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Fred F. French and Tommy Bahama ready to enjoy one long weekend in NYC

By Al Barbarino

Executives with Tommy Bahama scoured “dozens” of locations for their international flagship before signing a 12-year lease at the Fred F. French building in early 2011, Rob Goldberg, SVP of marketing and restaurants tells Real Estate Weekly.

The process was equally laborious for the building manager and part-owner of the property, The Feil Organization, whose executives said they screened just as many tenants before signing Tommy Bahama.

The 13,000 s/f retail store, bar and restaurant is set to open at 551 Fifth Ave. – between 45th and 46th Streets – in mid-November, at what the company considers to be one of the city’s “international crossroads.”

“We really see that 5th avenue has moved further south,” Goldberg said, noting a heavy concentration of pedestrian traffic made up of commuters and shoppers, locals and tourists.  “We looked at dozens and dozens of spaces.  We chose 5th Avenue because it’s a unique place that speaks to the international community and showcases the brand to people from all over the world.”

For The Feil Organization and the Fred F. French building, the introduction of Tommy Bahama into building will help to redefine the iconic building’s identity, said Brian Feil, vice president of leasing at the firm.

“We put it out there to the brokerage community and we obviously talked to a lot of brokers and quite a few different potential tenants,” Feil said.  “We picked Tommy Bahama because of the quality of their brand and the quality of their balance sheet.  The strong brand recognition will help define this iconic building and improve its appeal.”

The lifestyle clothing retailer and restaurant operator first scooped up 8,500 s/f in 2010, roughly six months later deciding to take an additional 5,100 s/f.

All told, the final product will encompass a retail space formerly occupied by retailer New York Look, a second level space previously reserved for offices, and a small corner shop occupied by watch store MORLATA, a blueprint for what Goldberg called a “kind of urban resort,” doubling down on the company mantra: “life is one long weekend.”

“We came to the conclusion that we could connect those spaces, taking a portion of the ceiling out to create a mezzanine that looks down a staircase into the bar,” he said.

Of 90 Tommy Bahama outposts across the country, only 13 offer food and drinks.

Though little of the building’s façade will change, the store will evoke tropical climates, with open, street-facing windows that will display the interior shudder screens made from reclaimed Coney Island boardwalk wood that will connect the lower and upper levels, Goldberg said.

“We found it through an individual who collects this stuff,” Goldberg said of the boardwalk wood, which will be refinished.  “It worked out to be a couple of miles end-to-end.”

The retailer brought in a local artist to create a mural in what will be called the “Marlin Bar.”  A sugar-cane press will be on-hand, along with a “massive rum collection” that will age in oak barrels behind the bar.  Executive Chef Jason Krantz will head the restaurant, while New York-based Michael Neumann Architecture’s custom fixtures, lighting and limestone floors will dominate the aesthetics.

A handful of popular clothing brands have recently leased storefronts near within Fifth Ave. in the 40’s – Urban Outfitters has a 26,000 s/f shop near 43rd Street, Guess has space on 47th Street, and H&M has an outpost on the corner of 42nd Street – but Tommy Bahama will be one of the only bars in the immediate vicinity.

“It’s a very unique concept and it will fit in well, especially when you think about the change that has occurred in the area,” Feil said.  “A slew of new spaces have popped up as people jump over the mental fence of 49th street that they once had.”

Feil declined to specify what Tommy Bahama will pay in rent, saying only that it was above market for the area and that his company is “happy with what we got.”  Goldberg declined to put a number on it, but acknowledged, “It’s certainly more than what we would normally pay in the typical setting.”

Though the company maintains a retail presence through stores like Macy’s, Lord and Taylor, and Nordstrom, this will be its first Tommy Bahama-branded store in the New York metro area.

“We’re really excited to bring our brand to New York,” Goldberg said.  “We have a strong following and we feel really good about bringing some relaxation to Fifth Avenue.”

Broker Amira Yunis, now with CBRE but at the time with Newmark Knight Frank, represented Tommy Bahama locally in the deal, while Kim Krieg of MKJ Advisors represented them nationally.

Jeffrey Management represented the ownership, French Partners and New York French Building Co. Investors, with Feil negotiating the lease on behalf of Jeffrey Management.



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