Posts Categorized: Press


Foundation Center: Ford Foundation Awards $3 Million to Museum for African Art

The Museum for African Art in New York City has announced a $3 million grant from the Ford Foundation in support of the final stage of the museum’s construction.

The grant brings the total raised through the museum’s $90 million capital campaign to $76 million. Having previously occupied spaces on the Upper East Side, in SoHo, and in Long Island City, Queens, the museum will move to its permanent home in Harlem on Fifth Avenue at 110th Street later this year. The new building will feature some 15,000 square feet of gallery space, an informal 5,000-square-foot exhibition space, a 245-seat theater, and an educational center. With its new location and expanded programming, the museum hopes to attract a larger and more diverse audience.

 ”The Ford Foundation is delighted to support the Museum for African Art in this important and timely project,” said Ford Foundation president Luis A. Ubiñas. “The foundation is committed to nurturing art and education initiatives that reflect the cultural richness of our society. The museum has advanced broad understanding of that richness through its exhibitions, publications, and programs, which have reached millions of people. The Ford Foundation is proud that its name will be among those welcoming visitors to the new Museum for African Art.”


New York Daily News: How the Museum for African Art will change the uptown landscape

Set to open at the end of 2011 with condos for sale for now, the Museum for African Art at 1280 Fifth Ave. is a blessed building



 Set to open at the end of 2011 with condos for sale for now, the Museum for African Art at 1280 Fifth Ave. is a blessed building.

Its exterior and museum interiors are designed by one of the world’s leading firms, New York-based Robert A.M. Stern Architects. The marketing team for the 116 condominiums, led by Nancy Packes, has a history of selling unique residences that can transform neighborhoods. The developer, Brickman, understands that profit and community-building go hand in hand.

 But its leader, Museum for African Art president Elsie McCabe Thompson, is the person most responsible for the building’s existence. She has heroically championed this project to ensure the 27-year old museum’s first permanent home is a world-class building worthy of a world-class cultural institution.

 Taking over 40% of the block, the building with the museum and 1280 Fifth Ave.’s luxury condominiums is as important a cultural complex to come to New York City since the Time Warner Center at another corner of the park. It could do for this section of Harlem what the Standard Hotel did for the Meatpacking District – ensure the constant flow of people and positive energy that inspires locals, draws tourists and retail, and leads to area redevelopment and growth.

 Already, developers have improved nearby buildings. A new supermarket is expected on 110th St. Here’s a look at all the components that gave life to Harlem’s newest real estate poster child.

The location

Sitting at the northeast corner of Central Park, there might not be a better combination residential/cultural setting in the country. Capping off Museum Mile at Fifth Ave. and 110th St., the site was a former garage, three city-owned vacant lots and a post-production facility. Across the street from Duke Ellington Circle and Harlem Meer, the museum and condo will become a gateway to Harlem, a signal that its art and culture are as important to New York as 59th St., SoHo or Chelsea.

 ”There’s a reason I fought for this location,” says Thompson, gesturing to the views of Central Park from a 14th-floor, three-bedroom model apartment in the condo tower. “People thought I was out of my mind for wanting to do this here. They don’t say that anymore. It’s like being in Narnia with the park. I could not have imagined a better place.”

 When Thompson first saw the site more than 10 years ago, the area was dreary. The Central Park Conservancy refurbished this section of the park, but the general condition of 110th St. was considered unsafe by some locals. Today, after successful condominiums such as 111 Central Park and a new plaza for entering the 2,3 subway station at 110th St. and Lenox Ave., the area is seeing revitalization spearheaded by Central Park, the museum building and new ownership at Heritage Towers, a 1970s-era two-tower, three-building rental project (market rate and affordable) on 111th St. between Fifth and Madison.

 ”We want our tenants – new and old – to participate in the excitement of the museum and all the good things happening at this end of the park,” says Josh Eisenberg, a principal at Urban American, the developer who purchased Heritage Towers in 2007 and upgraded the apartments and common spaces. “110th St. is not that far uptown anymore.”

The Museum for African Art

Elsie McCabe Thompson fought 13 years for the museum to find a home. Financing, land assemblage and potential development partners, one promising an educational facility, came and went and came again. So did the real estate market. Through it all, Thompson remained focused, putting together the forces to create a successful museum and give it as formidable a home as other local museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, which was also financed expansion by building condominiums.

 ”When I took this job, I didn’t know bupkis about art, running a museum or real estate,” says Thompson, former chief of staff to Mayor David Dinkins and married to 2009 mayoral candidate Bill Thompson. “But the vision remained the same — to find a permanent home and build a museum that would bridge cultures.

 This building, accessible to Fifth Ave., East Harlem, and Central Harlem, does that. I want local children to grow up in this museum. I want people who don’t come to museums to come here. I want something iconic and inviting.”

