The City Council’s land use committee on Thursday voted to grant a special permit to remake the landmarked Windermere into a mixed-use commercial and residential building.
The Windermere’s owner, Mark Tress, plans to convert the bulk of the building into about 55,000 square feet of office space. Should the full City Council follow the committee’s recommendation, Tress is set to also add a top-floor restaurant and rooftop bar and build out 6,400 square feet of ground-floor retail space.
The redeveloped property at 400 W. 57th Street will also include 20 affordable residential units, part of a cure agreement Tress struck with the city after previous owners spent years harassing rent-controlled residents.
The enormous brick building in Hell’s Kitchen was built in 1881 as a home for single women and female artists. In the 1970s, several floors were converted to small, rent-controlled Single Room Occupancy units, which soon became the subject of an egregious harassment campaign. Owners reportedly cement-blocked tenants’ doors shut and padlocked the entrance, keeping renters from their homes and their belongings stuck inside. The owners were eventually convicted of felonies for their behavior and a Japanese construction group purchased the building in 1986.
The firm, Toa Construction Company, tried and failed in the latter decades of the 20th Century to make the building profitable. Their efforts never panned out, and in 2007, with the Windermere in disrepair, the city issued a vacate order for the building’s last residents.
Two years later, Tress bought the building for $13 million. To make the project pencil out with the required affordable units, he planned to convert the rest to a boutique hotel. But in April, when City Planning certified Tress’ application, thus starting the public review process, he tacked on the office space option. Both received positive reviews from the local community board and Borough President Gale Brewer. That month, the landmarks commission approved the plans as well.
Tress has since withdrawn the hotel option, going all-in on the office conversion. The full City Council has until October 12 to hold its own vote — if it approves, Tress will be clear to break ground.
The move comes at a tough time for hospitality and workplace landlords, though there are positive signs for Class-A office owners amidst the ongoing flight to quality. This summer, SL Green began marketing record-high asking rates for the top floor at One Vanderbilt, and Google’s $2 billion office deal spurred renewed confidence among office landlords.