NEW YORK — Louis Vuitton is moving closer to its goal of transforming its flagship at 1 East 57th Street at the corner of Fifth Avenue here into a larger store. Expanding the unit will be achieved by integrating an adjacent building at 743 Fifth Avenue into the existing 20,000-square-foot flagship.

This story first appeared in the July 29, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

In 2007, LVMH Moët Hennessey Louis Vuitton in 2007 paid $60 million to buy the 10-story, 21,300-square-foot building at 1 East 57th Street from Centurian Real Estate Partners, which purchased the property in 2004 for $28 million from men’s wear designer Ermenegildo Zegna. The price LVMH paid for the additional building could not be learned.

The expansion project, which involves renovating and possibly reconfiguring the flagship, will be greater than the sum of its parts. “Eventually we do want to renovate and expand,” a spokeswoman said. “It’s not just a renovation and expansion. It will be of more interest than that.” However, the start date is at least a year away. “It’s a long-term project,” she said.

The renovation and expansion won’t be without its challenges. “The floors are not aligned,” said a source with knowledge of the property. “The [743 Fifth Avenue] building has much lower ceiling heights than the flagship. In the flagship, Louis Vuitton took out some floors to raise the ceiling heights. Aligning the floors is where some of the capital expenditure is going to be made.”

Still, putting the space to retail use will bring the best return on LVMH’s investment. “When they bought it, they said they’re going to expand,” said the source. “Retail is the building’s highest and best use. If you were leasing that space today, it would go for $1,500 per square foot to $2,000 per square foot for retail.”

A retail elevator connects the first five floors and basement of 743 Fifth Avenue, which sits between Bergdorf Goodman’s men’s store and the Vuitton flagship. There’s an additional separate entrance to a small lobby with a small passenger elevator to all of the floors. At one time, the ground floor retail space was occupied by Gilan, a luxury jeweler known as the Cartier of Turkey.

Vuitton’s longtime architect, Peter Marino, is expected to design the expanded Fifth Avenue flagship. Marino designed Vuitton’s 17,000-square-foot London flagship on New Bond Street that bowed in May 2010. At the time, Yves Carcelle, chairman and chief executive officer of Louis Vuitton, said larger stores were necessary to make room for new product categories, adding, “What looked enormous at the time looks small today.”

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