 She got it. The museum contains gallery spaces, a theater, a café/restaurant with outdoor seating, a third-floor event space with outside plaza, space for the Nelson Mandela Center, a gift shop and educational facilities. While the condo portion is 95% complete with early buyers living in the building, the museum will open late this year.

The building

Thompson and the museum staff were so inspired by Robert A.M. Stern Architects’ building design, they took elements of it for their logo. Made of precast concrete panels, the building shines in sunlight and casts shadows at sunset. Trapezoidal panels identify the museum facade. Another panel with angles relating to the trapezoids is used in the condo façade.

 ”That was one of the great things we achieved, making the building a seamless connection between the museum and apartment house,” says Stern. “The tower does not swamp the museum, it gives it presence, which was important considering the museum has only four floors.”

 Stern and company designed an open 45-foot floor-to-ceiling museum lobby that could become one of the city’s great public spaces. Inside, it feels huge, a cavern of shape, light and sound. You envision great things happening here. Spacious galleries for exhibitions will overlook the entrance.

 An outdoor/indoor public space for concerts, corporate events and private dinners on the building’s third floor has an adjacent roof terrace with Central Park and Fifth Ave. views. Properly landscaped, it could eventually feel like an elevated extension of the park below.

 ”Architecture can only do so much, but it can create a setting for human action,” Stern says. “A lot of museums are not in the action. We want to be in the action. The building will have cultural impact with marvelous programs, yes, but we hope the entrance invites people in and the design drives visitation.

 Fortunately, this museum is not a stimulus of development, but a reflection of Harlem’s transformation as it evolves racially and economically. This gives Harlem its first great museum.”

Architect Andre Kikoski designed the condo finishes at 1280 Fifth Ave. NEOSCAPE

The condominiums

 It also gives Harlem its first condominium selling at over an average of $1,265 per square foot. Ready for occupancy, the 18-story 1280 Fifth Ave. has formidable homes to go with its formidable address. Architect Andre Kikoski designed the building’s common spaces, including the lobby, children’s playroom, resident lounge and rooftop pool. Kikoski, who received accolades for his design of The Wright restaurant at the Guggenheim Museum, selected apartment finishes by taking cues from the colors, shades and textures of Central Park. Bamboo floors, Macassar ebony kitchens and limestone bathrooms give constant freshness.

 The design is so subtle on natural material it almost feels sunny inside all the time.

 Nine units have sold, with several more contracts under negotiation. Nancy Packes, president of Brown Harris Stevens Project Marketing, heads the team marketing the condos. She worked with the developer Brickman and SLCE Architects to shape layouts and unit mix. She has a history of understanding what makes a property unique.

 ”This is Fifth Ave.,” says Packes, who with the developer’s permission shares exact selling prices with each new potential buyer. “This is the last new building site with views on the park. Simply put, these are one of-a-kind-homes offering unparalleled living experience with a direct connection to one of the city’s great emerging cultural institutions. Buyers respond to that.”

 Prices start in the $700,000 range for studios with home offices facing east with views of the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. Ninety percent of the homes have park vistas. Three-bedroom three-bath apartments with full views of Central Park are priced just above $3 million. As part of the deal to purchase the land from the city, developer Brickman will build affordable housing nearby. Thompson selected Brickman, a midsize developer whose principals work on projects themselves, on the strength of their proposal. Her committee thought they could give the project detailed attention. They have.

 ”The trend in Harlem and New York City in general is larger homes to accommodate the growing amount of families who want to be here,” says Roderick O’Connor, a principal of Brickman. “From a developer’s point of view, we looked at this project as extremely special because of its location and museum. It’s still a push to get people to come up here, but we believe there is great value. We’re patient and working hard to prove that value. I think 110th St. is the new 72nd St.”

Packes goes further to defend prices.

 ”We are social animals,” she says. “There are visionaries, and there are people who follow visionaries. One of our first buyers was a senior partner specializing in real estate at a major city law firm. He has vision. For the price, this is still the lowest you’ll pay on Fifth Ave. facing Central Park.”


New York Family: Harlem’s Other Renaissance

 1280 Fifth Avenue Brings Modern Design And Relaxed Family Living To East Harlem


For many city families, being in close proximity to cultural institutions and parks is a top priority. The developers of 1280 Fifth Avenue, a sleek, new modern building between 109th and 110th Streets in East Harlem, have kept this in mind. Close to Museum Mile, the building houses The Museum of African Art, and Central Park serves as its front yard. The Upper East Side’s excellent private schools are easily accessible as well; three subway lines, including express service, are just a few blocks away, and four bus lines stop across the street.

