AOL Time Warner’s Dick Parsons listened carefully when Stephen Ross — not Time Warner creator Steven J. Ross but another of the same name — pitched him the idea for a Columbus Circle headquarters in 1998.
“I told him, ‘This is a great way to present yourself to the world,’ ” recalled Ross, standing in a sales office for the new complex with as staggering a panorama of Central Park as the headquarters itself will have. “I said, ‘This is branding, which is what the 21st century is all about.’ Parsons said, ‘But we have enough space here at Rockefeller Plaza,’ I then told him, ‘It’s not about space, it’s about showcasing your company!’ ”
Parsons, then president and now newly crowned CEO — and whose company this year was forced to take a $54 billion writeoff — was sold on it.
At the May 17 AOL TW stockholders meeting, held in Harlem’s Apollo Theater, stockholder Bob Schue chided the conglom for committing $1.7 billion to “a Taj Mahal at Columbus Circle” at a time when the company’s stock is plummeting.
But the world’s largest media congloms’ headquarters, which Ross says is right on track for a fall 2003 opening, continues to rise where New York’s coliseum had once been, high above the southwest corner of Central Park.
And while stockholders worry about the effect this — the largest privately financed construction project in the U.S. — will have on the company’s bottom line, one thing is certain: The new complex will shift the locus of Gotham entertainment to the West Side and to Central Park, over which the CNN broadcast center and Jazz at Lincoln Center will look.
Offices, broadcast space
The 2.7-million-square-foot complex, the Columbus Centre, will house 900,000 square feet for corporate offices and broadcast space. CNN International and CNN Financial are expected to relocate to the center, and there have been talks about housing NY1 in the space as well. AOL Time Warner will have its own screening room for premieres and private screenings, though plans have not been finalized.
Those who can afford one of the 190 residential units going for roughly $2 million to $11 million a pop or one of the 10 penthouse units selling for $25 million-$30 million each will be occupying apartments that are conceived for maximum privacy and broadcast readiness.
And then there’s Jazz at Lincoln Center, which extends the Lincoln Center canvas. Architect Raphael Vinoly, who just designed the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, has conceived the 100,000-square-foot multiuse space as the first ever designed specifically for jazz. Outside of jazz, it will be available for use by arts organizations and will give preferential bookings to Lincoln Center programs such as ballet, theater and the symphony orchestra.
Three performance venues
Facility will house three main performance venues: a 1,100- to 1,300-seat concert hall; a 300- to 600-seat front room overlooking Central Park through a huge glass window; and a 140-seat jazz cafe, also overlooking the park, to be used as a club space.
An interactive jazz hall of fame will run throughout the facility, which will also contain two classrooms/rehearsal spaces and a full recording studio. A tech operational center will control hardwiring, enabling the broadcast of events throughout the center.
Russell Johnson and Sam Berkow, two of the leading acoustic designers in the world, are engineering the sound design for each performance venue.
“There has never been a building that offered as many services and amenities,” said Ross, whose Related Cos. shingle is also erecting nearby Park Imperial, a mixed-use development that will be home to Random House and some 130 luxury apartments.
The penthouse suites at Columbus Centre are 8,400 square feet with 12-feet-high ceilings and 360-degree views of Manhattan. The apartments’ bathtubs are marble and look out onto Central Park. Each contains a Japanese tea garden, a private screening and media room, a dining room with seating for 100 and wiring to the building’s central media center, facilitating TV transmission from the rooms. A private security force will be positioned on each floor.
Swank shopping arcade
Besides AOL Time Warner’s offices and broadcast facilities, the Columbus Centre will also house the five-star Mandarin Oriental Hotel, an ultra-swank shopping arcade with such tenets as Hugo Boss and Armani A/X, three health clubs, swimming pools, two performance centers, a basement food hall, limousine services and six restaurants, including a new one from French Laundry owner and chef Thomas Keller and a Jean-Georges Vongerichten steakhouse.
Celebs are already taking the bait. Ricky Martin has snapped up one of the units for roughly $10 million as has Arnold Kopelson. Wynton Marsalis, artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, is buying another unit. Ross said two 8,400-square-foot penthouse suites have already been sold, though he wouldn’t disclose to whom. Louise Sunshine, president and CEO of marketing firm the Sunshine Group, which is overseeing the Columbus Centre, said the number of residential units sold exceeds 30%.
“This is what it’s doing,” said Sunshine, known for her real-estate marketing acumen following a successful career with Donald Trump. “It’s making Central Park South and Columbus Circle the most expensive and desirable corridor in New York.”