A $100 million redevelopment is bringing new life — and post-pandemic attention to employees’ needs and concerns — to the iconic 1950s landmark Lever House on Park Avenue between East 53rd and East 54th streets.
The project’s centerpiece is an indoor-outdoor, tenants-only hospitality suite on the third floor designed to exploit market demand for wellness and collaborative-work facilities.
Lever House joint-venture leaseholders WatermanClark and Brookfield Properties will launch Lever Club, an ambitious, tenants-only lounge and hospitality venue, inside the green-glass tower as part of the redevelopment when the building reopens early next year.
WatermanClark co-founder and managing partner Ric Clark said, “Our intention is to support employers’ desire to respond to their employees in the post-pandemic world. Our redevelopment will create an environment where people want to be, with a focus on health, wellness and flexibility.
“The one thing we hear from young executives is that they don’t want to be chained to their desks.”
Lever Club means to address that issue head-on. It will feature 15,000 square feet of outdoor space in two landscaped terraces situated on the building’s north and south sides. The terraces are to flank an indoor complex of 15,000 square feet that will include a private restaurant, conference rooms and health facilities such as training rooms and showers.
The third floor was once used by original owner Lever as a hospitality center — “There are pictures of their people playing shuffleboard,” Clark said — but in recent years was used as office space. The tower’s current revamping will also include a top-to-bottom interior refurbishment and an advanced DOAS filtration system to provide 50% more fresh air than in other DOAS-equipped buildings.
Most visibly to the public, the ground-level plaza beneath the tower — which Clark called “historically dark and dreary in winter” — is being redesigned with new lighting and a new ceiling to make it attractive year-round.
Lever House brought the International Style, glass curtain-wall style to Park Avenue two years before the larger Seagram Building did. Architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill famously crafted a smaller structure than zoning allowed with a mere 260,000 square feet on 26 floors, the tower set perpendicular to the avenue to maximize light and views.
But it struggled in recent years despite its architectural distinction.
Previous owner Aby Rosen’s RFR Realty undertook a modest modernization program in 2000. But Rosen fell behind on ground-lease payments to the land-owning Korein family and turned the keys over to WatermanClark and Brookfield in 2020.
The new owners took full control in 2020 — “The lease is extremely long-term and it shouldn’t be a problem for us,” Clark said. City Finance Department records list the leasehold purchase at $240 million.
“There were only four or five tenants when we took over in 2020. We worked with them to facilitate their leaving. An empty building isn’t scary for us. It gives us the opportunity to do what we’re doing, which we couldn’t’ do in a building full of tenants,” Clark said.
Lever House, with floors of only 11,000 square feet each, is an anomaly — essentially a boutique property in a Park Avenue market of giant floor plates. Clark said the setup “creates a pretty rare Manhattan opportunity for a single tenant, but we’ll more likely rent to multiple tenants taking one or two floors. There are far more 11,000 or 22,000 square-foot users in the market than there are for 260,000 square feet.”
The building’s reopening comes during a Park Avenue resurgence after a few years of relative decline.
“The East Midtown rezoning “totally changed the complexion of Park Avenue,” Clark said. In addition to JP Morgan Chase’s rising new headquarters tower, properties in the East 40s and 50s have been landing large new leases as owners pump hundreds of millions of dollars into contemporizing structures built in the 1950s and 1960s.
Clark declined to cite asking rents for Lever House. But market sources said the likely target is for triple-digit rents in the $200 per-square-foot range. A CBRE team has been tapped to sift offers.