 But there’s plenty that sets 1280 Fifth Avenue apart besides its great location. Designed by the renowned Robert A.M. Stern Architects, the exterior features a basketweave skin on the lower half of the building’s 21 stories. “The sponsor of 1280 did not ask Stern to stick within the same traditional vocabulary,” explains Nancy Packes, President of Brown Harris Stevens, Project Marketing. The design was a deliberate move towards a more modern style, and the American Institute of Architecture has taken notice. “The architecture critics have recognized that the building is just gorgeous,” says Packes. The building is also anticipating LEED certification; over 20% of the building’s construction and design materials are made from recycled items, and its landscaped rooftop area uses an irrigation system to conserve water. The building faces Central Park, and all 116 units either have direct picture window views of the park or face the rest of the city, Packes says.

 The interiors, designed by Andre Kikoski, include grand entrances into spacious rooms. The largest living rooms measure 16 x 21 and the kitchens are open, featuring teak cabinetry, deep brown granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and oversized refrigerators, with at least one pantry. “Almost always, there is a very generous separate area that constitutes the dining room,” Packes adds. Bathrooms also feature limestone floors, glass-enclosed, spa-style showers and double sinks.

“It has really been designed with a comprehensive approach to meet families’ expectations,” she says. “The number of different types of homes is heavily weighted towards larger homes—two and three bedrooms—and we are in the process of creating combination homes.” Square footage ranges from 1440 to 1700 for two-bedrooms and from 1600 to over 1800 for three-bedrooms.

 The building also offers plenty of amenities, with storage units, concierge service and a parking garage available. Many residents also gather on the fifth floor, where there’s a fitness center, a children’s playroom and a teen game room. “Also recognizing how families live, we have a beautiful lounge, private dining room and catering kitchen, and next to it is a card and game area,” says Packes. “It’s like having another home.”

 What’s more, with a landscaped rooftop terrace overlooking Central Park to the West and a heated swimming pool facing spectacular sunrises to the East, it’s easy for families to relax and feel at home.



The Real Deal: A peek inside 1280 Fifth Avenue

The lobby of 1280 Fifth Avenue


The new, Robert A.M. Stern-designed condominium at 1280 Fifth Avenue hosted a celebration Wednesday, giving real estate pros and potential buyers a sneak peek (see photos above). While the Museum for African Art, which will open in the adjacent building in 2011, was not available for preview, guests on hand boldly entered the new condo construction — signing waivers before touring the nearly complete building. Nancy Packes, who is president of her own, independent development marketing firm, Nancy Packes Inc., and Brown Harris Stevens Project Marketing, the exclusive marketing agency for the building, which was developed by Brickman, said that five units in the 116-unit building have sold, while another six units are in negotiation.


Curbed: Cocktails & Offers at 1280 Fifth

EAST HARLEM—When launching some fancypants Robert A.M. Stern condos above a museum, who better to invite over for a party than… supporters of the museum! Brown Harris Stevens Project Marketing did just that last night, opening 1280 Fifth Avenue to 100 prospective customers—er, we mean, friends of the Museum for African Art. A source tells us multiple offers were received. [CurbedWire Inbox]


Crain’s: New upscale grocery slated for Harlem – Goris family signs lease for store at 1660 Madison Ave.

The Goris family, owner of a small chain of grocery stores in the city, is opening an upscale supermarket at 1660 Madison Ave. in Harlem.

Goris Grocers has signed a 15-year lease for 10,185 square feet, or the entire ground floor portion of the 11-story apartment building owned by Frawley Plaza LLC. The asking rent was $40 a square foot.

“The space was already a supermarket, which was really run-down,” said Jonathan Gordon of Admiral Real Estate Services, which represented the landlord in the transaction. Alexandra Alicia Shiros, who works as an independent agent, negotiated on behalf of the tenant.

 The building is located just a block from the new site for the Museum of African Art. Mr. Gordon said that Goris identified a demand a high-end supermarket as the area has been spruced up in recent years.

“They’re going to offer convenience,” he said. “They’ll devote a lot of the sale space to pre-prepared food.”

 The opening, which is scheduled to take place in early 2011, comes on the heels of Goris losing a lease at the 240-unit Toren skyscraper in downtown Brooklyn, as reported by The Brooklyn Paper last month. Goris Grocers has four or five other locations, according to Mr. Gordon.



New York Times: A.M. Stern Building Pushes the Boundary of Luxe

1280 Fifth Avenue, by Robert A. M. Stern, will house condos and the Museum for African Art.

THE designers of 1280 Fifth Avenue — a condominium rising on East 109th Street at the northeast corner of Central Park — have strong connections to Manhattan’s famous patch of green. The beige limestone building is the work of Robert A.M. Stern Architects, whose 15 Central Park West, at the park’s southwest corner, has been setting condo price records. The airy interiors are by Andre Kikoski, who recently designed the Wright, an award-winning restaurant in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, at 89th and Fifth Avenue.

