NYC’s Secret Weapon to Keep Finance Elite Is Park Avenue Revamp
By Amanda L Gordon
October 26, 2022
When legendary architect Norman Foster agreed to design a glistening full-block building on New York’s Park Avenue in 2012, the city was still bouncing back from the financial crisis—a seemingly existential threat at the time.
Some six years later, as Wall Street returned to delivering record profits, JPMorgan Chase & Co. unveiled plans for a new headquarters on Manhattan’s boulevard of capital. There again was Foster + Partners, tasked with creating a 2.5 million-square-foot tower.
Foster, now 87, had no idea at the time, but these two buildings are shaping up to be New York’s best rejoinder to post-pandemic fears about the staying power of remote work, a mass exodus to South Florida, and—crucially—that the global capital of high finance has lost its luster.
Citadel, whose move to Miami sent shock waves across Wall Street, already has 100 employees working at 425 Park Ave., which formally opens Wednesday, and expects 1,000 to be settled in by summer next year. At JPMorgan’s 270 Park Ave., welding sparks fly as construction continues on a structure that will double the number of workers on that block. In between, lunch lines run 30 people deep at food carts; a new Aston Martin showroom is on the way.
”The timing is very good—it’s coincident with all kinds of other developments in the wings,” Foster said in an interview. “There is only one Park Avenue, so it has to be special.”
Park Avenue’s 1-mile stretch in the heart of Manhattan, from Grand Central Terminal to Central Park, has long had one advantage above all: its concentration of wealth.
Along with Citadel’s Ken Griffin and JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon, Blackstone Inc. Chief Executive Officer Steve Schwarzman works on the avenue and has a residence there. Izzy Englander’s Millennium Management and Eminence Capital are based at 399 Park, blocks away from other hedge funds including ExodusPoint Capital Management and GoldenTree Asset Management.
Investment banks PJT Partners, Moelis & Co. and Raymond James have Park Avenue addresses, too. The actual Wall Street is downtown, but the real epicenter of high finance has long been further north.
Its density of office space and proximity to transit—some commuters from Greenwich and other suburbs can reach their buildings from below street level—make it a bellwether for the future of commercial real estate in New York. Just two blocks over on Third Avenue, scores of towers remain largely empty, caught between being too old to lure tenants who want the newest amenities and too new to be demolished or converted to housing.
Park Avenue, by contrast, has proved resilient. Employees of alternative-asset powerhouse Blackstone were back at their desks as early as September 2020. The return rate at the Seagram Building is 75% Tuesday to Thursday. The spaces BlackRock Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co. are leaving for Hudson Yards will be filled by Morgan Stanley and Blue Owl, among others.
The north-south avenue is the “spine” of the city, said Vishaan Chakrabarti, an architect who’s working with Foster on 270 Park. “If Park Avenue thrives, the whole district will thrive, and that is fundamental to the entire city.”
Jon Gray has spent his entire career at Blackstone working at 345 Park Ave. The lease there runs through 2028 with options to renew, and Gray, Blackstone’s president, acknowledges there will have to be decisions about whether the 53-year-old building can be retrofitted or not.
Either way, the firm has a strong bias toward Midtown, he said in an interview.
“Park Avenue is hard to beat—it’s built for business,” Gray said. It’s convenient both for employees and for clients staying in hotels nearby. Plus, it has traffic running in both directions, making it easier to hail a cab going the right way.
“It seems like a little thing, but it makes a difference,” Gray said.
The design for JPMorgan’s 270 Park got city approval in 2018, with the bank agreeing to facilitate critical work underground to prepare one of the world’s busiest transit networks for a future that involves fewer automobiles.
Plans for the neighborhood also call for eliminating car lanes and expanding the medians—a move designed to put the “park” back in Park Avenue—and create more space for a broader swath of workers, tourists and residents in the area. The tower will be the city’s largest all-electric one.