Times Square developer goes all in on tourism

Times Square developer goes all in on tourism

Crain’s New York Business November 14, 2017

In August Steven Witkoff flipped the switch on a 9-story, 18,000-square-foot LED billboard that wraps around the base of the luxury hotel his firm is developing at West 47th Street and Seventh Avenue. The screen is one of the largest in the world—big enough to stand out in a neighborhood long defined by glaring electric signs. It is also integral to the success of the entire enterprise, which is why Witkoff and his partners went to great lengths to make it happen.

The initial investors, who include Douglas Elliman CEO Howard Lorber, paid $30 million to buy out the owners of the nondigital billboards that previously adorned the building. Then they embarked on a complex construction process that required an artful interpretation of the building and zoning codes. It was spearheaded by the site’s general contractor, CNY Group, No. 110 on Crain’slargest private companies list.

By preserving at least one quarter of the original structure, the project qualified as a renovation rather than new construction. That distinction exempted it from recent zoning changes that would have made it more difficult to affix such an enormous sign to the base.

All that fuss is already paying off. The hotel and retail spaces are not quite finished, but the billboard is already generating revenue. It is unclear how much advertisers are paying to hawk their wares to the 500,000 visitors who traverse the neighborhood on a daily basis, but rates in the area can reach $35,000 per minute.

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