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Unbuilt previous design for 520 Fifth Avenue by Handel Architects. A new taller design by KPF Architects has yet to be made public Unbuilt previous design for 520 Fifth Avenue by Handel Architects. A new taller design by KPF Architects has yet to be made public
While some New York projects seem to take flight in the blink of an eye, some wallow in development purgatory for years on end. The worst is when elegant pre-war buildings are demolished on vibrant stretches only to become lifeless, boarded-up vacant lots. One such eyesore is 520 Fifth Avenue, located at the valuable northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street, moments from Bryant Park, Grand Central Terminal, and Rockefeller Center. The Midtown lot has sat fallow for nearly 15 years with a myriad of unrealized proposals, tacky holiday markets, and homeless encampments conceived along the way. Now, even with the passing of its driving developer Louis Ceruzzi, a sluggish sales market, and an enduring pandemic, the scheme has come back to life as Rabina Properties has restructured the terms of the project and appears to be itching to start construction.
With Rabina at the helm of the joint venture partnership between Ceruzzi Properties and SMI USA, revised permits filed in January 2021 call for a 70-story mixed-use tower designed by the high-rise extraordinaire at Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF). This iteration is that tallest to date, and according to a newly-approved zoning diagram, the terraced tower will ascend to a supertall height of 995 feet tall, becoming the tallest building on Fifth Avenue aside from the Empire State Building.
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520 Fifth is among 30+ supertall towers (of 300 meters or more) on the drawing board or in-construction that are radically altering the city's famed skyline. This tower appears more in common with the pencil-thin spires of Billionaire's Row than the heavyweight offices of Midtown East and will measure just 85 feet wide along the avenue, giving it a slenderness ratio of 1:12. Structural engineers generally consider skyscrapers with a minimum ratio of 1:10 to be ‘slender,’ and the world's skinniest tower, 111 West 57th Street, has an extraordinary profile of 1:23.
520 Fifth will be a rare office-residential hybrid (no hotel) with separate lobbies for the differing uses. The floor schedule shows there will be a restaurant(s) occupying the first three floors, offices from 4-28, and residences from floors 31-68. A bulk of the residential amenities, such as the swimming pool, sports court, spa, and fitness center will be tucked below street level. However, the 69th floor will have a sky lounge, reading room, and solarium.
As can be seen in the axonometric drawing above, the tower will don a cascade of terraces, hinting at a classic New York design. Views from higher floors will be spectacular. One block south is the Empire State Building's 'little sister' 500 Fifth Avenue. Residences that eclipse that 697-foot-tall Art Deco office tower will have front-and-center views of the big sister and all of lower Manhattan behind.
The site after the shuttering of a makeshift holiday market
520 Fifth Avenue can grow to this size thanks to nearly 200,000 square feet of air rights transfers from nearby landmarks and the lack of height limits for most of Midtown. In the 2000s, the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen building, Princeton Club, and the venerable Century Club sold a bulk of their transferable development rights to major developer and art connoisseur Aby Rosen. Air rights of landmark buildings are allowed to be transferred to non-adjacent lots in exchange for funds going towards a significant restoration and preservation plan for the landmarked building.
Back in 2006, Rosen was positioning to build a 54-story 678-foot-high mixed-use tower of retail, hotel suites, and a small number of condos. The "six-star" hotel of 241 rooms would have been one of the first new hotels on Fifth Avenue in decades. A rendering of a sleek reflective glass prism designed by the firm of Pelli Clarke Pelli, whose late founder Cesar Pelli was behind One Beacon Court, Museum Tower, and the World Financial Center (Brookfield Place).
Three stately pre-war buildings were demolished to make way for the tower. While it would have been forward-thinking to incorporate the beautiful Beaux-Arts 516 Fifth Avenue into the base of the new tower, unlike Boston, New York City developers have been unsympathetic to 'facadism' unless forced by the city. Rosen's project stalled during the great economic downturn and in 2011 the site was sold to Joseph Sitt's Thor Equities for $132 million. In 2012 permits were filed to build a 6-floor commercial and retail podium that would one day support a larger mixed-use tower. Those plans never proceeded and Sitt ultimately sold the parcel to Ceruzzi Properties and Shanghai’s SMI USA in 2015 for $275 million.
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Cerruzzi and SMI dropped the hotel portion from their plans, dedicating the majority of their 400,000 buildable square feet to condos. Handel Architects was brought in as the new architects and renderings were floated of a knife-edged glass tower rising 920 feet high. A sluggish ultra-luxury market and the passing of Ceruzzi's founder and president Louis Ceruzzi in September 2017 further stalled construction. Now, with the Manhattan luxury market showing plenty of life in recent months, and a new partnering developer leading the charge, 2021 may be the year this missing tooth in Fifth Avenue's streetscape gets its roots and crown. This, in addition to numerous commercial prospects such as the expansion of Bank of America, the completion of One Vanderbilt, a string of new Midtown East office towers, and the redevelopment of Grand Hyatt point to a very eventful future for the Grand Central-Bryant Park area.
530 Fifth Avenue Aby Rosen's RFR is planning to revamp the office building 530 Fiffth Avenue next door (Williams New York for RFR)
Google Earth showing the area around 520 Fifth Avenue. Prior 920' design illustrated.
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