Just 11 years ago, the space was a massive loading dock. Now huge screens dominate a comfortable-looking sunken meeting space, the conference room where “Google NYC” video-chats with other offices of the Internet giant. The room in Google’s Manhattan office at 111 Eighth Avenue is itself emblematic of changes in New York in the past decade. What had been a mild-mannered storage facility has been converted into some of the most desirable and technically well-equipped office space in the city.
The Works Progress Administration, spawned by the New Deal, built 111 Eighth Avenue in 1932, when the scale of a project was no object. The brick-and-steel, 18-story building has multiple tiers of applied masonry and occupies the full block between Eighth and Ninth avenues between 15th and 16th streets. It was owned and operated by the Port Authority, who used it to handle freight trucked down the West Side highway from the docks.
In 1972, the Port Authority moved its storage and office facilities to the World Trade Center. In an auction, they sold 111 Eighth to the Sylvan Lawrence Company, the partnership of Sylvan Lawrence and Seymour Cohn. At the time, the building’s only notable feature was the huge loading dock, big enough to move a semi-truck, which dominates its center. It was lightly occupied by storage, printing and “back-end” office tenants-an unlikely candidate for prestige.
In 1998, as Sylvan began to dissolve and sell off assets, it sold the 2.9 million-square-foot building to Taconic Investment Partners in a $387,500,000 transaction for four properties: 95 Wall Street, 99 Wall Street, 100 William Street and 111 Eighth Avenue. Taconic felt that what is now New York’s second-largest building was hardly meeting its potential.
At first, Taconic focused on leasing to telecommunications companies, both because it could provide the needed technical infrastructure and because the specialized brokers leasing to those companies quickly came to trust Taconic. According to a New York Times article in 1999, the real estate investment company was so pleasantly surprised with the formula it had developed that it exported the concept and was planning to develop warehouse space for high-tech firms in Chicago.
The very sturdy floors and fiber-optic infrastructure of 111 Eighth drew tech companies like Barnesandnoble.com and later WebMd.com. “It is a highly technical space,” said Taconic Co-CEO Paul Pariser, but he was quick to point out that tenants in a variety of industries now call 111 Eighth home, including fashion, television and advertising companies. “We didn’t want to be a one-trick pony.”