GEMS school looks to lease entire office portion of Plaza District property

Princeton International-led group paid $170M for 111 East 59th St. in July

From left: 111 East 59th Street in Plaza District and GEMS World Academy in Chicago (inset: David Tawfik and GEMS founder Sunny Varkey)
From left: 111 East 59th Street in Plaza District and GEMS World Academy in Chicago (inset: David Tawfik and GEMS founder Sunny Varkey)

GEMS Education, the world’s largest operator of K-12 schools, is in talks to net-lease the entire office component of a 14-story Plaza District building, according to insiders.

The Dubai-based company is one of several firms vying for the roughly 174,000-square-foot office portion of the 200,000-square-foot property at 111 East 59th Street, between Park and Lexington avenues, sources familiar with negotiations said. GEMS would occupy the space as a private school – its first in New York.

In July, David Tawfik’s Princeton International, Dune Real Estate Partners and Empire Capital Holdings acquired the building for $170 million. The seller was Lighthouse International, a nonprofit that advocates for the blind. Lighthouse continues to occupy the majority of the building.

The owners are also in negotiations with prospective retail tenants for the 26,000-square-foot space spanning the lower level, ground and second floors. The property, constructed in the 1960s, is also known as the Sol and Lillian Goldman building.

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Newmark Grubb Knight Frank’s Brian Waterman is marketing the office space for lease, while a Ripco Real Estate team led by Andrew Mandell is marketing the retail. Mandell and the owners declined to comment, while Waterman and a spokesperson for GEMS could not be reached.

GEMS, which is headquartered in Dubai, U.A.E., and runs more than 70 schools in more than 12 countries, has a corporate office at 555 Madison Avenue in Midtown East. It has actively been looking to net-lease a property in that neighborhood or on the Upper East Side.

Since last year, GEMS has been mired in a legal dispute with hospitality and development firm Merchants Hospitality tied to botched plans to net-lease a proposed development on an Upper East Side site. Under a 40-year triple-net lease, GEMS sought to operate a 213,000-square-foot school at East 93rd Street and Second Avenue.

Both parties traded lawsuits, and SL Green Realty also sued GEMS over an alleged breach of contract to develop the property.