A rendering of the roof deck at 1280 Fifth Avenue. The building’s common spaces are by Andre Kikoski. Prices range from $750,000, for a studio, to about $3.75 million for a three-bedroom.

Jennifer S. Altman for The New York Times 1280 Fifth Avenue

So it’s no surprise that Mr. Kikoski decided to use the park as inspiration for the building’s public spaces. That meant, he said, that the interiors would include copious natural materials. In one case, he conceived a lobby wall of alabaster, but found that it was more practical to mount a giant photo of the stone (by Weil Studio) between sheets of glass, creating a translucent, wall-sized mural. The lobby ceiling is East Indian laurel wood.

 The condos, which are being marketed by Brown Harris Stevens, range in price from about $750,000, for a studio facing away from the park, to about $3.75 million for a three-bedroom Fifth Avenue unit. They are expected to be ready for occupancy in October. Amenities include a rooftop pool with views of the Robert F. Kennedy-Triborough Bridge.

 But if the 116 apartments in the building visually refer to Central Park, they are physically connected to the Museum for African Art, which will share the building (and have its own entrance north of the residential lobby).

A rendering of the roof deck at 1280 Fifth Avenue. The building’s common spaces are by Andre Kikoski. Prices range from $750,000, for a studio, to about $3.75 million for a three-bedroom.

The museum, which has been hoping to move to the site for more than a decade, had originally planned a partnership with Edison Schools, the for-profit educator. In a 1999 competition Bernard Tschumi, then the dean of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University, was chosen to design a building for the company and the museum. The critic Carter Horsley described its undulating wooden facade, set within a glass box, as “an intriguing complement to the curves of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum a mile and a half or so to the south on the avenue.” But Edison backed out in 2002.

 The museum retained its option to buy the land, part of which was owned by the city, and in 2005 it teamed with new partners: Brickman (a company known mostly for commercial real estate) and Sidney Fetner Associates (which later merged with the Durst Organization). The developers, after meetings with Mr. Tschumi, decided to turn to Mr. Stern for an entirely new plan.

 Roderick O’Connor, a founder and a principal of Brickman, said Mr. Stern had an understanding of what Manhattan buyers were looking for. The developer also brought in SLCE Architects, a large Manhattan firm, as the architect of record, which Mr. O’Connor said was “more efficient” than having the Stern office produce construction documents. “Some firms spend a lot of time on design, and some push the work through,” he said, “and you need a combination when you’re doing a building like ours.”

SLCE worked with Mr. Kikoski on the apartment layouts, which required some squeezing to allow as many units as possible to share the building’s Fifth Avenue frontage. Unit 6A, for example, combines living and dining rooms, a kitchen, a foyer and a “gallery” in a single 50-foot-long space with just one large window facing Central Park.

 Mr. Kikoski also drew up plans for apartments that well-heeled buyers could create by combining units, horizontally or vertically. And he is responsible for the four model apartments, which in addition to showcasing a chair he designed, will have furniture from the French maker Ligne Roset.

His firm chose everything from the bathroom countertops (Bianco Dolomiti) and floors (Jerusalem limestone) to the kitchen cabinets (teak) and appliances (Bosch, Thermador and Miele).

 The building will test the appeal of a neighborhood in which a penthouse (at 111 Central Park North) sold for $8 million in early 2008, before the current era of market uncertainty. Mr. O’Connor says he tells potential buyers they can look at apartments by Mr. Stern diagonally across Central Park, at 15 Central Park West, for $5,000 a square foot, or at 1280 Fifth Avenue, for less than half that much. Compared with Mr. Stern’s more famous building, he said, “we’re a steal.”



Haute Living – Haute Real Estate News a New Kid on the Block at 1280 Fifth Avenue

Remember when you first learned the difference between a tulip leaf and an oak, limestone and slate in Montessori or grade school? It was a precious time of unadulterated fascination, void of societal influences or money, but rather the elements and the raw materials in terms of texture, shape and color that piqued and held our interest.

James Beard Award Winning architect Andre Kikoski latest project, the interiors of 1280 Fifth Avenue, is an astounding culmination of the raw essence of materials, a chic Fifth avenue address, eco-friendly and ultimate luxury. All wrapped up and smoothly presented as living spaces to easily accommodate contemporary life. A place to call home, nestled in the upper right corner of Central Park.

*Model Apartment, Andre Kikoski in collaboration with Ligne Roset*

“The extraordinary beauty of the Central Park landscape is truly inspiring,” says Kikoski. “There’s a playfulness and simplicity to the organic textures of Frederick Law Olmstead’s Harlem Meer, which is right outside the front door. Our work at 1280 Fifth is an abstraction of those enchanting and elegant qualities, reinterpreted in a contemporary idiom.”

