The owners of the former Sony Building on Thursday tapped a new partner for their troubled renovation effort — but not before hiring spinmeisters to do damage control on their failed efforts.
Saudi Arabia’s Olayan Group has sold a minority stake in the $300 million redevelopment of the 37-story Midtown office tower to Scott Rechler-led RXR Realty — just months after its demolition of the lobby sparked an outcry from preservationists.
RXR will become the lead developer on the Sony Building project.
In a scramble to sidestep more bad press from protesters — who blasted Olayan’s plan to dismantle the lobby of the tower designed by legendary architect Philip Johnson and replace it with a glass façade — Olayan hired high-priced crisis-management firm Teneo, The Post has learned.
Headed by Doug Band, once a President Clinton aide, Teneo concocted a strategy to tamp down controversy, according to a confidential March 28 memo the spinmeisters sent to Olayan executives, a copy of which was obtained by The Post.
“Position the addition of RXR as a positive, natural development in the redevelopment process,” Teneo advised. “Reduce speculation that this appointment is indicative of challenges with the renovation. Reinforce that both the landmarking process and redesign are moving ahead and that there will be no interruption.”
Olayan paid $1.4 billion in 2016 for the vacant tower. The building, at 550 Madison Ave., is famous for its Chippendale top.
Sony sold the tower to Chetrit Group and David Bistricer’s Clipper Equity. They failed to convert it to condos before handing it to Olayan.
Now, Olayan has finally agreed to landmark the building amid other concessions, including preserving Dorothea Rockburne’s murals — called “Northern Sky” and “Southern Sky” — which were installed in 1993.
“We expect that any coverage of the announcement will reference the controversy around … the Sky Lobby murals,” Teneo’s memo advised. “We want to reduce and manage that speculation as much as possible.”
Accordingly, Teneo suggested that, if asked about the murals by a reporter, Olayan execs reply that “we have great respect for Ms. Rockburne and her work” and “the murals are in place and fully protected, and we are safeguarding their future.”
The memo details that the news would be shared with a media outlet “under strict embargo” but a “Leak Defense Strategy” would accelerate the announcement.
If asked about RXR, Teneo advises, executives should decline to comment on the record.
When approached by The Post on Wednesday evening, Rechler followed the script and declined comment.