THE Museum of Modern Art just sold a vacant, paved-over site next to its new building to Chicago-based Hines Interests for $125 million.

The price for the air rights alone, we hear, was $800 a square foot. The museum had bought the air rights from the University Club for about $90 a square foot. The footprint is 17,062 square feet, running from 53rd Street by the American Folk Art Museum to 54th Street next to MoMA. The development can go to 210,238 square feet.

According to a MoMA spokeswoman, the museum will net about $65 million over its costs as it will also own 60,000 square feet in the new Hines building that will primarily be used as gallery space.

It is unclear if the very capable Hines will develop the site on its own or partner up. No one at Hines responded to a request for comment.


In other development news, the Zeckendorfs have paid $479 a square foot to Christ Church United Methodist for a 60,000-square-foot stack of transferable Park Avenue air. The Zeckendorfs will use it to redevelop 45 E. 60th St., which is currently occupied by a townhouse that has retailer Clifford Michael at its base and about five floors of residences above.

The retailer’s lease is up in 2009.

The pact to sell the church air rights was negotiated for them by M. Myers Mermel, a principal of TenantWise and a trustee of the church. He acted pro bono on the transaction, which has been in the works since 1998. Mermel did not return calls for comment.

To make the deal, the church had to wait until the Zeckendorfs secured 17,000 square feet of air rights for $430 a square foot that belonged to the Grolier Club, which adjoins the church to the west. The Zeckendorf townhouse is to the west of Grolier.

The Zeckendorfs are still trying to remove a couple of residential tenants, but they already have a permit from the Department of Buildings to demolish and renovate the interiors of the apartments.

It is more cost-effective to renovate and rent out 17 apartments at market rents on short-term leases with strict termination dates, bringing in some money and using the property as a tax payer than to leave it vacant while undergoing the lengthy permit approval process for the high-rise luxury tower the Zeckendorfs are expected to build.

Knowing when to spend money to make money is a basic part of the real estate game, and no one has ever accused the Zeckendorfs of not playing it well.

Arthur Zeckendorf, who is overseeing this development, declined to comment.

By the way, the Zeckendorfs still own and control the retail space at 15 Central Park West. They previously sold only a minority, noncontrolling stake.

“Retail leasing activity is under way for the balance of the ground and entire second floor space – about 40,000 feet,” said Arthur’s brother, William Lie Zeckendorf. “The whole retail is oriented toward Broadway while the residential entrance is on Central Park West.”

Best Buy has already leased 45,000 square feet.


More changes are under way in the Madison Avenue retail corridor between 57th and 59th streets. Tiffany is apparently looking on the avenue for a site for a 1,000-square-foot store, likely for its Iridesse pearl line. Its rep could not be reached by press time.

Other sources say jeweler Chopard has just bought Timberland’s lease on the southeast corner of 63rd Street at 709 Madison Ave. Timberland has closed its store there; sources say Chopard will build a large flagship store that will open by the fall. It currently has a small store at 725 Madison, which it will close.

Meanwhile, Asprey just took over the site of the former Yves Saint Laurent store at the southeast corner of 71st Street at 857 Madison. The Tom Ford store is in the same building, on the corner of 70th Street. Yves Saint Laurent is schlepping all its gear to its store at 3 E. 57th St.

The Italian jeweler Pomellato just relocated its New York boutique to Madison for the third time, this time at 741 Madison, right next to Chanel.

According to Retail Queen Faith Hope Consolo of Prudential Douglas Elliman, the ground floor retail rents on Madison are now comparable to the heights reached on Fifth Avenue.

“Everyone wants $1,200 a foot,” said Consolo. “That’s the magic number from 57th to 72nd Street.” [email protected]