New projects are rejuvenating Sixth Avenue’s fortunes

The fortunes of Sixth Avenue in Midtown are soaring higher than the Thanksgiving Day balloons that wafted over the street last week.

After years of waiting, developer Morris Moinian’s Fortuna Realty Group appears poised to start building a high-end, 26-story hotel at 1150 Sixth — a midblock site between West 44th and 45th streets that’s been home to an outdoor “shopping bazaar” for two years, an incongruous sight amidst office towers.

Vendors at the bazaar’s stalls told us it will close after Dec. 24 — which should pave the way for Moinian to proceed on building a glamorous hotel designed by Ismael Leyva. Plans were first filed with the Department of Buildings more than four years ago.

Moinian told us in October 2018 that the hotel, tentatively called the Kingsley, was on hold only because his company was busy finishing other projects, including the new Hotel Hendricks on West 38th Street. The Hendricks opened last April. Moinian didn’t respond to our calls and e-mails on Monday.

The hotel site plan reflects irrepressible commercial energy all along the Sixth Avenue corridor, which includes the original Rockefeller Center on the avenue’s eastern side.

Broadway, Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue have songs and movies named after them. But it’s the 45.7- million-square-foot Sixth Avenue office submarket from 42nd Street to 56th Street that boasts the lowest availability rate in Manhattan — 9.5 percent, according to CBRE power-broker John Maher.

That’s down from 10.8 percent since the end of 2018. Average asking rents rose to $78.74 per square foot compared with $62.73 at the end of 2009.

1271 Sixth in late 2018
1271 Sixth in late 2018Kevin Chu + Jessica Paul

It’s a stirring turnaround after some brokers predicted doom for the avenue a few years ago due to some large planned corporate move-outs, including Time Inc. from 1271 Sixth.

“We started leasing 1271 in face of what people thought were enormous vacancies,” Maher recalled. “But it’s a big-tenant market. Companies leave big vacancies when they go, but it creates big opportunities. All the deals we did were large” — including for Bessemer Trust, Blank Rome and, most recently, AIG.

Like two other major properties — Fisher Brothers’ 1345 Sixth and Brookfield’s 1100 Sixth — 1271 Sixth is undergoing a major transformation inside and out. A new public plaza will open early next year at 1345. Both 1345 and 1271 are nearly 100 percent leased, while 1100 Sixth, formerly home to HBO, is committed to Bank of America.

The new-look 1100 will be “better integrated” into the plaza of adjacent 1114 Sixth Ave., which is also being redesigned, a Brookfield rep said. The project will bravely bring 14,000 square feet of retail to the market.

Once a retail and dining wasteland, Sixth Avenue north of 42nd Street now boasts such prestigious names as Steinway Pianos, Charles Tyrwhitt, Brooks Brothers and restaurants Del Frisco’s, Quality Italian and Jams. Soon to come at sidewalk level will be MLB’s flagship store and showroom at 1271 Sixth.

The avenue’s heavy pedestrian traffic has prompted landlords to add storefronts where none previously existed. Blue Mercury launched a thriving outlet in the recently-built retail boxes in front of the New York Hilton. Another space is available on the north end, where Cushman & Wakefield superbroker Joanne Podell is hunting tenants.

“We have a lot of activity,” she said of the highly visible, 2,515-square-foot location. Podell wouldn’t discuss rents, but an industry source estimated the “ask” at around $300 per square foot.

Sixth Avenue was long eclipsed by Manhattan’s more glamorous boulevards despite being home to Radio City Music Hall and 30 Rockefeller Plaza, home to “Saturday Night Live.”

When the New York Post and News Corp. moved to 1211 Sixth Ave. in midsummer 1995, the boulevard mostly shut down early. Much of the pavement was dug up for utilities work. Office workers, who were mainly bankers and lawyers, were eager to flee at 5 p.m.

Change came gradually to the bricks and mortar — and also to the crowd, which is now more diverse and nearly as dense during the holidays as Times Square.

Media firms brought a 24/7 workforce. Del Frisco’s steakhouse at 1221 Sixth installed a high-volume, high-end eatery at sidewalk level in 2000. The Durst Organization’s One Bryant Park/Bank of America Tower opened in 2009, replacing nondescript low-rise stores with a gleaming skyscraper. The parade came in 2011 and the 1 Hotel Central Park at 58th Street in 2015.

Today, the avenue’s also a political-media nerve center. The New York Times recently noted that the Fox News Channel (at 1211) and MSNBC (at 30 Rock) carried opposite takes on the Trump impeachment hearings “from two skyscrapers roughly 1,000 feet apart” on the “Avenue of the Americas” — a name only tourists use, but perhaps appropriate to its new golden age.

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