Bowtie set for a major facelift News

| 09 Feb 2015 | 10:57

Upper West Side With the sale of the American Bible Society’s building at 1865 Broadway, and the Dept. of Transportation’s plan to transform the bowtie into something approaching safe for pedestrians, the area around Lincoln Center will likely see major construction projects in the next few years.

The society’s building sits just south of the bowtie - where Broadway crosses Columbus Avenue between 63rd Street and 66th Street – and AvalonBay, the developer who bought the property for $300 million, announced in a press release that they plan to demolish the society’s building and build a residential tower.

“The company intends to develop on the site a residential tower totaling over 300,000 square feet of buildable area including a significant retail component at its base,” said Avalon Bay in a press release.

Jason Reilley, the company’s director of investor relations, told the West Side Spirit that the building plans are “as of right,” meaning that any development proposal and subsequent construction would not have to go through the city’s public review process.

Reilley said the company is still in the planning stages and refused to comment any further on how high AvalonBay might build and whether there would be an affordable housing component. The company said they hope to begin construction by late-2016.

The deal comes around the same time that the DOT is finalizing plans for a major traffic safety overhaul of the area, which in the past has been referred to as the “bowtie of death.”

The DOT held two workshops last year to solicit suggestions from the public on what needed to be fixed at the intersection. A DOT spokesperson said they’re presenting their plan for pedestrian improvements at the bowtie to Community Board 7 this week.

“If we receive the community board’s support, we would implement safety improvements in the area this calendar year,” said the spokesperson.

It’s unclear if work on traffic improvements at the bowtie would overlap with the construction of AvalonBay’s residential tower.

As for the future of the American Bible Society, Andrew Hood, a spokesperson for the group, said it simply made sense for the organization to pull up stakes and move to Philadelphia.

“A lot of it has to do with just the cost of salaries as a non-profit, and the cost of doing business there in Manhattan,” said Wood.

Wood also said market conditions were ideal.

“The value of that property was such that it made a lot of sense for us [to sell],” said Wood. “The proceeds from the sale of that property are really going to help us do more of the mission that we care so much about.”

Wood said the organization’s domestic mission has changed somewhat over the years. Initially their goal was to insure the Bible’s distribution throughout the United States, an objective that’s largely been achieved (according to the society, the average household has four Bibles). Wood said the society is now focused on getting more of their fellow citizens engaging with the Bible’s message.

“Overseas our work is still focused on translating the Bible, and helping people overcome barriers that they have to get access to the Bible,” said Wood. “Nationally where everyone has a Bible at their disposal, they just never read it, we’re really shifting our mission to be more about how we help people read the Bible, encounter God in the Bible, and have it change their lives in a way that makes a difference in the world.”

Wood said he doesn’t yet know how many employees of the organization are making the move to Philadelphia.

“A lot of people are still in that decision-making stage,” said Wood. “For a lot of people that’s a really tough decision, and for some people they’re unable to do that because of family and communities and all the things that make that difficult from one life to another.”

Helen Hwang, a broker with Cushman and Wakefield who worked on the deal, said recently she’s seen several non-profits take advantage of New York’s current real estate market by cashing in on their properties.

“I certainly have seen a lot of non-profits evaluate their real estate holdings, and evaluate whether it’s a good time to sell and relocate,” said Hwang. “I’m sure everyone has a different story. American Bible Society, for them it was the ability to expand their platform and given the cost of maintaining their New York office and the cost of living for their employees, they said it would be a good opportunity to sell their New York office and relocate to Philadelphia.”

Wood said like many non-profits, some employees of the American Bible Society regard their work as something more than just a job.

“We have people who would describe their passion for American Bible Society as a calling, and for that reason they’re willing to make sacrifices to continue that work in ways you might not find if they were working for a for-profit company,” said Wood.