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Magic’s kingdom

NBA Hall-of-Famer buys Williamsburgh Bank tower

The Brooklyn Paper


He conquered the NBA, he’s a giant in the retail franchising field and now Earvin “Magic” Johnson towers above Brooklyn with his latest purchase — the Williamsburgh Savings Bank tower.

An investment fund led by the NBA Hall-of-Famer teamed up with a New York developer to purchase the building at 1 Hanson Place, the borough’s tallest, the partners announced this week.

They plan to convert the city landmark office building, which stands 34 stories and 512 feet tall, into luxury condominiums with ground-floor retail.

The Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund, which incorporates Johnson’s development company —which also has another luxury condominium project in progress in Park Slope, at 45 Park Place — “focuses on the development of urban properties in under-served neighborhoods,” according to a press release by the company.

They teamed up with the Dermot Co. to purchase the building. One report had the price tag at $71 million, although that could not be confirmed by press time.

From the time it was built in 1929 until 1962, the Williamsburgh Bank building’s four-sided clock was the largest in the nation. A city landmark, the grand limestone building, which combines Romanesque and Byzantine elements, is overdue for a facelift. Besides HSBC bank, which sold the tower and will vacate its eight floors, the building houses the offices of many dentists.

A project manager for Canyon-Johnson, Bobby Turner, said he saw the Williamsburgh tower opportunity as “unrivaled” and “unbelievable.”

“The whole mandate of the fund that we manage is to revitalize densely populated and ethnically diverse communities, and look for unique opportunities to contribute in development,” Turner said.

“Here’s a building that was built in the 1920s that is unparalleled in its landmark status and architectural design. It has the fourth largest four-faced clock in the world, it’s got unobstructed views of Manhattan, we are strategically located at the front door of one of the largest business transit terminals [in the city],” he said.

“The amenities are all right there,” Turner added. “It really just provides us with a great backbone for urban revitalization.”

“We’re taking this great asset and revitalizing it and providing the community with [216] unrivaled condos,” said Turner.

He added that although plans included offering “community services” and retail on the ground floor, the public would not likely be permitted access to any part of the upper floors once the residential conversion is through. Until the sale, an observation deck had been accessible afforded spectacular views of the New York Harbor and Statue of Liberty, as well as Brooklyn itself.

Asked about the possibility of a public viewing station in the building, Turner said, “This will be a private condo facility. I think when it operated as a commercial office building that was one thing, but I don’t think insurance would provide for a private condominium residential building to offer that kind of access.”

With an anticipated completion date of the summer of 2006, and an already-secured broker in the Corcoran Group, Turner said the investment fund isn’t bothered that plans for new residential and office towers down the block, as part of developer Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards plan, could dwarf the iconic bank building.

Ratner’s plan, which includes 17 towers ranging from 110-feet to 620-feet tall, would build the new tallest building in Brooklyn only a block away at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues. Those towers are part of the company’s plans to build a professional basketball arena and 17 office and residential towers on property emanating from the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues and stretching three block into Prospect Heights.

“I think our theory and philosophy’s always been we don’t need to be the biggest, we need to be the best,” said Turner.

“We think this will provide the best services and amenities for the community.”

Johnson, a five-time NBA champion, won the league’s Most Valuable Player award three times and was three times named MVP of the NBA finals. After retiring from the NBA, he became something of a mogul starting ventures that include joint involvement through his Urban Fund with the TGI Friday’s restaurant chain, Magic Johnson Theaters movie multiplexes and Washington Mutual Home Loan Centers.

Last September, Johnson’s company opened a Starbuck’s in Ratner’s Atlantic Center mall, across the street from the Williamsburgh tower, and he appeared at the official opening to throngs of adoring fans.

“I’ve been here a number of times already,” Johnson told The Brooklyn Papers during the coffeehouse grand opening. “I know the people are nice, but I also know the people are hardworking. It’s a great community and it’s a community that I’m happy to be a part of.”

Unlike the housing being talked about in the Atlantic Yards plan, half of which development company Forest City Ratner has vowed will be “affordable,” all of the units in the Williamsburgh Bank building will likely be high-end if the Dermot Company sticks to its trademark of remodeling for luxury housing.

A rental development of theirs in Kew Gardens, Queens, fetches a starting price of $1,155 a month rent for studios.

Neither Dermot nor Canyon-Johnson spokesmen would address how much they paid for the building, which was put on the market by HSBC Bank in June 2004.

Initial projections by brokers estimated the property to be sold for $60 to $90 million.

The New York City Employee Retirement Funds-New York City Employees’ Retirement System, Teachers’ Retirement System, New York City Police Pension Fund and New York City Fire Department Pension Fund are among the investors in Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund II and, thus, 1 Hanson Place.

New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. said of the purchase, “One Hanson epitomizes the double-bottom-line agenda we have set forth for the City’s retirement funds: to do good for the people of New York and to do well financially for the City’s pension plans. By making smart, profitable investments like 1 Hanson, we have created a win-win formula for success.”

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