Volume 20, Number 36 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | Feb. 1 - 7 , 2008

Rendering by dbox, courtesy of Silverstein Properties

Architect Robert A.M. Stern said he wanted his slender classical design for the Four Seasons at 99 Church St., center, to complement the historic Woolworth Building to the left. Two W.T.C. towers are to the right.

Four Seasons says Downtown’s time is now

By Julie Shapiro

Luxury amenities Downtown are nothing new. From Tiffany to Hermes, high-end retailers are flocking to the rapidly developing district.

But the excitement was palpable when developer Larry Silverstein announced the latest arrival to Downtown’s luxury economy: Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.

Four Seasons will run a 175-room hotel and 143 condominiums in a brand-new tower at 99 Church St. The first 22 stories of the 80-story building will house the hotel, including a restaurant, lounge, spa and pool. Luxury condos will fill the rest of the building and will feature penthouses, terraces and the residents’ own fitness center.

“Four Seasons’ decision to join in the transformation of Downtown is a huge sign of change,” said Silverstein, president and C.E.O. of Silverstein Properties. “But it’s also a vote of confidence in Downtown’s historic role as a world-class business district.”

At 912 feet, the trim tower between Barclay St. and Park Place will be the tallest residential building in Manhattan. Construction is scheduled to start this June and finish in 2011. Silverstein unveiled the designs and announced his partnership with international chain Four Seasons at a Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association breakfast Tuesday.

“We knew it was the right time for a second Four Seasons in New York,” said Kathleen Taylor, president and chief operating officer of Four Seasons. The city’s other Four Seasons, on 57th St. in Midtown, just completed its most successful year yet, which bodes well for an expansion, Taylor said.

The slim limestone and cast-stone tower has a more classical look than the skyscrapers that will rise at ground zero, and that’s exactly what architect Robert A.M. Stern was going for. He was wary of overshadowing the adjacent Woolworth Building, which he called “a great icon” after the breakfast. Stern wanted 99 Church to complement Woolworth rather than dominate it.

To that end, he envisioned a light-colored tower “as slender as it is structurally feasible,” with large rectangular windows.

Stern said he hopes to distinguish 99 Church St. from the bulkier World Trade Center office buildings, which Silverstein is also developing.

“This is a place people will live,” Stern told reporters. “It should be elegant.”

Stern’s projects include 15 Central Park West, Tribeca Park and Tribeca Green in Lower Manhattan, and the new Museum for African Art.

Since October, Silverstein has been demolishing the previous 11-story building at 99 Church St., which housed the headquarters of Moody’s Corporation. The bond raters moved a block away to Silverstein’s 7 W.T.C. Once completed, the 99 Church St. lot will feature a public plaza connecting Barclay St. to Park Place.

Liz Berger, president of the Downtown Alliance, is thrilled with Four Seasons’ arrival.

“It’s fantastic,” she said. “Who doesn’t like Four Seasons?”

Hotel rooms are in high demand Downtown, and developers are stepping in to meet that need. This January, the Alliance counted 2,474 hotel rooms in Lower Manhattan, with an additional 3,702 announced or under construction.

Several hotels are slated to open Downtown in 2008, including Wyndham Garden at 20 Maiden Lane, a 20-story building with 110 rooms. Across from the World Trade Center site, W Hotels will launch a 220-room hotel at 123 Washington St. later this year.

Julie Menin, chairperson of Community Board 1, agreed with Berger that the Four Seasons hotel is good news for Downtown. Once the 9/11 memorial opens, 5 million tourists will visit ground zero each year, and Menin doesn’t want them to leave the neighborhood after only a few hours.

“We want them to dine in the restaurants and shop in the stores,” she said. “If they stay in [a hotel in] Lower Manhattan, they’re more apt to do that.”

Today’s uncertain economic climate made several appearances during Silverstein’s remarks. He mentioned the naysayers who cast doubt over the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan, doubts he said which were largely silenced after 7 W.T.C.’s construction and opening. With a possible recession on the horizon, “The naysayers will be back,” Silverstein told the audience. “And once again, all of us in this room will prove them wrong.”

Even if Wall St. suffers, Silverstein said he is not worried about diminished demand for office space in the three towers he is going to build at the World Trade Center. That’s because 86 percent of his tenants in the new 7 W.T.C. are outside of the financial industry, a pattern he believes can continue when the three buildings are built.

Later, in response to a question about the budget problems at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Fulton St. hub, Silverstein reaffirmed that no matter the financial climate, steel will rise on his properties. His advantage is in the $4.5 billion in insurance money he has from 9/11, in addition to tax-free Liberty Bonds, he said.

“That puts us in a unique position and gives us the ability to build these buildings,” Silverstein said.

Silverstein also fielded a question from C.B. 1’s Michael Connolly on the performing arts center at the W.T.C. site. The Frank Gehry-designed building will include a 1,000-seat theater and possibly other performance spaces, Silverstein said. Silverstein assured the audience that Mayor Michael Bloomberg is behind the performing arts center and that he will help raise money for it, just as he successfully raised money for the memorial museum. Silverstein expects the arts center to be complete in 2011 or 2012.

“It will be a magnificent building because [Gehry] only designs magnificent buildings,” he added.

At the end of Silverstein’s speech, an audience member asked about luxury amenities for condo owners at 99 Church and jokingly wondered if he should buy one.

“Buy the apartment,” Silverstein advised, laughing. “They’re going fast!”

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