A $550 million campaign to modernize the Empire State Building has turned the icon from gritty to green over the past five years — and the change is attracting tenants from all over the globe.
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that since 2006, 26 companies from Europe and Asia have signed new or expanded leases with the darling of the city skyline. In 2006, the Malkin family, which owns the Empire State Building, removed the managing and leasing agent with which they had had a combative relationship, allowing the Malkins to transform the building as they saw fit. Now, companies including French fragrance company Coty (four floors) and the People’s Daily Online, a branch of the Chinese Communist Party’s main paper, have moved in, giving international flair to a building that the Wall Street Journal characterized as a “dowager aunt” in the commercial real estate market.
MetroFocus spoke with Anthony Malkin about the rehabbed landmark.
Q: What was the impetus behind the campaign to “restore” and “reposition” the Empire State Building?
A: Our intention was to reassert it to its rightful position as a pre-war trophy for New York City. And it has always has been deemed to many people the signature piece of the city’s landscape. It was a matter of putting the building back on the map where it belonged.
Over time the building had not been kept up and properly maintained. A good chunk of the reason for this lay in real disagreement between ourselves and the managing agent.
Q: Why do you think the Empire State Building has had such great success with international companies in particular?
A: A combination of factors attracts these tenants.The major appeal is right off the bat is they didn’t think of it as the Empire State Building — they didn’t have any preconceived notion. They see an unbelievable, fully-restored, fully-updated, gorgeous art deco masterpiece as a lobby.
We’ve also consolidated space for large international — and national companies — gutting entire floors. Many of the international companies have a mandate for using green energy. Their boards’ have a mandate for corporate social responsibility. Energy efficiency is throughout the building and integrated into everything. There’s a greater awareness among these tenants of the costs involved in energy. International companies consider the package of rent, salary and utilities — the only thing you can’t control is the cost of utilities.
Of course the building is also an international icon. It’s the only building in New York where the only thing you need to have on the business card is the name.
Q: But The Wall Street Journal seems to imply that doesn’t quite work the same way locally, in New York City, or even nationally…
A: I disagree. Lets put it this way: the story that ran was specifically about international companies.
If you look at a magazine in your Ritz Carlton room in Manhattan, you’ll see a fashion spread that’s all shot in the Empire State Building. We have a variety of new domestic tenants including LinkedIn and the FDIC.
Q: Obviously, one of the great things about the Empire State Building is the lights. That seems to come with a lot of pressure though. There were protests when you decided not to light the building in honor of Mother Theresa’s 100th birthday last year, and also when the building was lit orange and red to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Communist China in 2009.
A: We celebrate religious holidays including Easter, Eid ul-Fitr, Christmas and Chanukah. We honor countries in Europe and Asia and all over in lights. China is a country.
MetroFocus Senior Online Editor Heather Grossmann conducted this interview, which was edited and condensed.