Commercial Real Estate & Advisory

Lower E. Side Landmark Draws Brits

By Theresa Agovino | October 20, 2008

Consulting firm takes entire building, uncovers more hidden treasures

British consulting firm ?What If! has signed a 10-year lease for all of 137 Second Ave., a landmarked building constructed in 1884 to provide medical care to German immigrants.

?What If!, which specializes in business growth strategies, will use the 14,100-square-foot property, between St. Marks Place and Ninth Street, as its U.S. headquarters. It plans to move from the 5,000 square feet it rents at 62 White St. by the end of October. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

The ornate façade of the red brick and terra cotta building trumpets its original function, with busts of Hippocrates and other scientific pioneers. The three-story property has been home to a series of medical facilities, the last of which closed in 2005. Redevelopment plans, including one to turn it into apartments, faltered over the years because of objections by the community and the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Two investment firms, 135 Second and Lower East Side Equities, bought the building last year, thinking that its prominent East Village location would attract retail tenants. After some deals fell through, the owners were introduced to ?What If! Managing Partner Nina Powell.

Ms. Powell, who calls the building “phenomenal,” especially liked the high ceilings, 8-foot-wide wrought-iron staircase and great natural light. During renovations, the firm discovered details such as skylights that had been blocked by dropped ceilings and stained-glass windows that were covered by walls.

Ms. Powell expects the office environment to inspire effective campaigns for ?What If! clients, which include Nike and HSBC. “Gray spaces produce gray ideas,” she says.

SINVIN REALTY broker MICHELLE STONE represented the tenant. The investment firms represented themselves.