Even on an unremarkable weekday, even through the permanent-twilight middle-distance haze of workday weariness, Manhattan can still sneak up on you. For instance, I know that I’ll see the Helmsley Building something like every weekday. When I leave the midtown office at which I do my part-time thing and make my way to the train, the Helmsley Building will be there, looming above Grand Central Station. On most days, I barely notice it. And sometimes I do, and I feel fortunate for being able to do so — there’s an eloquence to its heft that’s rare even in its more accomplished pre-war peers on the Manhattan skyline, and that — or that and the way it looms over Grand Central Station — makes the sight one of my favorite Manhattan vistas. (I’m not alone in this) When I remember to notice it, that is. Otherwise, it’s invisible. This is kind of a highfalutin way of explaining why or how I somehow missed the boat on the story of the ambitious green retrofit that recently earned The Helmsley Building LEED Gold certification, and unofficial status as Manhattan’s greenest pre-war building. But I figured highfalutin would be preferable to “I guess I just missed it in my Google news-feed.” Anyway, they’re both true. And the retrofit really is worth writing about, even if the building’s LEED Gold certification is almost a month old at this point.
The Helmsley Building retrofit hasn’t been as extravagantly well-covered as the Empire State Building’s super-retrofit, which makes a basic sort of assignment-desk sense given that the Helmsley Building (and just about any other building in New York City) is not nearly as iconic a part of the skyline as the Empire State Building. But the Helmsley Building’s retrofit has a lot in common with the Empire State Building; a lot more, in fact, than one might guess from the disparity in coverage. As with Tony Malkin and the Empire State Building, the Helmsley’s retrofit was spearheaded by an ambitious youngish building owner looking to bring a pre-war building up to date. The Empire State Building is something of a family heirloom for the Malkins, but the tower at 230 Park Avenue has bounced around some over the last few decades. Cornelius Vanderbilt built it in 1928, Harry Helmsley bought it and, as you might’ve guessed, renamed it; the building has been sold by the universally beloved Leona Helmsley, Robert Bass and the royal family of Dubai since 1998, before winding up in the hands of Monday Properties (and Goldman Sachs’ Whitehall Fund, which actually gives Leona Helmsley a run for most-noxious-owner-of-Helmsley-Building honors). Monday’s president Anthony Westreich was the driving force behind the retrofit, and is — like Malkin — apparently something of a green building convert.
After spending three years and an estimated $100 million on the Helmsley Building retrofit, it would seem that Westreich’s dedication to green building is more or less beyond doubt. As with Malkin, of course, Westreich hopes to earn that money back both in efficiency savings and by attracting new renters. With 215,000 square feet of new deals in the building since January of 2010 — most recently, Indiana-based real estate giant Simon Property Group signed on for 11,000-odd square feet — the gamble seems to be paying off. Hardcore green building dorks will be a little disappointed in the lack of specifics regarding the retrofit — as a softcore green building dork myself, I was bummed not to read more about the “energy monitoring system” described in the New York Observer’s coverage of the retrofit, and of course eager to know more about those energy efficient windows. But I’m always eager to know more about energy efficient windows. That’s why people hate sitting next to me at dinner parties.
While it’s a little scant on the green building dork-specs, the Observer piece does mention that Westreich and Monday Properties will be greening a number of their holdings in years to come, with the 85-year-old Times Square icon 1440 Broadway next on the list. I’ll try to cover that one fewer than 29 days after its certification is announced, promise.