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What should be done with the Chrysler Building?

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The Art Deco icon is for sale—could redevelopment be in the cards?

Max Touhey

In the early weeks of 2019, one of New York’s most iconic buildings, the Chrysler Building, went up for sale. The Art Deco tower was designed in the 1920s and completed in 1930, with its spire assembled the day before the 1929 stock market crash. More recently, an Abu Dhabi wealth fund purchased a majority stake in the building, with New York developer Tishman Speyer remaining on as a minority owner. The tower is under a ground lease, which means the owners of the Chrysler Building pay rent to the owners of the land beneath it, the Cooper Union school.

The owners hired CBRE Group to market the property, leaving a few questions in the air. The first is how much it might sell for: The Wall Street Journal reports that despite the building’s landmark status, the Abu Dhabi Investment Council may struggle to recoup the $800 million it paid for a 90 percent stake in 2008. On the sales market, it’s competing with newer office towers and has high costs in improvements, upkeep, and escalating fees for the ground lease. (Cooper Union raised the annual fee to $32.5 million last year from $7.75 million in 2017, according to Bloomberg, and is planning increases in the coming years.)

The second is what a potential buyer might do with the tower. To get a sense of those possibilities, Curbed asked real estate, architecture, and urbanism experts what they envision for a building that’s long defined the New York City skyline. Give it all to Amazon, amid news that the tech giant is finalizing a 10,000-square-foot lease there? Convert it to affordable housing? Leave it as-is? We’ll let the experts weigh in.

Find tenants who will honor its Art Deco design.

“The glory of the Chrysler Building resides in its sumptuous Art Deco ornament and giddy romance. The skyline profile of its stainless steel crown and corner trophies, and the magical lobby of murals and matched marbles fashion a sort of a temple to progress. Small elevator cabs, inlaid with exotic woods that make them feel like giant humidors, limit the crowd that might access the upper floors, which are also small, at only around 8,800 square feet.

“Therefore, the Chrysler Building seems to demand a new owner that will honor the delirious New York qualities of the skyscraper and seek to fill it with delightful boutique tenants like pastry cafes, hair salons, nail-color emporiums, hat-makers, and wedding chapels.” —Carol Willis, founder, the Skyscraper Museum

Let the public inside.

“The Chrysler Building is so exceptional, beloved and historically significant. It has a strong individual design identity at every scale: from a distance in the skyline you can recognize it. You can even see detail photos and know, just from the detail, that it’s the Chrysler Building. There are few buildings that are so distinctive at every scale.

“Because of that, the interior program should be something that works with and celebrates the building. It should be something that allows the public inside. I think that a hotel would be a successful inhabitant and one that would celebrate the unique character and revel in the art deco finishes. Also, the bar, restaurant and public functions would allow for controlled public access.” —Hayes Slade, president, AIA New York

Top it off with a great bar.

“The Chrysler Building used to have one of the sickest bars in town. It was called the Cloud Club and it was a triplex speakeasy style spot at the top of the building. I would bring that back and make it into a Convene or Soho House.” —Zach Aarons, co-founder of MetaProp

Build a vertical campus.

“I think one of the most interesting things to do to the Chrysler Building is to convert the property to a vertical college campus. Since NYC is the capital of the world, and with the abundance of transportation options, attracting a university would be easy and interesting. Plus, universities have the money to pull it off. It would be iconic and the most desired school in NYC!” —Dave Maundrell, executive vice president with Citi Habitats

Turn it into a co-working space—or an Amazon drone tower.

“For the near-term: each of small floor plates could serve as different themed floors serving co-working tenants. Each floor could represent a different country and the office accommodations/décor would be representative of each respective country.

“For the future: the building would serve as a massive drone tower for Amazon where drones would be flying out of the windows delivering packages to nearby New Yorkers. The former ‘Cloud Club’ will now serve as the ‘Amazon Cloud’—an exclusive restaurant for premium prime members.” —Jodi Pulice, founder of JRT Realty Group

Make it a (possible) beacon of tech.

“I’d love to see Amazon acquire it and occupy it over time to establish a Midtown tech beachhead, perhaps eventually rivaling Silicon Alley downtown. Tongue in cheek: I could imagine an upscale Amazon eatery at the top where the ‘Cloud Club’ used to be but call it the ‘S3 Club’ or ‘AWS Club.’” —Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel

Open it up to artists.

“How fabulous it would be to celebrate the beauty of that building through art! I recall so vividly Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle, and think it would be wonderful to make the building available for artists to create site-specific, immersive works that give us new ways to experience the Art Deco lobby or reimagine the top floors of that iconic building. Who wouldn’t love the chance to sit with Marina Abramovic and ‘be present’ in the spire of the Chrysler Building?” —Cora Cahan, president of the New 42nd Street

Convert to a hotel.

“Hotel and extended-stay, hotel serviced apartments. You need to be able to capitalize on people being able to stay there and experience one of the great buildings in the world. Office or condo doesn’t leverage that sufficiently.” —Peter Bazeli, managing director of Weitzman

Keep the standard intact.

“The Chrysler Building is an iconic part of NYC’s skyline and history. I foresee it continuing to be a major office building and don’t see it being converted to residential or leased up by a single user. Too many companies worldwide want to be identified with a property of the class of the Chrysler building.” —Steven Goldschmidt, senior vice president of Warburg Realty