Vanbarton Pivots To Life Sciences Project At Former HFZ Site In NoMad

Vanbarton Pivots To Life Sciences Project At Former HFZ Site In NoMad
Left to right: Gary Tischler and Richard Coles of the Vanburton Group together at 3 West 29th Street (Getty, Vanburton Group, Google Maps)

Left to right: Gary Tischler and Richard Coles of the Vanburton Group together at 3 West 29th Street (Getty, Vanburton Group, Google Maps)

One of New York's most anticipated office projects certainly seems to be changing.

The VanBurton Group is considering developing its vacant lot next to Marble Collegiate Church at West 29th Street and Fifth Avenue as a life sciences project rather than an office tower, according to a person familiar with the matter. When finished, it will be one of the largest projects in the city.

The latest attack on the site comes more than seven years after the community formed a joint venture with Jill Feldman's firm HFZ Capital, which originally designed the 64-story residential tower at 3 West 29th Street next to the historic church at 272 Fifth Ave.

By 2019, HFZ had moved into a 34-story office tower called 29 and 5 and designed by Bjarke Ingels. Soon after, the Zona Franca's multibillion-dollar real estate portfolio began to collapse due to a wave of loans and foreclosures.

Van Burton, the intermediate lender on the project, relinquished its interest in the joint venture and acquired the site in 2021. It appears to be primarily promoting plans for an office tower. It hired the architectural firm Kohn Pedersen Fox, designers of the ultra-tall SL Green One Vanderbilt, and construction was scheduled to begin last year.

But VanBurton hasn't submitted a plan since then and the job remains open. The source said it could build a life sciences project on the land immediately and the site could be used by local hospitals.

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A potential shift toward life sciences looms as the Manhattan office market suffers from low demand. Some office owners want to convert their properties into living space, but the process can be expensive and not suitable for all buildings.

Life science is one of the most popular sectors of real estate. About 20 million square feet of space is expected to be offered to life sciences tenants this year, according to a report by Cushman & Wakefield.

New York lags other cities like Boston and San Francisco in life sciences construction, but Taconic Partners is renovating a vacant 400,000-square-foot building into a life sciences research facility at 125 West End Avenue.

The Nomad site was an innovative development in the Hamria Free Zone. The Marble Collegiate Church, founded in 1628, is one of the oldest Protestant denominations in the country. Best known for Pastor Norman Vincent Peale, author of The Power of Positive Thinking, the church once counted Donald Trump among its members.

Investor filings show the projected cost of the planned HFZ project is $1.3 billion as of 2019, and the church plans to use development funds to restore the existing 1851 building and build a public facility at the base of the new tower. Now you probably won't have any involvement in the project.

Van Burton declined to comment.

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