Condé Nast to Move to Skyscraper at Ground Zero

The New York Times


Charles V. Bagil

Condé Nast’s decision in 1996 to move its headquarters, chic magazines and black-clad editors to Times Square proved to be a transformative moment for a still rough-and-tumble district shunned by many New Yorkers.

Reuters, Ernst & Young, “Good Morning America” on ABC and millions of tourists soon followed the media company’s path, pushing aside the pornographic shops, prostitutes and hustlers who once dominated a neighborhood known as the crossroads of the world.

Fourteen years later, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is hoping that Condé Nast can work that kind of magic downtown. On Tuesday, the authority signed a tentative deal to move the Condé Nast headquarters to 1 World Trade Center, the 1,776-foot skyscraper now under construction at ground zero. That would make it the building’s largest private tenant so far and one with trend-setting cachet to boot.

In the cold, mournful aftermath of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, it was unclear what companies, if any, would move back to that scarred piece of earth. For a long time, it appeared that government agencies were the only likely tenants.

Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban planning at New York University, said the Condé Nast deal could be a turning point, noting that 1 World Trade Center, which will be the city’s tallest building, sits across West Street from the newly opened Goldman Sachs headquarters.

Think: Anna Wintour, the imperious editor-in-chief of Condé Nast’s Vogue, who inspired the novel and film “The Devil Wears Prada,” and Graydon Carter, the bon vivant editor of Vanity Fair, stepping out of black limousines at ground zero.

“We will have the best-paid bankers and best-dressed editors across the street from each other,” Mr. Moss said. “What young ambitious person would not want to be downtown now?”

Condé Nast is not the only high-profile tenant now considering 1 World Trade Center, expected to be completed in 2013. Bank of New York is also considering it as one of several sites.

The Port Authority declined to comment on any negotiations with tenants. Stephen Sigmund, a spokesman for the authority, did say, “There is clearly momentum both in the building of the World Trade Center site and the growing interest from potential tenants.”

Condé Nast’s current landlord at 4 Times Square, the Durst real estate family, whose building played an important role in rejuvenating Times Square, is also on the verge of playing a larger role at 1 World Trade Center. On Thursday, the Port Authority’s board is expected to grant initial approval to a deal in which the Durst family would take over marketing and leasing the downtown skyscraper and pay $100 million for a 10 percent stake in the project.

After the attack on the trade center, many who had worked there said they had no desire to return. Eliot Spitzer once called it a white elephant. Douglas Durst, who headed the family firm, was one of many opponents.

Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch both turned down entreaties to move to one of the new skyscrapers planned for the site. With no private corporations on the horizon, city, state and federal agencies promised to lease several million square feet. Critics, however, bemoaned the cost of the towers and the foolishness of installing government employees in prime office space.

If the deal is completed, Condé Nast would take up to one million square feet in the 2.6 million-square-foot, $3.3 billion tower sometime in 2014, according to two executives who have been briefed on the agreement. The company and the Port Authority expect to spend the next couple of months working out the details. It was unclear how much the company would pay in rent, but it appears to be trying to replicate its strategy in Times Square by securing below-market leases as a pioneering tenant.

Condé Nast, whose 18 magazines are spread among six buildings, including 4 Times Square, declined to comment, but in a letter to employees on Tuesday morning, it said the move “would allow us to house all our brands in a single, state-of-the-art headquarters.”

If the lease is signed, it would almost certainly mean that the authority would not have to lease as much, if any, space to state and federal agencies. With Condé Nast as a magnet, the tower would command higher rents from companies.

“This represents a game-changing transformation of Lower Manhattan into a hub for creative industries, not just for financial services,” said Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association. “It’s been almost a decade since 9/11, and clearly people are now looking at this site and this building as one of the most well-located addresses in the region, not just as the site of a national tragedy.”