Aquarium may land in Times Square office tower

NEW YORK: As if Times Square wasn't enough of a zoo, just wait for its newest neighbor: a giant aquarium in a new office building.

Toronto-based Aquarium Development Corp has signed a preliminary agreement to lease the first seven floors of 11 Times Square on the corner of Eighth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan, three people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday Feb 10.

The aquarium would be the first tenant in the 40-story, 1.1 million square foot building. Its neighbors would include the Port Authority Bus Terminal and The New York Times building.

If it makes a firm deal and signs the lease, the Aquarium company's lease would last 25 years, one of these people said. A lease could be signed soon and the aquarium could open as early as 2011, that source said.

The aquarium would occupy one floor, while another floor would be concourse space, two of the sources said. The project likely would cost about US$100 million, they said.

It is unknown how much the admission would be or what kind of creatures would get free digs in the prime real estate. It is also unknown if the aquarium would be visible from the street and how big it would be.

At least one public aquarium has graced Manhattan before, sitting at the lower tip of the island in Battery Park, south of the financial district. The aquarium fell victim to Robert Moses, the iconoclastic New York City Parks Commissioner who rebuilt much of the city according to his own designs.

One of his casualties in his frequent political battles with his rivals was the aquarium, which was closed in 1941, according to Robert Caro's book, "The Power Broker."

Aquarium Development Corp Chairman Gerald Shefsky was not available for comment. Shefsky in 1999 built the million-gallon Newport Aquarium in Kentucky. That aquarium has 70 exhibits and 14 galleries, including a loggerhead sea turtle, sharks, jellyfish and penguins, according to an aquarium brochure.

The building's New Jersey-based developer, Steve J Pozycki's SJP Properties, and its backer, Prudential Financial Inc's Prudential Real Estate Investors, might stock the building with sharks too -- the landlord is negotiating with law firm Proskauer Rose LLP to become an anchor tenant.

Lisa Iurato, a spokeswoman for Prudential, declined to comment as did a spokesman for SJP Properties.

The glass building has been caught in the U.S. commercial real estate slump amid falling rents and rising vacancies.

The average asking rent was US$56.07 per square foot down 25 percent from January 2009, according to real estate research firm CB Richard Ellis Group Inc. The actual base rent was about 83.5 percent of that.

The average amount of free rent was 8.5 months and landlords kicked in about US$55 per square foot for interior improvements.- Reuters
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