School’s Out Forever as Durst, Whittle Part Ways on Private 57th Street Academy

“Whoever this is, I don’t want to talk to you,” said the man who answered the phone Tuesday at the

“Whoever this is, I don’t want to talk to you,” said the man who answered the phone Tuesday at the offices of the Nations Academy, the private-school brainchild of former Esquire owner Christopher Whittle.

As The Observer’s Web site reported on Monday, Mr. Whittle’s plans for an academy on a West 57th Street site controlled by Douglas Durst are no more.

“There were a number of issues on which we could not reach agreement,” said Jordan Barowitz, spokesman for the Durst Organization, which has a long-term lease on the land between 11th and 12th avenues and was to build the six-story, 240,000-square-foot school.

Mr. Barowitz declined to elaborate on these irreconcilable differences, and several calls and e-mails to Mr. Whittle went unanswered.

Mr. Whittle had hoped to open the first two Nations Academy campuses—one on West 57th Street and another in Bethesda, Md.—by the fall semester of 2010. By 2021, Mr. Whittle, with a Dubai-based partner, hoped to have 60 academies around the world that would generate as much as $3 billion a year, according to a July New York magazine article. The Nations Academy Web site said the school would “offer an internationally integrated, globally-focused education program for students age three through 12th grade.”

“It would be competitive with the finest schools in the city,” Mr. Whittle earlier told The Observer.

Mr. Whittle’s plan had progressed to the point where he’d even gotten the necessary zoning variances from the Board of Standards and Appeals to build the school. In order to finance the building, Nations Academy sought more than $200 million in tax-exempt city-issued bonds—something that rubbed both the community board and the area’s councilwoman, Gale Brewer, the wrong way. 

“I thought the school’s fine, but I don’t think they should get public money,” she said.