Former John Lennon haunt gets makeover
09.17.2013 | Crain's

Former John Lennon haunt gets makeover

More than 30 years ago, when John Lennon wanted to take a break from the studio, he would head up to the roof of 321 W. 44th St. and play songs privately for Yoko Ono.

East End Capital, which bought the 230,000-square-foot building late last year with GreenOak Real Estate Partners, is in the process of making it possible for tenants to now enjoy the same escape. The company is pouring millions of dollars into a renovation of the 10-story building, a revamp that will include an overhaul of its roof space to make it into an outdoor area for tenants.

As part of that work, the company is converting the rooftop theater where Mr. Lennon once played into a glass walled space that will have a kitchen, bathrooms and a conference room that tenants can use for events and meetings. The elevator entrance to the roof will also be transformed from a dark, uninviting shed into a glass-skinned box.

The roof’s makeover is one of the highlights of East End Capital’s plan to emphasize and remake the strong points of what was just months ago an otherwise nondescript side street building just west of gritty Eighth Avenue. While at street level, 321 W. 44th St. sits in the close vicinity of two parking garages, on the roof it enjoys unusually expansive views of Eighth Avenue for a low-rise building.

East End Capital is also redoing the building’s lobby and common corridors as part of the work, which Jonathon Yormak, a founder and managing partner at the real estate investment firm, said will altogether cost at least $7 million. The work includes restoring many of the building’s original details.

“We’ve tried to bring out the best of the building, to celebrate its history and embrace its aesthetic while giving it the feel of a new property as well,” Mr. Yormak said.

That effort is already beginning to pay off. Sony has just renewed its lease for a 5,000-square-foot music-recording studio on the building’s 10th floor for five years. It is the same studio where Mr. Lennon made some of his final recordings. That studio, years ago, had been known as The Record Plant and in a nod to that illustrious history, East End Capital has renamed the building The Plant.

Stage Entertainment, which is producing a stage version of Rocky, just moved into space that the landlord built to the company’s specification. The new office, with exposed brick and high ceilings is a dramatic departure from the building’s formerly stuffy, antiquated looking floors.

“We take tenants through this space to really show them what is possible here,” Mr. Yormak said.

Mr. Yormak and his team will have plenty of space to fill. The New York Observer is leaving the building’s fifth floor and part of six by the end of the year, freeing up a block of more than 30,000 square feet. But with the work that East End Capital has done, Mr. Yormak said he expects to fill the vacancy quickly and at much higher rents that the building previously was able to achieve. Rates used to be in the $30s per square foot at the property, but Mr. Yormak now expects to net $52 per square foot rents.

A leasing team from Jones Lang LaSalle led by Scott Panzer and Howard Hersch represents ownership in leasing deals at the property. Sony conducted the deal directly with the building’s ownership.