The Wall Street Journal ( View Original )

New lobby design at 90 Park AvenueYears of patience, $70 million and a lighter design aesthetic have given a 1960s Park Avenue tower a new identity and the power to command higher rents.

The building owner, Vornado Realty Trust, has jettisoned the lobby’s stodgy browns and greens for brighter tones of travertine stone and white marble. A half dozen terraces, with the highest perched 19 stories above the street, have been created from setbacks that once stored mechanical equipment or window-washing rigs.

Over the past two and a half years, Vornado has signed about 660,000 square feet of new leases with 15 companies in finance, law, media and technology for the 1964 building at 90 Park Ave.

“We wanted to do something more youthful, with the expectation of what the millennial tenant is looking for,” said the president of Vornado’s New York division, David Greenbaum.

He added, “The key is to make the building competitive with new buildings.”

The transformation of the 41-story tower began in 1997, when Vornado bought its debt and negotiated a deal to acquire it.

90 Park AvenueThe company saw an opportunity to snap up a well-located office property, which is on the west side of Park between East 39th and East 40th streets, at a time when financing was tight and many buildings were still saddled with financial difficulties, Mr. Greenbaum said.

When Vornado acquired the property, almost half of the 960,000-square-foot tower was under a 30-year lease expiring in 2015 to Sterling Winthrop Pharmaceuticals.

As Sterling’s businesses were sold off or merged, the company vacated space that was then sublet to a hodgepodge of businesses over the years.

Vornado patiently waited. It wouldn’t begin its overhaul until 2013, a few years before the Sterling lease and another 200,000-square-foot block would become available.

One key to the redevelopment at 90 Park Ave. was consulting company PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP signing up for 240,000 square feet as an anchor tenant.

Vornado “wanted the building to be transformed so that it could be approached both by a more traditional Park Avenue tenant as well as a much more TAMI-type [technology, advertising, media and information sectors] tenant that was in the market as well,” said architect Dan Shannon, a principal at MdeAS P.C. who was brought on for the makeover. “So it has broad appeal by past, present and future tenancies.”

The new design brought in taller revolving doors. Also, to provide a contrast to the lobby’s light-filled interior, the bronze, vertical bars separating glass on the ground-floor facade were reclad in black.

Color Library and Light Cloud featured in the lobby of 90 Park AvenueA design, inspired by books on shelves and called the “library wall,” is displayed behind the reception desk. The piece arrays rows of rectangular and square blocks in varying shades of brown, red, green and orange.

From the ceiling, LED light rods that look like tossed sticks create a modern chandelier of sorts. Both pieces were designed by Doyle Partners.

“From the outside, when walking up to the building that light material can be seen in day and night,” Mr. Shannon said. “It’s inviting and transparent.”

The theme of lightness and transparency continues into the interiors beyond the lobby, where polished sycamore covers walls surround the elevator banks. Housing for cooling and heating units at the inside base of windows in tenant spaces was lowered to reveal more window surface and maximize the skyscraper’s views.

Six setbacks, which had been dreary, largely inaccessible and blocked in by thick parapets, have been reclaimed as terraces for tenants. They now have plantings, glass railings and room for outdoor furniture.

The aesthetic changes have been accompanied by updated heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems and a new emergency generator.

The long wait to make over 90 Park Ave. has paid off for Vornado. Asking rents that had been in the range of $50 to $75 a square foot before the renovation are now in the range of $75 to $100-plus.