The Daily Dirt: A deep dive into Vornado’s Penn 2

Office building is undergoing $750M revamp

A Tour of Vornado’s Penn 2

A photo illustration of Vornado Realty Trust’s Steven Roth along with a rendering of 2 Penn (Getty, DBOX)

The labyrinth of sidewalk sheds is gradually disappearing in the Penn District. 

There are now trees along the pedestrian plaza on 33rd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. You can see the front of Vornado Realty Trust’s office building at Penn 2, which has been undergoing a $750 million transformation. Work is ongoing, so it doesn’t quite yet feel like a cohesive campus or neighborhood, but a clearer picture of how these buildings will connect and interact with their surroundings is starting to emerge. 

I recently got a peek at Penn 2, where Major League Soccer inked a lease for two floors and where Madison Square Garden Entertainment is taking the top seven. 

My tour was led by A+I’s Brad Zizmor and MdeAS Architects’ Dan Shannon, who respectively designed the inside and outside spaces at Penn 2. They said their collaboration was guided by the idea of “designing from the inside out” — in other words, with the idea that an office worker’s experience of the office extends to the building’s surroundings. 

“Your day starts as you walk around the office,” Zizmor said. 

Zizmor thinks the revamp is better than a brand new office building, “better than a hermetically sealed new glass box.” The new design includes nods to the old Penn Station, which was demolished in 1963 — an act that preservationists, and probably anyone walking through the current station who is shown a picture of the old station’s grandeur, consider unforgivable. 

The “bustle” is a 430-foot long, glassy structure that juts 70 feet out from the original Penn 2. The term to describe the structure is not, as I initially suspected, a holdover from an earlier design that was meant to mimic Marilyn Monroe’s skirt billowing over a subway grate. It’s for the best (in my humble opinion) that Vornado didn’t try to suspend this iconic movie moment within an office building’s facade. 

The bustle spans the fourth through ninth floors. Arriving on the sixth floor inspired the same thought I have whenever coming upon a large, unobstructed space with smooth floors: This would be a fantastic place to roller skate. 

Sixth floor (Vornado Realty Trust)

My second thought was: LIGHT! The column-less floor is full of natural light and overlooks Seventh Avenue. The top of the bustle reaches the point where the original Penn Station topped out, and the diagonal columns beneath it are actually supported by the foundation of the original station as well. 

And once completed, the rooftop lounge (dubbed the Perch) will be home to a replica of one of the red granite eagles that once adorned the cornice of the original station. An original eagle salvaged from the station was too heavy to bring up to the Perch, so it will be placed at street level.

Bernice, the name I’ve decided to give the Perch’s eagle, will have a panoramic view of the city and parts of New Jersey, where some of her stone counterparts likely remain, in some form, rotting in the Meadowlands.

Which is probably a good analogy for the contrast between Penn 2 and the older, increasingly obsolete office buildings in its immediate vicinity.

Rendering of the Perch (Vornado Realty Trust)

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There are so many places to work, share ideas, gossip, vent to co-workers or, in the case of the outdoor spaces carved into the building, maybe have a quick cry, far from your desk. When I was touring, we saw a few people working through lunch while perched on the exhaust vent outside the building. We all have our own creative processes.  

The inclusion of different places for work was a consideration that the architects said was accelerated by the pandemic, as employees moved from their desk, to the kitchen table, their bed. People found small joys in the freedom and variety of moving around to change the backdrop of their workday, rather than sitting slumped over their laptop for eight-plus hours. 

Vornado’s Steve Roth is not a fan of people working in their pajama pants at the kitchen table, but his revamped office buildings tacitly acknowledge that people want options when they come into the office; they want to feel like it was worth it to put on real pants and leave their home. 

The future of office is uncertain, but Vornado is betting big that the type of spaces that will prevail will be those that take more of a hospitality approach. As the architects described to me: Your office is your room, your homebase where you get essential things done. The rest are fantastic spaces you choose to spend your time. 

Will that be enough for companies and employees? That remains to be seen. 

What we’re thinking about: What is a job that every developer should have before becoming a developer? Send a note to kathryn@therealdeal.com

A thing we’ve learned: The Chuck E. Cheese mascot was originally envisioned as a coyote. Nolan Bushnell, who started the chain restaurants and also co-founded Atari, bought a costume for what was then going to be called Coyote Pizza. He didn’t notice the costume had a tail.

“I’d never seen it below the waist,” he told the New York Times

Bushnell then wanted to call the business Rick’s Rat Pizza, but luckily someone intervened and pointed out that was a terrible idea.  

Elsewhere in New York…

— Two dueling state bills are seeking to decriminalize sex work in New York, Politico New York reports. One measure, sponsored by Sen. Liz Krueger and Assembly member Pamela Hunter, would prevent sex workers from being prosecuted and clear their criminal records, while increasing penalties for those who pay for sex. The other measure, backed by Sen. Julia Salazar of Queens and Assembly member Phara Souffrant Forrest, would more fully decriminalize prostitution.

— Progressives have launched a campaign to get upstate cities to opt in to the state’s good cause eviction regulations, City & State reports. TRD previously reported such efforts in Albany and Kingston. The policy only automatically applied in NYC. 

— New Yorkers should expect Canadian wildfire smoke to return this summer, Gothamist reports. “This [Canadian wildfire smoke] is a new norm. This is real,” said Mark Wysocki, a recently retired Cornell University professor who previously served as the New York state climatologist. “We’re going to have to have an attitude adjustment here. We’re going to have to start dealing with the fact now that we’re going to have air quality alerts more often.”

Closing Time 

Residential: The priciest residential sale Friday was $13.5 million for a 2,600-square-foot condominium unit at 432 Park Avenue. 

Commercial: The largest commercial sale of the day was $10 million for a mixed-use property at 301 West 4th Street in the West Village. 

New to the Market: The highest price for a residential property hitting the market was $60 million for a 12,400-square-foot townhouse at 114-116 East 76th Street in Lenox Hill. Tal Alexander of Official has the listing. Breaking Ground: The largest new building application filed was for a 27,800-square-foot commercial building at 59-45 56th Rd in Queens. Joseph Giannetti filed the permit. — Matthew Elo