Art Students League members sue over Extell tower

Claim $31.8M for air and cantilever rights for League’s building not nearly enough

225 West 57th Street with and without cantilever and Gary Barnett
225 West 57th Street with and without cantilever and Gary Barnett

More than 100 members of the Art Students League of New York opposed to the League’s deal to sell air and cantilever rights to Gary Barnett’s Extell Development for his mixed-use tower at 225 West 57th Street, filed suit this week to block the transfer.

The members of the art nonprofit believe the developer of the proposed 1,435-foot tall tower should pay far more than the agreed on fee of $31.8 million, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in New York State Supreme Court. In fact, they suggest the property rights controlled by the league’s landmarked building next door at 215 West 57th Street are worth more than $400 million.

The group of individuals sued the League, the 12 individual members of the Board of Control of the Arts Students League, and Extell, seeking to block the deal.

However, the 111 members form just a small fraction of the 1,569 who belong to the League and who voted Feb. 12 to approve the sale, which is slated to close when the project gets financing or by Dec. 31, whichever comes first, according to materials supplied to members and filed with the court.

A spokesperson for Extell noted the transfer plan passed by a margin of six-to-one in a vote conducted by the League.

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“One has to wonder why any person truly concerned with [the League’s] best interests, would jeopardize more than $30 million in much-needed funds and try to sabotage the wishes of the vast majority of its members,” the company said in a statement.

Moshe Mortner, an attorney representing the opposing members, declined to comment. The League did not respond to a request for comment.

Extell agreed to pay the $31.6 million fee to the League for 6,000 square feet of development rights as well as for the right to build the cantilever over a portion of the League’s Building On West 57th Street.

This was the second purchase of development rights from the nonprofit. In 2005, Extell bought the bulk of the air rights, some 136,096 square feet, but did not buy the right to build a cantilever.

The cantilever, which is planned to be about 28 feet wide by 88 feet long, will begin nearly 200 feet — or 30 stories — above the base of the League’s four-story building.

The opponents of the transfer accuse the board of withholding material information from its members, as well.