Durst to Build Private School on 11th Avenue

Joining forces with the onetime owner of Esquire, developer Douglas Durst is getting into the education business, building a large private school on a West Side lot a block from the Hudson River.

If a zoning change goes through as planned, a $200 million-plus, six-story competitive primary and secondary school will rise on Mr. Durst’s property at 623 West 57th Street, the start of what its backers say will be a global network of the internationally focused institutions.

Called the Nations Academy, the venture is being led by Christopher Whittle, the founder of education management company Edison Schools and the owner of Esquire magazine in the 1980’s. Mr. Whittle, who is partnered with former Yale president Benno Schmidt in creating the schools, said the goal for the Durst site is to create a school for more than 1,700 students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, one that ultimately would seek to compete with the city’s top private schools.

The focus of the curriculum, however, is more global than that of a Dalton or a Brearley, Mr. Whittle said, and about 20 percent of the students are expected to be from outside the city, many the children of expatriates.

“It would be competitive with the finest schools in the city,” Mr. Whittle said. “Obviously, that takes time to establish, and we know that, but we plan to be a great school on opening day.”

Along with a school in Washington, D.C., the Manhattan school is scheduled to be finished by 2010, marking the first and second completed schools in what Mr. Whittle imagines as a 12-school global network by 2012.

Before Edison, Mr. Whittle owned Esquire. He sold it to the Hearst Corporation, and founded Channel One, a free educational television network for students. “Most of my activity in media was related to schools,” Mr. Whittle said.

Nations Academy will have a long-term lease on the West Side building, which will be about 240,000 square feet and will be built by the Durst Organization. Durst, which has a long-term lease on the entire block, will also build and own a parking garage underneath and about 20,000 square feet of retail at the school’s base.

The development firm built a 600-unit rental building on the east end of the block in 2005, the Helena, and plans have not yet been finalized for the western-most section, according to Durst spokesman Jordan Barowitz.

Nations Academy is also seeking a considerable sum—more than $200 million in tax-exempt bonds—from the Industrial Development Authority, a city-administered agency that issues the bonds.

Durst to Build Private School on 11th Avenue