Former Tammany Hall gets $57.5M for renovation

The former home of New York's political machine is being renovated to house office space and retail.

The former home of New York’s political machine is being renovated to house office space and retail.

By Sabina Mollot

The planned transformation of the former Tammany Hall in Union Square into a retail/office building has just gotten a little closer to becoming reality with $57.5 million in financing.

RM Capital Management, a real estate and merchant banking firm, announced on Friday it had arranged to provide that amount in first mortgage and mezzanine construction financing on behalf of the building’s owner Reading International, Inc.

The landmarked building is being gut renovated to include a total of six stories that will have a glass-domed roof, and the space will be leased for retail and office purposes. Its new address will be 44 Union Square; originally it was 100 East 17th Street.

According to the press release from RM Capital, three lower levels of retail and three floors of office space are being designed specifically to appeal to private equity and hedge funds as well as technology, advertising, media & internet (“TAMI”) tenants.

The building’s two longtime major tenants prior to the renovation, New York Film Academy and Union Square Theater, left the building a year ago. At this time, the building’s windows are boarded up.

The former home of Tammany, a local Democrat political machine and ultimately a hotbed of corruption, had required a variance and Landmarks Commission approval to move forward with the development.

Margaret Cotter, executive vice president of real estate management and development in New York City for Reading International, cheered the recent deal, noting in a written statement that it affected a “unique and one-of-a-kind property.”

She added that with the transformation into an office/retail space, “We believe this property will drive significant value to our real estate portfolio.”
Cotter wasn’t available for additional comment on this story.

RM Capital’s co-managing partner Marc Sznajderman stated that its location, the northeast corner of Union Square, “has been demanding a destination property such as this. Reading’s redevelopment plan fits the bill perfectly.”

The former Tammany Hall building as it appears today (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

The former Tammany Hall building as it appears today (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Of the influx of funds, $50 million of it is senior construction financing that was provided by Bank of the Ozarks and the $7.5 million mezzanine loan was provided by an affiliate of Fisher Brothers.

Asked for his thoughts on the progress, preservationist Jack Taylor — who, with the Union Square Community Coalition — fought for nearly 30 years to get the building landmarked, mourned the loss of the theater space. He acknowledged that while only the exterior of the building was landmarked, the auditorium that had been inside was historically significant. After Tammany sold the building to the International Ladies Garment Union in 1943, labor rallies would take place inside, and then spill out into Union Square Park.

“The mobs would go out into the North Plaza, exercising their right to free speech, but it started in that auditorium,” said Taylor.

Taylor was also opposed to the new roof design, which was the second design presented to the Landmarks Preservation Commission after the first one, which was turtle shell shaped, was turned down. The second one, he noted was, according to the architects, BKSK, inspired by Monticello, the plantation house owned by Thomas Jefferson in Virginia. “Which,” Taylor sniffed, “is really a stretch of the imagination.”

That design was presented at an LPC meeting that was open to the public, though there was no opportunity for public testimony, he added.

Cotter, also the president of Reading affiliate Liberty Theaters, LLC, told the New York Times in July that preserving the theater wasn’t economically viable.

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