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Occupants Flee 1,400-Foot One Vanderbilt After 'Huge Shake'

SL Green's One Vanderbilt

Office workers in One Vanderbilt felt a "very scary" earthquake-like tremor in New York City’s third-tallest building Tuesday, causing many to voluntarily evacuate.

SL Green owns and developed the 93-story building, which opened in 2020 atop Grand Central Terminal in Midtown Manhattan and has been held up as a symbol of New York's recovery from the pandemic. It has commanded some of the highest office rents ever recorded.

But it was the scene of panic Tuesday afternoon, when an external elevator that takes visitors to the building's observation deck malfunctioned during maintenance, The Real Deal reported

Workers in the building quickly took to social media to describe the scene inside the 1,401-foot-tall skyscraper, the tallest office building in Midtown. One posted that a "huge 'shake'" that "felt like a huge sine wave ran through the building."

Mechanics were working on a software update to the elevator late Tuesday afternoon when the car fell three stories, landing on a spring on the 93rd floor designed to catch cars if they fall, TRD reported. The spring landing generated the tremor.

The Summit observation deck wasn't open to the public at the time and the incident did not result in any injuries, a spokesperson for SL Green told Bisnow.

The New York City Department of Buildings said that three of the elevator mechanics sustained minor injuries and refused medical attention, per TRD. The DOB said it planned to return to the building Wednesday to continue its inspection.

One Vanderbilt is the flagbearer of a new generation of office towers carving themselves into NYC’s skyline. The tower cost $3.3B to build, spans 1.7M SF and is occupied by titans of business and finance like TDBank, the Carlyle Group and McDermott, Will & Emery, as well as SL Green's headquarters.

SL Green agreed to spend $220M revamping the surrounding public space and building a new entrance and upgrades to Grand Central. 

“As we rebuild a fairer, better city, we’ll need thoughtful development projects like One Vanderbilt more than ever,” then-Mayor Bill de Blasio said at the One Vanderbilt's ribbon-cutting ceremony in fall 2020. “Public-private partnerships like these will help New York City come back stronger and revitalize major business hubs like Midtown East in the process.”

The building was 96.8% occupied at the end of 2022, according to SL Green's annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. It accounts for $254.6M in annualized rent, or more than 14% of SL Green's annual rental income. Hines and the National Pension Service of Korea own minority shares in the tower.

One Vanderbilt was also designed to be a leader among environmentally friendly commercial buildings: It generates a significant amount of its own electricity, and captures runoff from rainfall for its heating and cooling systems, The New York Times reported last month.

But even with 30K SF of swanky amenities for tenants, like a restaurant from chef Daniel Boulud, hotel-style social space and an outdoor terrace, the toll of the pandemic on office space hasn't spared its owner.

Share prices in SL Green have fallen from $81 per share a year ago to less than $23 as of Wednesday afternoon, when they were down 5% in intraday trading. SL Green reported a $93M loss in 2022 and has moved to sell properties to shore up its balance sheet. 

Another one of SL Green's most important properties is having a shaky week of its own: 11 Madison Ave. The building is home to Credit Suisse's 1.2M SF U.S. headquarters, the future of which is unclear after UBS acquired the bank in a Swiss government-forced merger.