WSJ: Downtown Tower Gets Symbolic New Name

One Chase Manhattan Plaza Is Being Rechristened ‘28 Liberty’

By Keiko Morrise, January 11, 2015.
When One Chase Manhattan Plaza opened in 1961, bank executive David Rockefeller envisioned it as an anchor to restore lower Manhattan as the center of New York City’s financial center.

Now, the building’s new Chinese owners hope to reposition the landmark tower as the neighborhood continues its resurgence after the double blow of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the recession.

Their first step is symbolic: renaming the building 28 Liberty. The name is a nod to the street on which the building sits, the Statue of Liberty in the distance and the good fortune that, according to Chinese tradition, is bound up in the number 8.

And 28 denotes “double prosperity”, said a spokeswoman for Fosun International Ltd., the investment company that bought the building in December 2013 from J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

“We want to make this building as competitive as possible in the new downtown area,” said Bo Wei, chief representative of Fosun in the U.S. and vice president of Fosun Property Holdings, the company’s real estate arm. The company’s investment in building upgrades and leasing efforts “will be a showcase of Fosun’s commitment to the U.S. market,” he said through a translator. Fosun sees Liberty Street as a rising east-west downtown corridor, and it intends to make its 60-story acquisition a central destination for office workers, residents and tourists.

Fosun is upgrading the tower’s elevators and heating and cooling systems. It also wants to improve the tower’s outdoor plaza, including the addition of cultural events. Other plans are still developing. The cost is expected to be between $100 million and $200 million.

The company also hopes to expand the tower’s retail space to about 200,000 square feet by converting more than 150,000 square feet of space in the building. The retail area could include shops and restaurants on its three, below-grade levels and some type of cafe service off the lobby, said Peter Riguardi, JLL president of the New York tri-state region, who is part of the team leasing the building.

The company wants to create a club or lounge on the top floor that could also serve as an event space for businesses.

“The general purposes of doing the renovation of the plaza level and introducing the retail component to the building is we are trying to make more amenities [for] the local community so people living here and working here will have more convenience,” Mr. Bo said.

These plans will be critical to the company’s efforts to fill about 1.1 million square feet vacated by J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

The building’s leasing agents said the changes will place the building on the same competitive level as the newly constructed One World Trade Center. They hope to appeal to tenants with millennial office workers, especially those in the technology, advertising and media sectors that have diversified the downtown office market.

Statistics from the fourth quarter of 2014 showed lower Manhattan on an upswing with asking rents rising 8.4% from the same period in 2013 to $54.43 a square foot, according to JLL. Vacancy dropped from 12.7% to 10.7%.

“We’re very conscious of the competition, but we also are excited about the new product available downtown and the demand from occupants that are entering downtown,” said Mr. Riguardi.

Pricing for the office space will be close to rents at the World Trade Center towers, Fosun said. That could be an issue, said Noam Shahar, research director at CompStak Inc., a real-estate data firm. “If One Chase is priced similarly to the rents in the WTC then the large availability and newer space of the latter will surely have an impact on Fosun’s ability to populate One Chase,” Mr. Shahar said.

Changes to the tower must be approved by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. The building’s leasing agents expect Fosun to present a proposal to the commission soon, they said.

The building of One Chase Manhattan Plaza was overseen by Mr. Rockefeller, who had been vice chairman when the construction began in 1956 and was the president and co-chief executive of Chase Manhattan Bank when the building opened five years later, according to his spokesman.

“David Rockefeller wanted to maintain this center of gravity in and around Wall Street when there was a steady exodus of corporations to Midtown, to Park Avenue where glass and steel boxes were asserting themselves as the new modernist image of business,” said Carol Willis, founding director of The Skyscraper Museum.

Fosun intends to keep its prized new acquisition relevant.

“This building has played such a role in maintaining the significance of New York’s business community [downtown],” Mr. Riguardi said. “We think that this building can play a role again.”

Regina Glick

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