Vanbarton eyes life sciences project at former HFZ site in NoMad
Dev site next to Marble Collegiate Church was foreclosed on in 2021 as HFZ collapsed
One of New York’s most anticipated office projects appears to be changing course.
Vanbarton Group is considering developing its vacant site next to the Marble Collegiate Church at West 29th Street and Fifth Avenue as a life science project rather than an office tower, according to a person familiar with the matter. If completed, it would be one of the largest such projects in the city.
The site’s latest turn comes more than seven years after the congregation formed a joint venture with Ziel Feldman’s HFZ Capital, which originally planned a 64-story residential tower at 3 West 29th Street, a plot adjacent to the landmarked church at 272 Fifth Avenue.
By 2019, HFZ had shifted to a 34-story office tower, dubbed 29th & Fifth and designed by Bjarke Ingels. Soon after, HFZ’s multibillion-dollar real estate portfolio began to collapse under a wave of debt and foreclosures.
Vanbarton, the project’s mezzanine lender, foreclosed on the joint venture’s equity stake and took over the site in 2021. It initially seemed to be moving forward with plans for an office tower. It tapped architecture firm Kohn Pedersen Fox, the designer of SL Green’s supertall One Vanderbilt, and construction was expected to begin last year.
But Vanbarton has not filed any plans since and the site remains vacant. It can build a life science project on the land as of right, and the site could be used by local hospitals, the source said.
The possible move to life sciences comes as Manhattan’s office market continues to suffer from reduced demand. Some office landlords are looking to convert their properties for residential use, but the process can be expensive and not all buildings are suitable candidates.
Life sciences has been among the hottest sectors in real estate. About 20 million square feet of space intended for life science tenants is expected to be delivered this year, according to a report by Cushman & Wakefield.
New York lags behind other cities such as Boston and San Francisco in life sciences construction, but more is on the way as Taconic Partners redevelops a 400,000-square-foot vacant building at 125 West End Avenue into a life sciences and research facility.
The NoMad site was among HFZ’s marquee development projects. Founded in 1628, Marble Collegiate Church is one of the oldest Protestant congregations in the country. The church was known for its longtime pastor Norman Vincent Peale, author of the book, “The Power of Positive Thinking,” and once counted Donald Trump among its congregants.
Investor documents show the projected value of the planned HFZ project to be $1.3 billion as of 2019, and the church planned to use money from the development to restore its current building, which dates to 1851, and build a community facility at the base of the new tower. Now it will likely have no involvement in the project.
Vanbarton declined to comment.