In 1929, architects Cross and Cross set out to build the tallest building in the world. They designed 20 Exchange Place, an office building in New York’sfinancial district, to stand 846 feet tall. Unfortunately, the Great Depression hit, financing got tight, and the building fell short of its original target, clocking in at 741 feet and claiming the title of the fourth tallest building in the world. But what the building lacked in height, it made up for in character. 20 Exchange Place touts a modern art deco façade with 14 hooded “giants of finance” figures outlining the exterior of the 19th floor; domed lobbies; and elegant arched ceilings detailed with gold, silver, and bronze. Naturally as the 57-story building grew older, it lost its original spark. The color of the limestone and bricks faded, the hooded figures grew less menacing with age, and by 1989, the building dropped well below the top 10 tallest buildings in the world. In short, 20 Exchange Place had become yet another drab office building in the financial district.
That is, until 2004 when New York-based Metro Loft Management decided to convert the top half of the building into luxury rental apartments designed for hip, young urbanites. 20 Exchange Place now includes more than 500 studio, one-, and two-bedroom units located on the 16th to 57th floors; rents range from $2,100 to $6,000. The lower levels of the building feature office space and 130,000 square feet of retail space, ranging from boutiques to restaurants.
Less is More
The 800,000-square-foot building originally served as the headquarters for City Bank-Farmers Trust (now Citigroup) and subsequently the headquarters for the FDIC. In 2004, the building was acquired as a joint venture by Metro Loft Management’s president Nathan Berman, Yaron Bruckner, and Eastbridge N.V. for $152 million.
Blast from the Past
Follow these three tips to ensure your next historic renovation is a success.
1. Design for the Future. Metro Loft Management recognized that tearing down cool, historic elements was not the best plan. Instead, they made use of every original space and made sure those spaces were well-complimented. “If you have a room with wide windows and sufficient area for extra closet space, you almost certainly want to convert that into a residential apartment,” says Jack Berman, the firm’s vice president.
2. Be Patient. Nothing is more challenging than incorporating elements from a building’s original design into renovation plans. At 20 Exchange Place, design features in the building’s two lobbies that made sense in an office building did not translate into residential space. Developers were able to find a balance by keeping the original structure of the lobbies, such as the elaborate marble detailing, but adding modern lighting fixtures to make the lobbies more inviting to residents and the professionals who work there.
3.Remember the Past. The hard work pays off. Berman says many renters are attracted to 20 Exchange Place because of the building’s original features. The firm promotes the building’s history in all of its marketing materials. “You can’t help but notice the façade’s gorgeous historic architecture,” Berman adds. “We had renters come from out of town expecting a cramped closet space, but were stunned by the domed lobby and arched ceilings.
“20 Exchange is not only rich in historic architecture, but as one of the tallest buildings in the area, offers unparalleled views of Manhattan,” says Jack Berman, vice president of Metro Loft. “We knew this would lend to incredibly spacious residential apartments and would be a building where New Yorkers would want to rent.”
After the financing was squared away, the development team’s No. 1 challenge was to maintain the original elements that earned the building such high praise when it opened in 1931. “We had to take care to preserve the original architecture and anything else that made this place special,” says Berman of the city landmark. “You sometimes come across interesting challenges such as, ‘I have this column over here which made perfect sense for the building’s former use, but as a residential building how can we ensure this space has the most effective layout?’”
The redesign strategy was simple: The less changes, the better. Metro Loft elected to keep the original features in the building’s common areas. In the lobby, the development team refurbished the columns made of 45 different kinds of marble and restored the ceiling, which is detailed with gold, bronze, and nickel. Outside, they restored the faded, crumbling limestone and brick façade to its original condition and polished the infamous 14 hooded statues—menacing, once again. “It’s truly an impressive façade,” Berman adds.
The majority of the renovation work focused on the rental units. Each unit features modern décor with 11-foot ceilings and oversized windows that showcase the city’s skyline. The kitchens feature stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, and custom-designed European cabinets, while the bathrooms offer marble floors and custom-made sinks and vanities.
To compete with other neighborhood rental buildings, Metro Loft chose to get creative with its amenities package. Out-of- the-box offerings include the free rental of cruiser bikes to use around Manhattan and a complimentary pet spa day on move-in day. Additionally, 20 Exchange Place provides residents with typical luxury amenities including a 24-hour doorman; concierge and valet services; fitness center; sundeck on the 19th floor; and a resident’s lounge with billiards and card tables, a wet bar, and flat screen televisions.
To date, New Yorkers are responding to 20 Exchange Place in high numbers. Berman reports that during the first phase of development, the rental community was 95 percent leased. To meet continued high demand, Metro Loft recently converted 200 additional units that are now in lease-up.
Since the renovation, Berman says the building is always active. “Before renovation, it was primarily a commercial building filled with employees who came in the morning and left in the evening. Now, there’s always a bustle of various activity.”