* View of Frederick Law Olmstead’s Harlem Meer from 1280 Fifth*

Andre Kikoski has brought the outside in, quite literally, at 1280 Fifth Avenue, the twenty one-story, 165,000 square foot residential tower (by Robert A.M. Stern) over the Musuem for African Art. Upon a neutral palette, materials of the apartment interiors include American black walnut, teak wood, limestone, abalone shell tile, Venetian glass and cyprus wood.

*Model Apartment, Andre Kikoski in collaboration with Ligne Roset*

And as for the view, Andre Kikoski said during an intimate private press tour, “It’s not often that you get this kind of view. For us that’s really where it begins and ends. No matter which view you have from the building it’s a quintessential urban view.”

*View from 1280 Fifth*

I encourage you to see for yourself and visit the model homes, which have been furnished by French firm Linge Roset.  There are four and they range in color and mood, and one of which might certainly inspire you to take a new residence on Fifth Avenue

Pricing: Alcove Studios from $723,900, 1 Bedrooms from $828,935, 2 Bedrooms from $1,379,400, 3 Bedrooms from $1,602,504



New York Times: Pulling Museum Mile Uptown

SHE was sometimes by his side when William C. Thompson Jr. worked the rubber-chicken circuit last year, a poised, attractive woman in no rush to pose for the cameras, confident that her husband, the New York City comptroller, could make his own case for why he deserved to be mayor.

Elsie McCabe Thompson was perhaps an underused asset in her husband’s narrowly unsuccessful campaign against Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Smart, articulate and charming, she emerged infrequently from the shadows to talk to reporters. When she did, she often also spoke of something else dear to her heart: the Museum for African Art.

 Now after more than a decade pursuing what some saw as an impossible quest Mrs. Thompson is preparing to open the museum’s new $95 million home on upper Fifth Avenue next spring.

 “Maybe I’m just contrary,” she said during an interview this month, “but the more people tell me it can’t be done, the more I want to prove that it can.”

 Even as her husband steps back (temporarily, he says) from public life, Mrs. Thompson has emerged as the increasingly visible president of the 26-year-old museum as it completes an unlikely journey from a temporary office in Queens to Manhattan’s cultural center stage.

 On Fifth Avenue between 109th and 110th Streets, the museum will occupy the lower floors of a 19-story condominium designed by Robert A. M. Stern and will extend New York’s Museum Mile uptown into Harlem. The limestone-colored building, with window mullions that lyrically evoke the weave of African baskets, will become a high-profile showplace for one of the only two major American museums devoted solely to African art. (The other is the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington.)

 The hoopla associated with its arrival will be a coming-out party of sorts for Mrs. Thompson, who, if her husband has his way, would one day become the city’s first lady.

 Mrs. Thompson, 51, had singular qualifications to shepherd the museum project when officials tapped her to lead the institution in 1997. Though not an art historian, she was a Harvard-trained lawyer (and Eliot Spitzer’s moot court partner in law school) who had once held a high post in city government, clearly understood its mechanics and had established her own viable ties to the Harlem political leadership.

 And as the project moved forward, it did not hurt that she was the close friend and later spouse of Mr. Thompson, who held one of the city’s most powerful offices and remains today one of the front-runners for the 2013 Democratic mayoral nomination.

 So far of the $71 million raised in construction funds for the museum, some $32 million has come from public funds, though Mr. Thompson said he has had only the most limited of roles in securing them.

 The road ahead for the museum looks unremittingly steep however. It does not have an endowment. It is projecting an operating budget of as much as $8 million a year, or almost triple its current expenses, and it is doing so at a time when the aftermath of the recession has made both public and private donors cautious about taking on any new financial commitments.

“Long before the recession these new buildings were struggling to pay operating costs,” said Gail Lord, the co-president of Lord Cultural Resources, an advisory firm with cultural clients around the world. “The recession only made it worse.”

 Small, specialized museums have the hardest time because they cannot realize economies of scale, Ms. Lord said, though she was impressed that the Museum for African Art had done enough planning actually to know what its budget would be.

 Museum board members say they will be able to tap additional resources, perhaps by selling the naming rights to the building, as long as the person is a good fit for the museum. (They estimate that they could get as much as $50 million for this.)

 And it is not as if Mrs. Thompson and her board have not overcome numerous other hurdles. The museum’s original development partner pulled out. Then there was a lengthy and at times contentious public approval process, the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, known as Ulurp. Before construction the engineers had to adjust the foundation plan to account for unstable sediment. Mrs. Thompson said the remaining obstacles were “nothing more onerous than what we’ve already had to deal with.”

