to quite a bit of consternation when the commission unexpectedly decided 1780 Broadway and 225 West 57th Street were worth saving. Once owned by B.F. Goodrich, they are part of a stretch of Jazz Age dealerships known as Automobile Row. In the end, the commission brooked a contentious deal to save 1780 Broadway while allowing 225 West 57th Street to be torn down.
The site, like so many others at the moment, had lain fallow through the downturn but has now reawakened. Between February and June of this year, Extell filed a series of demolition permits for various buildings on 57th and 58th streets, which the Department of Buildings approved last month. One of those buildings is now coming down, with others to follow. “We’re doing salvage work on the interiors of 217 and 221 West 57th and then start this week to take down the three-story 217 floor by floor,” an Extell spokesman said in an email last week.
The spokesman would not disclose whether the project had financing, but that has not stopped Extell before. Demolition commenced years before construction started on either the One57 site or the International Gem Tower in the Diamond District, and both began construction using only Extell’s equity. As shown at One57, this strategy allowed the developer to act faster because Mr. Barnett did not need to wait for the wrecking ball, and his construction progress helped attract investors, a particularly challenging prospect during the current economic malaise.
Extell also declined to discuss an architect or designs for the 57th and Broadway project, which brings the story back to Riverside South.
For years, Mr. Barnett was known for developing rather pedestrian buildings in line with the man he replaced on that redoubt overlooking the Hudson, Donald Trump. More recently, he has striven for greater architectural ambition, hiring SOM for the International Gem Tower and KPF for the aborted World Commerce Centre. Meanwhile, notable firms such as Lucian LeGrange and FXFowle have been designing some of his residential projects.
Perhaps no architect has benefited more than Christian de Portzamparc, the French Pritzker Prize winner who had built nothing in the city besides the LVMH headquarters a decade ago, with few buildings to his name elsewhere. Now, Mr. Barnett has become his biggest patron, tapping Mr. de Portzamparc not only for One57 but also for Riverside Center, the five-tower complex that is the final piece of the Riverside South puzzle. Extell won a tough rezoning fight for the project last year.
Now that Mr. Barnett has turned to Goldstein Hill & West Architects, a firm best known for working with Costas Kondylis on some of the city’s blander buildings, for the final Riverside South tower that is not a piece of Mr. de Portzamparc’s plan, it raises the question of what sort of designs New Yorkers can expect at 57th Street and Broadway. Will it be another Pritzker-worthy prize, or has Extell returned to more pedestrian fare?