The owners of 28 Liberty Street (formerly known as Chase Manhattan Plaza) are donating office space worth as much as $1.7 million to the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC), to support “Workspace,” its nine-month studio residency program.
The donation consists of 35,000 square feet of office space on the building’s 24th floor. With offices near 28 Liberty renting for $37 to $65 per square foot annually, the value of Fosun’s support for the LMCC’s Workspace program appears to range between $971,000 and slightly more than $1.7 million.
The Workspace program, which focuses on creative practice development for emerging artists working across all disciplines, offers quarters for experimentation and dialogue with peers and arts professionals. The program serves between 25 and 30 individuals or collaborative groups annually. In addition to studio space, the facility will contain meeting rooms, common areas, and dance floor/rehearsal space. This is the second year that Fosun has donated space to the LMCC’s Workspace program.
Fosun, which bought the complex from JPMorgan Chase in 2013 for $725 million, has supported several cultural and community programs since completing the acquisition. Earlier this year, it donated space on the 16th floor of the building to Sing for Hope, which brought teams of artists from around the world for two months, so they could paint 50 pianos in wild colors, before the instruments were gifted to community groups around the City’s five boroughs. And Fosun also hosted a series of free outdoor movies on 28 Liberty’s expansive plaza this summer, drawing crowds every Thursday evening for six weeks in July and August.
These gifts to the community are being offered against the backdrop of Fosun’s plans to transform the complex into a fashionable address and destination. Restaurateur Danny Meyer has been recruited to create a catering and event venue on the building’s top floor, and Fosun is also planning to build out as much as 200,000 square feet of new retail space beneath the plaza, and in the building’s basement levels, for which the company is reported to be in discussion with movie theater operators and the Trader Joe’s grocery chain, among others.
Creating viable retail space below ground level will require Fosun to build new entrances from 28 Liberty’s plaza. This is a development strategy pioneered by Apple, when it transformed an underutilized basement, at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, into valuable retail space by erecting an iconic glass cube at the store’s entrance. A similar plan for 28 Liberty (where Fosun plans to build three new entrances, enclosed by glass cubes) has proved controversial, because the plaza (along with the entire building) is legally protected by landmark status.
Another concern that has sparked opposition among community leaders is that the plaza occupies public land. It was created as a result of the City’s agreement to close Cedar Street, between Nassau and William Streets, and turn this space over to the Chase Manhattan Bank, when that company was building its new headquarters in the late 1950s. This grant of approximately 10,000 square feet of property owned by the taxpayers came with strings attached — one of which stipulated that nothing could ever be built on the plaza, which was supposed to remain publicly accessible open space in perpetuity. This “deed restriction” must be lifted or modified if Fosun is to be allowed to move ahead with their plan for glass-enclosed entrances to its new, underground shopping center.
But the lifting of deed restrictions has recently become contentious, amid allegations that a similar legal stratagem allowed a developer who purchased a nursing home for AIDS patients on the Lower East Side in 2015 to close the facility (which the deed limited to not-for-profit residential healthcare use) and “flip” it for a profit of $72 million. This transaction has inspired allegations of corruption targeted at the administration Mayor Bill de Blasio, which approved the deal. (The developer purchased the nursing home for $28 million in 2015, then paid the City an additional $16 million to lift the deed restriction, claiming that this was necessary to obtain financing and preserve jobs. Once the restriction was lifted, the developer sold the property to another real estate firm for $116 million.)
Community Board 1 is now considering a deed modification for 28 Liberty is appropriate, and in the public interest.