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GROUND BREAKING: On Wednesday afternoon, the cafeteria at the new Condé Nast offices at 1 World Trade Center were buzzing. Company executives, representatives from the Port Authority and commercial real estate communities and members of the press made their way up to the 34th floor of the rising tower in slow cattle-car construction elevators for a press conference to celebrate the magazine publishers’ official lease signing. On one ride up, a construction worker played Stevie Nicks’ “Landslide” on a portable stereo.
For now the 34th floor is a wide-open space with a dusty poured-concrete floor with views south to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and Liberty Island, and west to the Brooklyn Bridge and Frank Gehry’s wavy facade at 8 Spruce Street.
“The entire landscape changes downtown forever,” said Chris Ward, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, to begin the press conference. Behind him, Condé Nast chairman S.I. Newhouse Jr. and Mayor Michael Bloomberg whispered to each other and laughed. The Mayor held an iPad in his lap; Newhouse held a folded piece of paper containing his remarks.
Ward introduced Newhouse and placed a four-legged footstool behind the podium for him to stand on. “I guess I need this,” the Condé Nast chairman said with a grin, stepping up to the microphone.
“When I came to work at Condé Nast 50 years ago, the whole company fit in half a floor of the Gray Bar Building…” he said. “And Perry Ruston — who’s lost in the history of the company, but accounted for a great deal then — he was the ceo, and he planned to play piano for all of us, all hundred, at Christmastime. Today the ceo is Chuck Townsend, and far be it for him to play piano.”
Earlier that day, Newhouse signed a 25-year lease with the Port Authority for 1 million square feet on the 21st through 40th floors in the tower, which has 66 floors to date. It will be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere when it’s finished. “Things have certainly changed a great deal, not only for Condé Nast but for the city,” Newhouse said.
The deal reportedly is worth $1.9 billion for the Port Authority and accounts for one-third of the space in the building, enough room for 3,000 employees. “We hope Condé Nast, at long last united into a single building, will be the catalyst for the rebirth of the downtown area,” Newhouse added.
Bloomberg took the podium next and waxed about Condé Nast moving into now–smoke-free Times Square when it was “still a pretty gritty area” in 1999. “Now we’re expecting Condé Nast to work its magic again,” the mayor said.
“Si, thank you so much,” he added, “you made the right move.”
After the press conference, Townsend made his way to the elevator with company president Bob Sauerberg. “If I had to guess, I would guess this will become known as the Condé Nast Building,” Townsend said. Asked about speculation the company may use an open seating plan in the building, he explained that “it’s not going to be a rabbit warren of offices; that’s not contemporary. It will be a lot of meeting space, a lot of community space, a lot of opportunity for people to get together.” The Bloomberg Tower on Lexington Avenue, he agreed, was a good comparison. “We like that, we like that a lot,” he said
Condé Nast editorial director Tom Wallace said the details of the new offices haven’t been decided yet, but he thinks an open plan will facilitate magazine-making. “In this digital age everything has to be more integrated than it was and more open than it was,” Wallace said. “The communication has to be faster and more fluid.
“We’ve got four years to figure out exactly how to do it down here, and it will take us that long,” he added.
The company is scheduled to move into the building by the end of 2014 or the beginning of 2015.
— ZEKE TURNER