The Peace Pentagon on Lafayette Street Hits the Market Again as Development Opportunity

Posted on: March 2nd, 2015 at 5:11 am by

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The Peace Pentagon, circa 2010

For the second time in exactly five years, the storied Peace Pentagon on Lafayette Street, the decades-long haven of progressive activism owned by the AJ Muste Memorial Institute, is again on the chopping block. Price of the pitched development site is not listed (i.e. soliciting offers), but the last ask was pegged at $5.95 million. And also repped by Massey Knakal.

This time, brokers are employing the hard sell to unload the three-story neighborhood gem. Literature is complete with a glossy 46-page brochure that sings the praises of the building’s historical significance and the attraction of being in “one of the fastest growing luxury neighborhoods in New York City.” Ironic, considering the Peace Pentagon will likely be destroyed once purchased anyway. The only saving grace is that the property resides in the NoHo Historic district which offers protections.

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Photo: Massey Knakal

The lucky buyer will have 21,158 buildable square-feet for a new development if there’s a community facility included. Any plans would need approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, though.

The property, alternatively known as 51-53 Bleecker Street, offers the perfect opportunity for a developer to design their own property among some of the most architecturally distinct buildings.

The property is zoned M1-5B, allowing for a commercial or hotel development as- of-right. The recently developed 51 Astor Place and re-developed 770 Broadway, have brought a large stock of office product and high quality commercial tenants to NoHo. Tenants at those buildings include IBM Watson Group, Claren Road Asset Management, St. John’s University, AOL, and J Crew. There has also been a rush of technology and fashion firms moving to the area including YouDocs, CCP Games, and Smokestack Studios. The high demand in the area has translated to rents in excess of $100/SF.

Although located in an M1-5B district, a developer could seek a special permit for residential, as multiple nearby projects have obtained a variance, in order to construct residential condominiums at 337 Lafayette Street.

Not mentioned in any of the literature is the fact that this building has a history of distress. Indeed, as the New York Times reported back in 2007, the Peace Pentagon is sinking, with only a measly scaffolding keeping it afloat. At the time, it was estimated that repair work would cost at least $1 million.

And here is a brief synopsis of that history:

In 1969, the War Resisters League bought 339 Lafayette, a three-story loft building in downtown Manhattan. WRL needed to leave its offices in the City Hall area on Beekman Street, and 339 Lafayette was the cheapest building that could be found at around $80,000. In 1974, the A.J. Muste Institute was founded in part to buy the building and maintain it as a permanent center for social change organizing. In 1978, with a dream of establishing a permanent home in New York for the nonviolence movement, the Muste Institute purchased the building from the War Resisters League and began managing it as part of its program work.

For the past nearly-forty years, the building has served as a home base for dozens of activist groups and progressive organizations working for peace. The financial support provided by renting out the commercial space on the building’s ground floor as well as the Muste Institute’s fundraising activities have allowed these groups to secure low-rent office space in a convenient location.

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