 Mrs. Thompson is the mother of twins, and with her wide smile and a slightly husky voice, she exudes a kind of matriarchal warmth, even toward the museum. She hugs. She describes the museum as “my baby,” and she will interrupt a conversation to dab at a stain on a female colleague’s shirt. “I wanted my kids, my little African-American kids, to be proud of being African-American,” she said recently to explain her passion for the museum. A native New Yorker, she worked for the law firm Shearman & Sterling before joining the administration of Mayor David N. Dinkins. Afterward, when she was turned down for jobs because she did not have experience running a big nonprofit, she founded one, devoted to bringing computer technology and training to poor urban neighborhoods.

 She makes no apologies for knowing little about African art when she took the museum job. “I sought to learn a lot, and I did,” she said.

 After opening in 1984 in an Upper East Side town house, the museum developed a reputation for innovative exhibitions, but its fund-raising was low. For many years it was located in SoHo, but the space was rented, making it hard to plan.

 When Mrs. Thompson saw the Fifth Avenue site, she said, she fell in love. The location, at the juncture of Harlem and Museum Mile, was symbolic, and it was close to audiences the museum wanted to reach. The first development plan called for a partnership with Edison Schools, the for-profit manager of public schools. Edison would help pay for the purchase of the land, some of which was city owned, and would build offices and a flagship school, whose students could use the museum. But Edison backed out in 2002, after it ran into financial difficulties.

This current project is being undertaken with new development partners, Brickman and Sidney Fetner Associates, who are building luxury condominiums. The developers paid most of the cost of the land and built the core and shell of the museum. At a news conference for the project in 2007 Mayor Bloomberg praised the museum as an important addition to Museum Mile. The ceremonial groundbreaking that year was attended by a raft of public officials, including Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson, Representative Charles B. Rangel and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

By this time Mrs. Thompson had been dating the comptroller, a longtime friend, for more than a year. Her husband, Eugene L. McCabe, the president of North General Hospital in Harlem, had died in 1998, and Mr. Thompson had filed for divorce in 2005.

 Mr. Thompson said in an interview that his future wife had called him over the years, as she did many people, seeking support for the museum. But he said he had not provided any assistance beyond a call to a deputy mayor when the museum was seeking to secure the land from the city and a 2005 conversation about funds with the City Council speaker, Gifford Miller. The conversation with Mr. Miller took place in April 2005, according to Mr. Miller’s appointment diaries, about a month after Mr. Thompson had recused himself from all museum matters because of the personal relationship. Mr. Miller, as reported this year in The Village Voice, ended up committing $750,000 in city capital funds to the project that year.

 But Mr. Thompson said it had been Mr. Miller who had contacted him about the museum, not the other way around. Mr. Miller said he could not recall the conversation or who had initiated it. Mr. Thompson said that it was his wife who had persuaded government officials to support the project. “They all know Elsie on her own, not because of me,” he said.

 The museum has set an ambitious slate of loan exhibitions for its first few months, including the first-ever career retrospective of the Ghanaian artist El Anatsui; a show comparing African baskets with those made in the American South; and an exhibition of ancient sculptures from Nigeria, organized by the museum and the Fundación Marcelino Botín in Spain. (The museum’s own permanent collection is small, with around 400 works.)

 Mrs. Thompson said she expects to draw more than the approximately 225,000 yearly visitors who go to the Museum of the City of New York, several blocks south on Fifth Avenue. She also expects substantial revenue from a restaurant; the sale of African jewelry, textiles and other items; and from leasing an event space.

 In part to bolster its donor contributions, the museum has expanded its board to 22 members (with a goal of 25); those added recently include the artist Martin Puryear and Mannie Jackson, the Harlem Globetrotters’ chairman. To save money the museum may open only certain sections next April. Adjusting expectations has been essential to keep the project on track, and Mrs. Thompson said that her own expectations have been challenged as she has confronted the works of art she now spends her days with.

 She had initially found a wooden spirit figure from Congo alien and frightening with its surface covered by nails. But she came to learn that each of the nails represented an oath or prayer — for example, a ritual prayer for the harvest or the resolution of a dispute between neighbors. “It represents the hopes and dreams, the fears, the prayers, the aspirations of a single community of people for generations,” she said of the sculpture. “For me that’s what resonated.”

 She hopes that the museum will bring Africa, long misunderstood as a “dark, distant place,” out of the shadows, she said. Its debut will certainly usher Mrs. Thompson further into the spotlight, a place she may one day inhabit even more prominently depending upon the political future.



New York Daily News: Central Park: The World’s Greatest Real Estate Engine

An aerial view of Central Park and midtown Manhattan show just how massive the park really is.

