Nov. 5, 2010 - The Wall Street Journal

In the latest sign that the Whitney Museum of American Art’s center of gravity is shifting downtown, the museum is relocating its administrative headquarters from the Upper East Side to the Madison Square Park area.

The Whitney has signed a lease for the top two floors of a century-old, 15-story building at 300 Park Avenue South, at the corner of 22nd Street.

The move is part of a broader plan to finance a new six-story museum designed by Renzo Piano that the Whitney is building at the entrance to the High Line in the Meatpacking District. To raise money for the $680 million project, announced in 2006, the museum recently sold eight properties on the Upper East Side for $95 million.

Those brownstones are home to the museum’s current administrative offices. They are near the Marcel Breuer building at Madison Avenue and 75th Street, where the Whitney has been located since 1966.

“We’re moving simply because we sold our offices uptown and we need a place for our staff,” says Stephen Soba, a spokesman for the museum.

The Whitney has long sought additional room in which to showcase its collection. The Breuer building has only 32,000 square feet of gallery space, whereas the new building will add more than 50,000 square feet of indoor gallery space.

The new museum on Gansevoort Street, between West Street and the High Line, is scheduled to open in 2015. The Whitney plans to move its administrative offices to 27,000 square feet in 300 Park Avenue South at the beginning of next year. They’ll be relocated to the new museum when it opens.

The landlord of 300 Park Avenue South, Rockrose Development Corp., had considered converting the 200,000-square-foot building into a hotel or residential development before the market tanked. After that happened, Rockrose chose instead to keep it as an office property. Rockrose has since been renewing leases and signing new agreements with tenants like Wilhelmina Models, advertising firm Leo Burnett and Rizzoli International Publications.

“There was actually a lot of competition for the top two floors,” says Justin Elghanayan, vice president of Rockrose. “But we didn’t go with the highest dollar amount. We were impressed by the Whitney and we thought they were going to be more helpful in terms of branding the property. It’s gotten to be a pretty exclusive building.”

The location makes sense for the Whitney to reach both the existing museum and the new development, says Jason Greenstein, a broker from Newmark Knight Frank, which represented the museum. “The 6 train is right at the base of the building, so there’s easy accessibility there to the Upper East Side, and it’s a short ride or walk to the Meatpacking District,” he says.


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