Former CBS home Black Rock nearly 90% leased after amenity-filled transformation

Twentieth Century office towers can’t survive in the Twenty-First on their historic reputations, architectural distinction or landmark status.

Companies today place a higher value on an older property’s contemporary assets such as state-of-the-art systems and high-end amenities that are for tenants’ use only.

The latest trophy building to complete a transformative repositioning is Harbor Group International’s 51 W. 52nd St., the fabled former home of CBS known as Black Rock.

It was the first and only office tower by architect Eero Saarinen, who designed the landmarked TWA Terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport.

The $128 million Black Rock project brought the distinctive tower on the East Side of Sixth Avenue a plush, lounge-like tenants’-only lobby on the 52d Street side and a modernized public lobby on 51st Street.

But only tenants enjoy the project’s “fun” component — a cellar-level amenity suite including a state-of-the-art fitness center, a yoga room and a cafe.

All the changes helped generate 325,000 square feet in new and renewal leases that brought the tower’s 900,000 square feet to nearly 90% leased since HGI bought it for $760 million in October 2021 — no small feat after original owner CBS moved most of its offices out a few years ago.

ViacomCBS sold CBS’ Manhattan headquarters, known as Black Rock, to Harbor Group International for $760 million. Getty Images

“CBS was the most powerful media company in the world when the tower opened in 1964,” said Howard Fiddle, head of the CBRE leasing team. “It was so ahead of its time with column-free floor plates.”

Black Rock’s smallish, 25,000 square-foot floor plates, which result from the way the tower is set deeply back from the street line, make it “more of a boutique building than is normal on Sixth Avenue. The floors get natural light through floor-to-ceiling windows,” Fiddle said.

The upgrades at Black Rock generated 325,000 square feet in new and renewal leases. Colin Miller

The tower’s notable tenants include law firm Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz and Canadian pension fund CPPIB, which just moved into the top two floors.

About 135,000 square feet remain available. Asking rents range from $90 per square foot on lower floors to $140 psf on higher ones.

Although not a household name in the city, HGI and its affiliates control a $20 billion investment portfolio in the US and Europe.

The renovation added a plush, lounge-like tenants’-only lobby on the 52d Street side and a modernized public lobby on 51st Street. Colin Miller
Tenants can enjoy a cellar-level amenity suite including a state-of-the-art fitness center, a yoga room and a cafe. Colin Miller

Black Rock’s rejuvenation belongs to the overall revival of Midtown Sixth Avenue, which appeared to be headed for trouble before the pandemic when some large tenants, CBS among them, announced plans to move away.

But the corridor’s vacancy rate today is only between ten and eleven percent depending on which market report you follow, compared with a Manhattan-wide average of twenty-plus percent. Much of the corridor’s strength is due to extraordinary investments major landlords made in their properties.

As we’ve noted before, the upgrades include Rockefeller Group’s top-to-bottom redesign of the former Time + Life tower at 1271 Sixth Ave. and the many improvements to the original Rockefeller Center complex made by Tishman Speyer.

The commercial refinance game is the toughest in town these days. But Williams Equities completed a $155 million, five year CMBS loan for its 28-40 W. 23rd St., a familiar sight to Ladies Mile shoppers for its big Home Depot signs.

Citi Real Estate Funding is the lender. The new loan will help to fund building improvements and amenities that are to include an updated atrium and skylights and a building-wide roof deck.

A Williams Equities spokesman said the refinancing “is in line with our successful, timeless multi-generational strategy.”

Office tenants at the 578,105 square-foot 28-40 W. 23rd — once a department store — include numerous creative, digital and tech firms.

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