In a recent 10-year stretch, 41 of the 50 most expensive residential real-estate deals in the city were done on blocks surrounding Central Park or one block away. The highest retail rents in the world, now up to $2,000 per square foot, are along Fifth Ave. just south of the park. Around 110th St. in Harlem, home values rose by more than 115% in the last 10 years compared with 54% in all other areas of Manhattan.

That’s real-estate power. More specifically, a penthouse in Trump World just sold for $33 million. The Time Warner Center defined “five-star living” less than eight years ago and brought the city’s sagging real-estate market back from the doldrums that followed Sept. 11. A building counted by many as the most successful condo in history, 15 Central Park West, where some apartments sold for more than $5,000 per square foot, is home to Denzel Washington, Sting and the wealthiest bankers in the world. All those buildings are on the park.

The famed Dakota building at 1 West 72nd Street.

“Central Park is the biggest, most powerful draw in New York City,” says Barbara Fox, founder of Fox Residential Group, who for 20 years has sold apartments in the area and has a listing at 834 Fifth Ave., overlooking the park, for $29.5 million. “More than any other request, people say, ‘I want to live or be close to the park.’ In some cases, if they can’t be on the park, they absolutely will not buy.”

It hasn’t always been that way. For almost all of its first 120-plus years of existence, Central Park was a dump. Twenty years after it was built in 1858-74, Frederick Law Olm­sted, who with Calvert Vaux designed and built the 843-acre park with 6 miles of perimeter and 136 acres of woodland, all accessible to the public, said it had “gone to the Devil” and was plagued by the “impossibility of getting it taken care of.”

By 1974, it was known as the world’s biggest drug den. Weeks with rapes, murders and violence were more numerous than weeks without them. Buildings, like the Belvedere Castle, were left to decay. Most New Yorkers were afraid to go in the park.

But none of the above is newsworthy. Almost anyone in the world could tell you Central Park was a mess. How it was saved, and who saved it, however — those are things most New Yorkers don’t know. It’s high time they did.

The Central Park Conservancy was one of the first privately founded and funded groups of its kind in the world to work with a city to protect, preserve, manage and restore a park. Since its inception in 1980, the Conservancy has rebuilt the park to its highest-ever levels of natural beauty and public use. Around the world, it’s known as the go-to organization for big-city park care. In short, it is the New York Yankees of park management.

 Best of all, it has also almost paid for itself. Aided by donations from individual citizens and corporations, the Conservancy has invested more than $530 million in the park, raising $412 million itself, with just $118 million coming from the city. In other words, relatively few taxpayer dollars go to the park for its care.

 “People don’t even know the Conservancy exists, or they think we’re part of the city,” says Douglas Blonsky, the Conservancy president and Central Park administrator. “The city owns the park. Anyone can use it. We just take care of it. This is the most democratic space in the world. It generates more money for New York and the surrounding area than anything else in the city.”

 That said, here are 10 things about Central Park and the surrounding real estate you never knew:

1. Surrounding population

Approximately 550,000 New Yorkers, or almost one-third of Manhattan’s residents, live within a 10-minute walk of the park. Another 1.15 million people live within a 30-minute subway ride. More celebrities (Tom Hanks, Jerry Seinfeld and Robert De Niro among them) live near the park than anywhere else in New York City. There are also 109 schools in the area, with 48,000 students.

2. Traveling population

Hotels near the park account for 37% of all hotel rooms in the city and employ almost 14,000 people. Seventy-eight percent of those rooms cost more than $400 per night.

3. The world’s most expensive real estate

The apartments for sale along Fifth Ave. from 96th St. down to 59th St. help make it the most expensive stretch in the world. According to, there are at least eight Fifth Ave. apartments on the market for more than $20 million. Barbara Fox’s listing at 834 Fifth Ave., at 64th St., is an 11-room duplex on the 12th and 13th floors of a 1925 co-op that contains just 25 apartments. The maintenance alone on the $29.5 million home is more than $16,000. The apartment overlooks the zoo and has views overall of Central Park. “You can see the pandas sunbathing from your terrace,” says Fox. The Dakota, on Central Park West, is considered one of the city’s most iconic buildings and famed residences.

4. The role of donations

More than 35 million people visit the park each year, sometimes more than 200,000 on a weekend day. That’s more than Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon and Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks combined. Over 42,000 people contribute to the Conservancy. The largest individual gift was $17 million, in 1994 from Richard Gilder, who with billionaire George Soros founded the Central Park Community Fund in the late 1970s. That group was an early private organization dedicated to improving the park.

 The fence around the reservoir, whose running track is perhaps the most used of the public spaces in the park, was installed in 2003. As the story goes, a couple who loved Central Park were volunteering for the Department for Environmental Protection by scuba-diving in the reservoir. They found a part of the original cast-iron fence.

