Kind of Blue: Joe Moinian Lives the 3 Columbus Circle Dream

Can SL Green help reclad Big Joe's image with a building nobody gets?

The spruced up goose. (Moinian Group)

And so it goes at 3 Columbus Circle. The main focus now is on finding tenants, the construction having wrapped up earlier this year. With 600,000 square feet of vacant space—all but the top three floors are occupied—Mr. Moinian said there was a rare opportunity available. Even with all the other available offices in the city, few are as big. He was effusive about the Class-A amenities of his revamped building, which are unquestionably updated. The mechanical systems have been modernized, the lobby has doubled in size and moved to Broadway, that new curtain wall, while not providing bigger views, does improve the efficiency of the building. Mr. Moinian said he expects the project to receive LEED certification. We asked if it might be Gold or Silver, one of the higher levels of sustainability recognition. He responded that was impossible for a retrofit like his. And yet the Empire State Building got its gold just last week.

At the same time, the newest technology can do about the low ceiling heights, the tight quarters and the building’s irregular trapezoidal layout. “Looking back on it, it seemed like a logical thing to do, but now it is a very hard sell,” one real estate executive said. “Then again, a lot of people made mistakes a few years ago.” The going wisdom today is that it would have been better to tear down the building rather then recast it anew. “It is probably the most talked about building in the city, and not in a good way,” another broker said. Everyone wants to know what might happen, who will take the space—if anyone—and what SL Green might see in the building. Are they just waiting to tear it down?

Even Mr. Moinian’s partners are circumspect about the project. SL Green had to take it off the market for five months, redo whole floors add some bathrooms to help agents and tenants appreciate the potential of the space.

“It’s Class-A quality, but it’s not a marquee building,” said Steve Durels, an executive vice president and director of leasing at SL Green. Still, he said there are no plans to do anything but lease up the building. “We would not have made the huge investment we did in this building if we did not believe in it,” he explained. In fact,

Mr. Durels said this was the firm’s specialty, repositioning buildings to maximize profits. Every building cannot be a marquee property, nor can every firm afford such properties. While 3 Columbus may no longer command the top dollar its developer had hoped for, the $60 to $80 a square foot is good for Midtown, especially in these times—the local average has hovered around $55 for the year.

Kind of Blue: Joe Moinian Lives the 3 Columbus Circle Dream