It’s been six years in the making, and now, One Vanderbilt — East Midtown’s first major ground-up new office tower in more than a half-century — is six months from opening. We got a first look at what’s in store for tenants, visitors and the 750,000 transit riders who pass through Grand Central Terminal every day.
Traffic-clogged Vanderbilt Avenue between East 42nd and 43rd streets will soon become a pedestrian plaza — a central feature of the $220 million transit and crowd-flow improvement program that SL Green was required to provide in conjunction with its new skyscraper.
The plaza and other amenities are courtesy of a 2014 deal between SL Green and the city to let the developer put up a tower with twice as much floor area as earlier zoning allowed.
It was a breakthrough for East Midtown, where office buildings were on average 70 years old. The 2015 Vanderbilt Avenue rezoning requires developers to provide transit and pedestrian upgrades to ease crowding and improve pedestrian flow in and around notoriously congested Grand Central Terminal.
SL Green must complete all of them before the $3.3 billion, 77-story, 1.7 million-square-foot, 1501-foot-tall cloudbuster can receive a certificate of occupancy this summer. Which may explain why the job is three months ahead of schedule. Office tenants will start moving in this August.
Images shown here for the first time reveal an airy, open walkway on Vanderbilt Avenue’s southern-most block between One Vanderbilt and the landmark terminal. The 14,000- square-foot plaza features five raised planters anchored by honey locust trees. Auto traffic moving south on Vanderbilt will be diverted west on 43rd Street.
Unlike most other plazas, it has no seats. SL Green and Peter Walker’s PWP Landscape Architecture worked with the city’s Public Design Commission to ensure “optimal pedestrian flow and movement” — in contrast to the loitering grounds that many other plazas are.
Piece by piece, both the tower designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox and the transit extras are coming into focus. A tour revealed column-free office floors with ceiling heights of up to 24 feet. An indoor-and-outdoor observation deck at the tower’s tip, more than 1,000 feet above street level, affords predictably awesome views in all directions. It will open by the fourth quarter of 2021.
The deck will be 1,000-1,050 feet high over three levels — a hair shorter than the 1,100-foot-high Edge at Related’s 30 Hudson Yards, but more centrally located in Midtown’s heart.
The transit improvements grew out of talks with the MTA, the Department of City Planning, Community boards 5 and 6, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilmember Dan Garodnick. Some are already open, including new staircases between the mezzanine and platform levels of the 4, 5 and 6 subway lines, two new street-level subway entrances, and a reopened underground concourse linking the terminal to the former Socony Mobil building at 150 E. 42nd St.
The biggest is yet to come: a 4,000 square-foot transit hall inside the tower’s northeast corner. It will connect with the terminal and also to Long Island Railroad platforms now under construction deep below ground. The MTA’s East Side Access project finally has a finish date in late 2022.
Unlike at other major development projects such as Hudson Yards and the World Trade Center, SL Green received no public subsidies or tax breaks to build One Vanderbilt — meaning it could not pass them on to tenants in the form of reduced effective rents.
Even so, One Vanderbilt is already 65 percent pre-leased to financial and legal tenants including TD Bank, TD Securities, Carlyle Group, Sentinel Capital Partners, Greenberg Traurig, and McDermott, Will & Emery. Terms were not available. Earlier reports cited asking rents of $135 per square foot.
Restaurateur Daniel Boulud will have much less space but lots more public visibility — an 11,000-square-foot eatery and lounge, most of it on the tower’s second floor overlooking 42nd Street. A sloping ceiling will be 65 feet above the floor at its highest point. Boulud isn’t a tenant, but a partner in the restaurant with SL Green as well as an investor.
SL Green managing director Rob Schiffer boasts that One Vanderbilt “has redefined the New York skyline” and that his company’s $220 million investment in public infrastructure around the terminal “now serves as a model for development in East Midtown.”
The publicly traded REIT’s partners in One Vanderbilt are Korean pension fund NPS and Hines. SL Green had to navigate a tortuous political and legal maze to get the project off the ground.
Besides needing the rezoning agreement, it had to deflect a $1.3 billion lawsuit by Grand Central Terminal air rights owner Andrew Penson and win City Hall approval despite resistance from community boards that wanted the tower redesigned.