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January 29, 2008
 
 
 

 BOSTON PROPERTIES CREATING 21ST CENTURY LEVER HOUSE

 

Shout-out:  Big welcome to great new sponsor The Bozzuto Group, celebrating 20 years of creating communities.  Little-known fact:  Bozzuto's construction and management companies generate two-thirds of its revenue from third-party clients.  Welcome aboard!


 

Soap and detergent—that's what Lever Bros. was known for in 1952 when its headquarters rose at 390 Park AveSkidmore Owings Merrill designed it with glass walls so it would have a "squeaky clean" look, since copied many times.  And guess who's copying this landmark now in updated form for the green era?   Excavation starts this month at 250 W 55th (at 8th Ave) with Boston Properties enlisting the same architectural firm to design the a 38-story, 1 M SF tower to take the place of the 1920s Hearst headquarters building that's undergoing demolition.

 

These guys evidently like updating things.  When we dropped by 599 Lex last week to see regional head Robert Selsam, right, here with head of leasing Andy Levin, they were just finishing a renovation of their own offices (by Structure Tone) at 599 Lex.  BP built them in '85 as it entered the NYC market; tenants include Shearman & Sterling, Reed Smith, and Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates.

 

The rest of their portfolio includes the company's two Times Square developments shown above:  1.6 M SF Citigroup Center, which they bought in 2001, housing Kirkland & Ellis and Citigroup (and where they are planning a major new office lobby); and 1.7M SF 399 Park Ave, which they picked up in 2002, that actually serves as the Citigroup headquarters and is also home to Arnold & Porter and Lehman Bros.    The final trophy in their portfolio is 1.2 M SF Times Square Tower, which includes tenant O'Melveny & Myers and the Ann Taylor corporate office.

 

Pretty fancy paneling, but tthey're known for high end stuff.  Robert says Midtown rents were up 27% from December to December with 4.4% vacancy.  They're in four other markets besides NYC (Boston, DC,  SF, and Princeton) and their major holdings include Prudential Center in Boston and the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco.   Since they feel their best returns come from developing rather than holding, they like to sell so they can buy and build.  Recently they sold 5 Times Square to AVR Realty but BP still handles the management.  With Ernst & Young on a 20 year lease there, they say that's an example of a building that resembles a fixed return bond suited to a different kind of investor.  Similarly, they sold 280 Park to Istithmar, the Dubai real estate arm (which in turn sold to Broadway Partners), but still do leasing and management there.

 

Pouring water may be a subliminal longing:  Robert's an avid sailor who charters 50 foot boats with  friends in the Caribbean and just got back from a "St. trip":  St Martin, St. Kits, St. Barts, and St. Eustatius.  Originally from 138th St. near City College, he was MTA director of planning in 1984, having worked for NYC mayors Lindsay, Beame, and Koch, when he met BP co-founder Mort Zuckerman at a Community Board 6 while making a presentation. Next thing he knew he got a call from Ed Linde, BP co-founder and now CEO, to meet at the Four Seasons Restaurant where he agreed to join.  Robert, who admits loving his childhood erector set, went to architecture school in urban planning.  As for Andy, he's from Swampscott near Boston, moved to NY in '91 to work at Edward S. Gordon before it became Insignia, went to Columbia for an MBA, and started with BP in '96, a year before it its IPO.

 

In his spare time, Robert chairs the Salvadori Center, named after inspirational Columbia Architecture School prof Mario Salvadori, who in the mid-60s started working with kids to get them interested in math and science through hands-on techniques.  He was famous for taking out three sheets of notebook paper and asking if they thought he could use that to support a bunch of their schoolbooks.  Of course not, they'd say.  Above, Robert recreates what Mario would show them next.  The amazed kids would suddenly want to learn how to calculate bridge loads.  Robert got involved because a sailing friend involved with the Center said, "If you want to come on my Caribbean trip, you have to come on my board." 

 
 
 
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