The office tower formerly known as 666 Fifth Ave. is putting Satan — and decades of ruinous mismanagement — behind it. Having shed the devilish address for unthreatening 660 Fifth, Brookfield Properties’ 1.5 million square-foot tower between East 52nd and 53rd streets is on track to reopen in 2022 — a year ahead of previous reports.
The $400 million redesign by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates will make the mostly vacant building unrecognizable except for its basic form. The aluminum-paneled façade, which seemed striking in 1957, is giving way to a new curtain wall of insulated glass panels. Light-flooded, semi-open floors are replacing warrens of old-fashioned, walled offices.
Four terraces will provide tenants with outdoor space, including one overlooking St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The upgrades also include all-new mechanical systems, mullion-free, 200 square-foot windows, a new East 52nd Street lobby, reconfigured retail on side streets, taller ceilings on some floors, and a direct outside air supply system to bring in 50 percent more fresh air.
The air inside 666 was anything but fresh. Cigar fumes from the top-floor Grand Havana Club smoking venue permeated hallways, offices — and even the ground-floor lobby when Realty Check popped in a few years ago.The Grand Havana, like other former tenants, is gone. “You can’t lease with cigar smoke,” chuckled Sabrina Kanner, Brookfield’s head of development, design and construction.
Although the smoke’s cleared, could the club’s long-ago top-floor predecessor, restaurant Top of the Sixes, make a comeback?
“Who knows?” Kanner said when we asked if it was a possibility. “We had issues with the cigar bar.”
But it would be a great location for a “view” restaurant “if somebody brought us the right concept,” she said.
Of course, even for mighty Brookfield, re-filling an entire office tower poses a daunting challenge in a time of commercial retrenchment and unprecedented fear. The tower faces competition from first-class space still available at other new projects including at SL Green’s One Vanderbilt, L&L Holding Co.’s 425 Park Ave., Tishman Speyer’s Spiral, and Brookfield’s own Two Manhattan West in the Hudson Yards area.
Kanner noted, “Yes, Two Manhattan West has a lot of space left, but they are very different products with different appeals.”
Neither Kanner nor anyone else at Brookfield would discuss rents. Midtown brokerage sources said they expected the “ask” to be in the low $100s per square foot in lower floors of 78,000 square feet and north of $200 psf in smaller, “specialty floors” near the top.
Besides an in-house team of Jeremiah Larkin, Duncan McCuaig and Mikael Nahmias, Brookfield has tapped Cushman & Wakefield heavy-hitters Bruce Mosler, Josh Kuriloff and Robert Lowe to reel in tenants.
Kanner, like others in her position, foresees an eventual return to the workplace.
“We see pent-up demand to come back to offices,” she said.
Before Brookfield bought a 99-year ground lease on 666 from Kushner Cos. for $1.3 billion in 2018, the tower’s history ranged from colorful to scandalous. “It’s a building that everyone has some kind of history with,” Kanner observed wryly.
Considered state-of-the-art when it opened in 1957, it soon came to seem cursed. Its aluminum-paneled façade looked dated overnight. Despite the prestige of its Fifth Avenue location, the tower struggled and changed hands several times until Kushner Cos. wildly overpaid Tishman Speyer for it to the tune of $1.8 billion, using mostly borrowed money.
Jared Kushner, former president Donald Trump’s son-in-law, had taken up the Kushner family reins after his father, Charles Kushner, was convicted and imprisoned in 2005 over a bizarre extortion plot “that read like pulp fiction,” according to the indictment. He pleaded guilty to tax evasion, making illegal campaign contributions and witness tampering.
Jared wanted his company — which was mainly active in New Jersey — to have a Manhattan “trophy” presence. The 666 Fifth purchase closed on Jan. 10, 2007 — Jared’s birthday. But below-market rents and vacancies pushed the property underwater, even after Kushner sold a ground-floor retail condominium for $525 million and took Vornado in as a 49 percent partner in the offices.
Vornado later sold its office stake back to Kushner but now owns the retail unit, home to Zara and Uniqlo, which is not affected by the tower redesign.
No wonder Brookfield wanted a new name to put the tower’s past behind it. It isn’t just for branding — “It’s a legal change of address,” Kanner said.