$85M air rights purchase pushes stalled MoMa tower ahead

Houston developer Hines has also lined up construction loan with several Asian banks

Rendering of Hines' MoMa tower
Rendering of Hines' MoMa tower

With the purchase of some $85 million worth of air rights from its neighbors and a large construction loan in place, the developer of the long-stalled MoMa supertall tower said it is finally ready to put shovels in the ground.

Houston-based Hines recently closed on two deals to buy more than 240,000 square feet of development rights from MoMa and the St. Thomas Episcopal Church for its Jean Nouvel-designed, 1,050-foot condo tower 53W53, property records show. The total purchase price worked out to $85.3 million. The 31,389 square feet of development rights from MoMa worked out to about $453 per foot, while St. Thomas’ 210,000 square feet of excess rights came in shy of $340 per foot. The developer declined to comment on the specifics of the transactions. An air-rights expert not affiliated with the deals said they were probably negotiated some time ago at different intervals.

Hines purchased the site in 2007 and planned to build what would be, at the time, the city’s tallest residential tower. The tower’s height was slashed by about 200 feet throughout the course of gaining city approvals, and as the project got bogged down during the financial crisis, competing buildings – Extell’s One57 and Macklowe’s 432 Park – forged ahead and took the tallest-tower distinction.

Hines and its development partner, Goldman Sachs, have entered into an equity partnership with Singapore-based Pontiac Land Group. The team closed on an $860 million construction loan from United Overseas Bank Limited in conjunction with three other Asian banks: Maybank, OCBC Bank and DBS Bank.

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Construction on the 82-story, 140-unit tower is expected to commence shortly.

“More than a decade of planning has gone into setting the stage for this architectural masterpiece,” Hines senior managing director Tommy Craig said in a statement. “The building’s singular elegance will be valued by future residents and treasured by New Yorkers and visitors as a new international design landmark.”

A sales office run by Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group is expected to Open On Fifth Avenue early next year.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly incorrectly Hines’ base of operations.