 After they set it on the ground near the chain-link fence then surrounding the water, another couple walked by and saw the original piece. They fell in love with it and told the Conservancy they would pay for the reservoir to be surrounded by a fence just like it. The entire capital improvement cost almost $2 million, but the new fence looks as the original was intended to in the 1800s.“Most of our best gifts come from individual donors,” says Blonsky. “We’ve had a recent couple anonymously donate a playground. They liked the result so much, they want to do another.”

 5. Unbelievable facilities

At most park visitor centers, the Conservancy hands out items to be used for recreation for free, and its employees man the booths. At Belvedere Castle, they lend out Discovery Kit backpacks with binoculars, a guidebook, maps and sketching materials. (You have to leave two forms of identification.) Fishing poles are given out at the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center near the Harlem Meer at the park’s northern end.

 6. A grand restoration

Before the Conservancy took over the daily management of the park, many sections were in total disrepair.

The Great Hill was frequented by drug dealers and prostitutes. Belvedere Castle was almost covered in graffiti.

One of the most trafficked areas of the park was Bethesda Terrace, designed by Vaux. Its restoration in the early 1980s breathed new life into this section of the park. The Bethesda Fountain celebrated the coming of fresh water to New York City via the Croton Aqueduct in the 1842.

“In the mid-1800s, it was believed the two ways New York City had to grow as a city were to get fresh water and to have a park that could push the residents of the city more north so it could grow,” says Blonsky, who has been with the Conservancy since 1985. “Those two things happened with the Croton Aqueduct and Central Park, and that allowed New York to become the greatest city in America.”

 7. Biggest real-estate growth

Between 1997 and 2007, the average value of properties on the blocks between Central Park West and Columbus Ave. increased 73% faster than the average value of properties between Columbus and Amsterdam Aves.

 That means the closer you to live the park, the more your apartment is likely to go up in value. Ten years ago, apartments one block off the park were slightly more expensive than those closer to it.

 Now, at an average of $1,603 per square foot, the value of properties on the blocks closest to the park is 20% higher than that of those one block farther from the park and 44% higher than the average value another block farther than that.

 8. Serious conservancy

In the late ’70s, when private citizens living near the park started to form groups to help its upkeep, Betsy Barlow Rogers, a city planner and author, formed the Central Park Task Force.

 In 1980, Rogers’ organization and the Central Park Community Fund became part of the newly formed Conservancy, which she would head for the better part of a decade. Rogers, in her 70s, still jogs in the park daily. Blonsky credits her as one of the main reasons the park was revitalized. She credits him.

 “I could not let my optimism and care for the park flag,” says Rogers. “The entire park had to be restored. Doug understands that we had to keep the consistency and vision of the original park plan, and that the day-to-day landscaping and restoration go hand in hand. You have to really feel that.”

 Today, working closely with and under the advisement of New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Blonsky and the Conservancy continuously help manage and improve the park. The Conservancy signs contracts with the city to maintain the park.

 Benepe understands that joining forces benefits the park and people who visit and use it everyday.

 “The Conservancy is a model for empowering people citywide to play a role in the public realm,” says Benepe, who is spearheading the mayor’s campaign to put a park within 10 minutes of every New Yorker’s front door and who worked as a ranger in Central Park in the 1970s. “You can’t have economic development without good parks. Central Park is the greatest park in the world. The concentration of wealth around it just doesn’t exist anywhere else.”

 9. Ensuring continuous maintenance

In a park double the size of the country of Monaco, Blonsky had to figure out a way to ensure that every inch of Central Park received close care. Breaking the park into 49 sections, each with a zone gardener and staff responsible for garbage removal, tree care, landscaping and more, Blonsky made people accountable for entire areas.

“One of the biggest problems was garbage pickup,” says Blonsky. “Once people had responsibility for a certain area, things really cleaned up. Now, if I see anything wrong in any section of the park, I know where to call.”

 10. Attention to detail, from trees to bridges

The Central Park Conservancy takes its job very seriously. For example, it uses GPS technology to identify and catalogue the more than 24,000 trees in the park. The most abundant, numbering almost 5,000 trees, is the black cherry, which ironically was never even planted in the park: Droppings from migrating birds prompted its growth. The stand of American Elms along Literary Walk is one of the last historic rows left in the United States. Similar stretches elsewhere fell to Dutch elm disease.

Bow Bridge and Oak Bridge were recently restored to look as they did when the park opened. Instead of the original carved oak, steel and aluminum were used to be stronger and more durable.

To support the Conservancy’s efforts to preserve the park or for information on events, visit Annual membership costs $50, but any donation, even $5, is always welcome. Most figures cited are from the Appleseed Report, a study done by the Conservancy to measure the economic impact of the park.