By Brian J. Pape, AIA
The trouble brewing at the XI condo towers finally boiled over in late December, when lenders completed a foreclosure sale. News media had been abuzz about the beleaguered project’s portfolio of lawsuits and controversies for many months, and it wasn’t because the leaning towers were in danger of falling over.
The Witkoff Group and Access Industries announced Dec. 23 that they had arranged financing to restart work at The XI, the pair of twisting luxury mixed-use and condominium towers, currently addressed as 76 Eleventh Avenue.
The 36- and 26-story residential structures complex is the tallest set of buildings in this Chelsea neighborhood, filling in between the High Line and Hudson River Park, from 17th St to 18th St, directly across from Chelsea Piers.
Clad in light-colored travertine rain-screen panels (about 50% have been applied), the vertigo-inducing tilted façades avoid most orthogonal expression except at the podium. Strangely fitting, the façade leans out, but the glazing is set vertically, creating metallic ‘eyebrows’ around the windows.
In a symbiotic dance with the curvaceous glass facades of the Gehry-designed IAC building at West St. and 18th St., the various tilts and sways of the XI seem to match the angles of the IAC façade.
The ultra-bug-eyed ‘Lantern’ building also across 18th St. at Tenth Ave. is nearly as tall, so Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) carved the corners of their design to keep a distance from that. The sculptural contortions were also intended to reduce the overall apparent bulk of the towers, a difficult labor, probably difficult to appreciate from walking the High Line. The 900,000-square-foot project will feature 235 condos, a 137-room Six Senses Hotel Resort Spa, and 85,000 square feet of commercial space when it is completed, Crain’s Business NY reported.
“We are committed to completing this long-stalled project, which also includes a new public plaza and entrance to the iconic High Line Park,” Witkoff Chief Executive Steven Witkoff said in a statement. Financial details about the acquisition were not immediately released.
The original developer, Ziel Feldman and his HFZ Capital Group (HFZ), had paid $870 million in 2015 to buy the site, located directly against the High Line Park, and hired superstar architect firm Bjarke Ingels Group with Woods Bagot as Architect of Record.
The Britain-based lender Children’s Investment Fund (CIF) provided HFZ with $1.3 billion to start the project construction in 2017.
When HFZ failed to make payments to Omnibuild, the building’s contractor, in July 2020, construction came to a virtual standstill on the project and Omnibuild filed a $100 million lien against HFZ.
In January 2021, CIF sued in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, claiming HFZ had failed to make its monthly interest payments on the loan starting in April 2020. The court granted the lender its summary judgment in July 2021, declaring that HFZ and Feldman owe it roughly $136 million plus interest, and scheduled an October 2021 foreclosure sale for HFZ’s stake in the project, according to The Real Deal.
Nearly two dozen lawsuits have been filed against HFZ, Feldman and Meir in the past two years over unpaid mortgages and investor distributions at several projects, including investors with the EB-5 program, which allows foreigners to invest in developments that create at least 10 jobs in exchange for green cards, sources told Crain’s.
HFZ has already lost control of many of its other properties, according to Crain’s reporting. CIM, a real estate firm in California, has taken over four of its condo projects via foreclosure—88 and 90 Lexington Ave. in NoMad, 301 W. 53rd St. in Hell’s Kitchen, and the Astor on the Upper West Side. The Vanbarton Group has foreclosed on a $90.9 million mezzanine loan at a 34-story office tower in Midtown that HFZ was developing with the adjacent Marble Collegiate Church.
Having unfinished hulks surrounded by scaffolding for years on end is definitely an eyesore, so here’s hoping for a speedy recovery and completion, freeing up the High Line walkways and byways.
Brian J. Pape is a LEED-AP “Green” architect consulting in private practice, serves on the Manhattan District 2 Community Board Landmarks Committee and Quality of Life Committee, is Co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee, is a member of AIANY Historic Buildings Committee, and is a journalist specializing in architecture subjects.