Santa Claus is flying a big, jolly Christmas present in from Milwaukee to downtown Manhattan.
Major insurer Northwestern Mutual, No. 104 on the Fortune 500 list, is doubling down on its New York City operations with a move from uptown to Brookfield’s 200 Liberty St. The just-completed deal is for 93,000 square feet on the 30th to 32nd floors — more than twice the space it has in the Union Square area.
Northwestern Mutual will relocate employees from several uptown locations, with the most coming out of 41 E. 11th St., in 2020. Other big tenants at 200 Liberty, which was once known as One World Financial Center, include XL America and Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft.
CEO John Schlifske told Northwestern employees, “As a premier company in our industry, we need a premier office for our New York teams.” The firm’s Big Apple workforce has grown to more than 350.
The Milwaukee Business Journal reported that Northwestern has 30 job openings in New York, many of them for software engineers.
The news comes as downtown celebrates a long-sought goal — occupancy-rate parity with Midtown. Office vacancies in the 90-million-square-foot office downtown submarket fell to 11.5% in the third quarter — the same as for central Midtown’s 246 million square feet, according to Cushman & Wakefield. (The latter number doesn’t include Midtown south’s 68 million square feet, where vacancy is at a Manhattan low of 8.5%).
For sure, downtown office rents are 24% lower than Midtown’s — a gap that’s steadily narrowed since a 59% gap 10 years ago. (The asking rent at 200 Liberty was in the mid-$70s per square foot.)
But Mikael Nahmias, Brookfield’s senior vice president of leasing, said, “Firms are now locating downtown as a matter of choice as opposed to pricing pressure.”
Recent relocations to Brookfield’s neighborhood include two jumbos at Silverstein Properties’ Three World Trade Center: Uber’s move from several uptown addresses to 300,000 square feet and law firm Kelley Drye & Warren’s exit from 101 Park Ave. for 103,000 square feet.
Helping to drive the moves are FiDi’s growing constellation of stores, restaurants and cultural amenities, convenient mass transit and large floor plates at Brookfield Place, the World Trade Center and at several modern buildings near the East River.
Meanwhile, newly completed and ongoing entertainment and cultural projects are bringing even more life to the once buttoned-down district that’s now home to 65,000 residents. Projects include the reborn South Street Seaport with Pier 17’s glamorous restaurants; hotels such as the Beekman and Cipriani’s Mr. C; 28 Liberty Street’s Alamo Drafthouse Cinema; and a planned hotel at the long-dormant Battery Maritime Building.
Brookfield, meanwhile, is busy redesigning 200 Liberty St.’s public spaces. The once-stodgy lobby will have a new design to be completed in 2020.
Northwestern Mutual was repped by JLL’s Scott Vinett and Fischer & Company’s Andrew Hegmann and Chris Joyner.