The Rockefeller Group Preserves the Past and Builds the Future

Executives from the Rockefeller Group detail the company’s diverse projects, ranging from renovation of historic properties to new luxury residential developments

The restored lobby at 1271 Avenue of the Americas removes two retail stores and sets turnstiles back to open the lobby to natural light and create a more dynamic space.

It wasn’t too long ago that several Rockefeller Group executives were in New Jersey discussing logistics and electrical service for a warehouse construction project. The next morning, they were back in Manhattan, considering ways to educate prospective tenants on the renovations planned for 1271 Avenue of the Americas, the former Time & Life Building at Rockefeller Center.

The executives, members of the company’s development business as well as the design and construction team, thrive on the variety of responsibilities they have for the Rockefeller Group. The 87-year-old company is best known for developing the Rockefeller Center in New York, but has since diversified into a wide array of commercial, industrial, and residential developments.

The design and construction team’s work starts once the company identifies an opportunity and continues until the completed project is handed over to the new tenant. Team members in New York and New Jersey, such as Daniel Bower and Michael Leondi, help analyze risks relative to the site, put together budgets, and make schedules. Nationally, the nine-member team oversees the entire design and construction process from pre-development to closeout.

The Rockefeller Group is performing an estimated $300 million renovation at 1271 Avenue of the Americas, the former Time & Life Building, in New York City. (Photo Courtesy of Rockefeller Group)

In November 2015, the company finished renovating the lobby, elevators, and side-street plazas at 1221 Avenue of the Americas. The 2.5 million-square-foot office building reaches 50 stories and opened in 1972. The renovation work is designed to improve the tenant and visitor experience, modernizing the 18,000-square-foot space.

Working with architect Moed de Armas & Shannon, renovations open the lobby to handle higher inflow, add a new entrance on Sixth Avenue, and create greater visibility for the expansive lobby from the outdoor plazas, says Dan Rashin, the Rockefeller Group’s co-president and CEO. The latter was accomplished by removing non-structural steel from the building’s façade at street level, which allows more natural light to flood the double-height space.

The company went the extra mile to bring dramatic features to the lobby, including artwork and special, hard-to-obtain stone imported from Italy.

“We commissioned art for the building,” Rashin says. “Given our connection to the Rockefeller Center and the center’s focus on artwork as part of its original vision, we wanted that element in the new lobby.”

Two large pieces of art depicting upper and lower Manhattan were created in artist Mark Bradford’s Los Angeles studio and trucked across the country. Each piece is roughly 22 feet by 22 feet.

Up the street, Bower has been leading a team working on a major renovation of 1271 Avenue of the Americas. Time Inc. left the nearly 2 million-square-foot building in fall 2015, and leases for subtenants expire by 2017. Rockefeller Group is capitalizing on the opportunity to invest more than $300 million to upgrade the lobby, façade, and other building features to reposition it for new tenants well into the future.

“We have an iconic building that we get to reintroduce to the city,” Bower says. “We are restoring the greatest elements of the building and enhancing its functionality for a class-A workplace experience.”

For example, the company plans to update the façade with windows that have a higher ratio of clear glass to opaque glass so more natural light floods into the building. The Rockefeller Group also relocated uninsulated exterior HVAC ducts to achieve higher energy efficiency as required by the city. Several features in the building—including finishes and artwork in the landmark-designated lobby, as well as the distinctive Copacabana-patterned sidewalk outside the building—are also being restored. There’s already a lot of interest in the building, which should be available to prospective tenants for occupancy in 2018.

The renovations in the two New York buildings represent the company’s commitment to its core assets, and signal its expertise in executing complex, large-scale projects nationally, Rashin says.

By removing non-structural steel from the street-level façade, the Rockefeller Group opened the entrance at 1221 Avenue of the Americas to more open views from outside and within the 18,000-square-foot lobby. (Photo Courtesy of Rockefeller Group)

“We dedicate our own resources to our projects, and I think that sends a strong message about what these assets mean to our company and our commitment to the highest quality,” he says.

The projects also illustrate a growing trend in New York of repositioning older buildings instead of undertaking the expensive and time-consuming task of knocking them down to make way for new construction, Rashin says.

Outside New York, the broader team is involved in projects spanning eight states. In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Leondi is part of multiple office, hospitality, and industrial projects. One of the largest is The Green at Florham Park in New Jersey, which is a five-building suburban campus that’s home to the New York Jets’ training center, BASF’s North American headquarters, and the new Summit Medical building. Leoni says that in addition to corporate suites already in development, there also are plans to add a hotel and office space to the site.

Other national projects include Liv Northgate, a 402-unit luxury apartment community in Gilbert, Arizona, and Amaray Las Olas, a 30-story, 254-unit luxury apartment high-rise in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Liv Northgate is a joint venture with Investment Property Associates, and Amaray is a partnership with Stiles.

“We’re growing our development pipeline,” Rashin says. “We have always been focused and selective—which won’t change—but that focus is starting to get bigger.”