The owners of the Empire State Building sued a retired Florida man for selling the original tracings of the iconic tower, saying they could be used to facilitate terrorism, papers filed in the New York State Supreme Court show.
Empire State Building Company LLC — an entity backed by Malkin Holdings, the estate of Leona Helmsley and other investors in 350 Fifth Avenue — petitioned the court Friday to compel Sy Donner, a retired structural engineer, to release the names of anyone who has purchased the drawings and to cease further sales of the documents.
But Donner, reached at his Boynton Beach, Fla., home, appeared unmoved, though he had only heard of the suit two hours before. He said he sold the plans to a private collector about a month ago after the building’s owners declined his offer to purchase them.
“I’m happy,” he added, referring to the sale, and said he did not believe the suit was appropriate. “In a nutshell, they are out of their minds.”
Neither attorneys nor representatives for the Empire State Building Company LLC immediately returned calls seeking comment.
Donner was once a partner with Manhattan-based engineering and design firm Edwards & Hjorst, which he said came into possession of a number of original prints and tracings of the Empire State Building dating to 1930. About a year ago, he began looking for a buyer, he said. He sold some prints of the original drawings to Thornton Tomasetti, another engineering firm, and later sold the tracings of the drawings of the much-depicted tower to the collector for an undisclosed sum.
Donner and the complaint indicated the asking price was $10,000; Donner said that the collector paid less than that sum. He said he settled on that price because it was what he paid for the drawings when Edwards & Hjorst dissolved in 1998.
“All I wanted was the money that I had paid my ex-partner when we split up the firm,” Donner said.
He only sought other buyers after he offered them to the Empire State Building owners, he said.
“I thought they’d be interested in them for reference and they were not interested,” Donner said, adding that one consultant from the ownership entity even suggested he look to sell them elsewhere.
But somewhere along the line — perhaps after last year’s terrorism scare — that all changed, apparently.
To the tower’s owners, the sale of the drawings “constitutes a grave security threat to the Empire State Building as well as it’s many tenants, employees, tourists and the general public because the drawings … could, in the hands of terrorists or criminals, provide them with critical information as to how most effectively attack the Empire State Building [sic],” the petition says.
The suit asks that the drawings be “preserved and [Donner] enjoined from selling, transferring, publishing or otherwise disposing of [them].”
Thornton Tomasetti did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
The Empire State Building is no stranger to legal conflict. Numerous suits have sought to block the Malkins’ move to include the tower in a newly formed publicly traded real estate investment trust. This month, a New York Supreme Court judge upheld a $55 million settlement between the Malkins and a group of investors who objected to the formation of the REIT, and ruled that investors cannot seek further injunctions to halt the initial public offering.
The judge also awarded $11.6 million in attorneys’ fees and just over $200,000 in expenses to the plaintiffs, according to a filing Friday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. That will add $3.4 million to the settlement proceeds and bump up the amount each participant in the suit will receive by about 7 percent, the filing says.
Additional reporting by Adam Pincus and Hiten Samtani