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SOHO China's CEO Zhang Xin at Davos this past January. (Courtesy World Economic Forum)
After the New York Times’s Charles Bagli broke the story on Tuesday that Vornado was no longer moving forward with plans to build the Richard Rogers-designed tower atop the Port Authority Bus Terminal, reporters descended on the Port’s board meeting on Wednesday. A transcript of the Q&A provided by the Port Authority reveals that while Vornado may be out of the picture, the Port hasn’t entirely dropped tower development from its list of possibilities, it’s just been put onto their gargantuan real-estate to-do list. Newly installed Patrick J. Foye hinted that the board was none-too-pleased with the snail like pace of development—it had been in the works for a decade. The deal fell through when Vornado’s Chinese backers pulled out casting an eye beyond the West Side to the East, Park Avenue that is.
“The transaction has been going on for a long period of time” Foye said in response to a question from Bloomberg’s David Levitt. “Concerns have been expressed among members of the board of commissioners in prior meetings about the approach that the Authority is taking. I think those issues need to be aired and discussed in full and the Port Authority’s real estate options with respect to that asset and others need to be explored in depth and we are committed to doing that.” This prompted vice-chair Scott Recheir to interject that the bus terminal is just one part of “reviewing every capital project and prioritizing the ones that best meet the mission of the Port and how we are going to finance it.”
Perhaps the most interesting tidbit in the Bagli piece was the shifting of $600 million from the Bus Terminal project to Vornado’s Park Avenue Plaza by SOHO China, prominent Beijing developer couple Pan Shiyi and Zhang Xin. With all eyes on the West Side, from Hudson Yards to Manhattan West, Park Avenue is getting a bit of a dowdy rep. At least that’s what New York Real Estate Board chair Mary Ann Tighe warned of at Tuesday’s Zoning the City conference. “In the fullness of time we might find these areas of orphans,” she said.
With SOHO in the hood, that doesn’t seem likely. A new book by Jianying Zha, Tide Players: The Movers and Shakers of a Rising China, firmly places the couple at the center of China’s new elite. A review from The New York Review of Books notes that Zhang is not risk averse in more ways than one. She hired artist Ai Weiwei after one of his many releases from prison to oversee installations at one of the company’s huge projects. Zha writes that WeiWei’s “reputation as an inveterate troublemaker may have scared off most developers, but Zhang gave him a budget and promised him total freedom.” It would seem the Port Authority’s loss may end up being Park Avenue’s gain.