TAHARI STRIKES DEAL ON FIFTH AVE. STUDIO

Byline: Eric Wilson

NEW YORK — Elie Tahari has reached a settlement with his landlord at 510 Fifth Avenue that will allow the designer to maintain his studio space there and potentially open a flagship store sometime in the future.
Tahari, who was reached by phone during his vacation in Hawaii on Tuesday, said he had been negotiating an out-of-court settlement in the dispute over the past several months and that an agreement was reached within the past few weeks.
The deal concludes what had become an acrimonious battle between the designer and his landlord, Chase Manhattan Bank, which had tried to evict Tahari but instead has now sold the landmark property to a limited partnership that includes some investment from Tahari, he said. Chase officials could not be reached at press time.
Tahari would not disclose the purchase price or the size of his company’s investment, but the building was listed by brokers last year with an asking price of $12 million. As reported, Tahari wanted to acquire the building outright, but couldn’t reach an agreement with Chase.
The designer had moved his design and sample production operations to the buildings upper floors in 1998, taking advantage of remarkably low rents in the neighborhood at the time with a long-term lease. However, as rents shot up on that part of Fifth Avenue, Tahari’s lease proved to be a sticking point for many buyers and caused a widely publicized dispute between tenant and landlord that eventually landed in the courts, with Chase accusing Tahari of running a sweatshop and the designer responding with several union-orchestrated demonstrations at the bank.
The resulting publicity apparently helped to resolve the dispute, as Tahari said Tuesday that negotiations with the bank became more civilized following the protests, which were held in June.
“Chase finally realized what our position was and then communications became better and we began negotiating in good faith,” he said.
The building, a five-story Skidmore Owings & Merrill glass cube at Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street, will be managed by a group called Tall Properties, Tahari said, adding that he has formed a deal with his new landlord that will enable him to continue to maintain his design and sample spaces there indefinitely.
While he said that the deal gives him the right to turn the building into a flagship, there is no timeframe for that possibility to take place. Chase currently operates a branch and automated teller machines in the building and also has the right to continue occupancy of its ground floor retail space, he noted.
Chase opened a large branch at Fifth Avenue and East 34th Street in the past five years and its announcement in September to acquire J.P. Morgan for $36 billion would give it additional property on nearby Madison Avenue.
Banks in New York have also been reducing their number of ATMs and branches in recent years, particularly in high-rent locations, an industry trend which Tahari expects could eventually foretell the bank’s departure from that location.
Tahari is particularly fond of the location and has described it as potentially becoming the headquarters for his operation as the Rhinelander Mansion is to Ralph Lauren.
The designer is already discussing potential renovations for the building with the goal to restore the landmark to its original shape and design, which is one of the few remaining examples of High Modern architecture in Manhattan.
It was designed in 1954 by architect Gordon Bunshaft for the Manufacturer’s Trust Co. with 10-feet wide, 22-feet high windows, each weighing 1,500 pounds and framed in rectangular polished aluminum. Bunshaft, of Skidmore Owings & Merrill, also designed the Lever House on Park Avenue.
“People don’t realize how incredible this architecture is, partly because the building has not been properly maintained,” Tahari said. “Chase has an option to stay or leave, but in my humble opinion, it doesn’t pay for them to be in that building.”

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