BY SARAH TREFETHEN
Among the superhero clashes and camaraderie of Marvel’s The Avengers, which shattered box-office records when it opened this weekend, the movie features another strong personality (and accomplished movie star) often left in the background: midtown Manhattan.
For those in the real estate industry, the blockbuster’s buildings — both real and imaginary — may be as much fun to watch as Mark Ruffalo’s dramatic transformations into the Incredible Hulk.
The block of 42nd street in front of Grand Central Station is the scene of a final battle between Captain America et al and a flying army of alien invaders, with plenty of spillover into the surrounding neighborhood.
“As a real estate person you’re sitting there, unlike a normal person, thinking about the buildings,” said Michael T. Cohen, president of Colliers Tri-State.
“I saw 120 Park, 125 Park, and I said to myself, I wonder what the owners of those buildings feel, watching them getting torn up by extraterrestrials.”
Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, needing something to steady himself while shooting lightening bolts towards a wormhole the sky, turns to the spire of the Chrysler Building.
But the property that sees the most action isn’t part of anyone’s Manhattan portfolio.
Stark Tower, the fictional creation of Tony Stark (also know as Iron Man, played in the movie by Robert Downey Jr.), looms above Grand Central, tapering slightly to a height of about 1,000 feet and topped with a specialized landing strip for Iron Man’s flying suit that also serves as a more conventional helicopter pad. The upper stories are Stark’s personal penthouse.
“It’s clearly an office building that would attract high-end corporate users,” said Wes Rudes, senior vice president at the tenant representation firm Cresa, who watch the movie with his 8-year-old son over the weekend. “It is, however, way too big a target for alien terrorists to command top rents.”
In the movie’s alternate history of the New York skyline, Tony Stark bought the MetLife building and rebuilt the upper stories to create Stark Tower, Avengers production designer James Chinlund told the science and science fiction magazine io9 last week. Part of the attraction of the location was the opportunity to stage an epic battle in the tunnels of Grand Central and beneath the 42nd Street viaduct.
“In choosing the MetLife location we were also recognizing the rich topography of the streets below … the ultimate conflagration of rich histories and futuristic ideas,” Chinlund said.
But Cohen questioned the choice of neighborhood.
“I don’t think they picked the most upscale location. The Grand Central market is kind of soft right now, and what sells is park views. If I were Tony Stark, I would have put Stark Tower up by the General Motors building,” he said. “The tower’s floor plates also looked a little on the small side.”
Like Rudes, Cohen worried that superhero use might not be compatible with midtown’s more traditional mix of banking, business and law.
“The Hulk’s presence in any building would drive down rents,” he said.
Nonetheless, Cohen was confident space in the building would lease for more than $100 a foot.
“It certainly looked to me like at least a million square foot tower,” he said, estimating a market value upwards of $1 billion.
Another feature of the fictional tower is every green builder’s dream. Stark Tower has an unlimited electricity supply, thanks to a version of the “arc reactor” that keeps Iron Man’s armor blasting bad guys and flying through the sky.
“The concept of a self-sustaining energy source was a great idea,” Cohen said. “I hope the Dursts will find a way to make that happen.”
The exact value the technology would add to the building, however, is difficult to estimate.
“It all depends on what the electricity cost was that you were passing on to the tenants. If the arc reactor can produce electricity at a lower rate than ConEd, it would add to the value of the building,” Cohen said.
Otherwise, “certain environmentally conscious tenants would be willing to pay a premium, knowing that they were paying it for a good cause.”
Stark Tower has been part of Marvel’s Avengers universe for decades, and it may return in the anticipated sequel to the current movie.
But one detail of the building’s backstory remains a mystery.
“I was looking for the Colliers sign, to see if we were the leasing and management agent,” Cohen said.