For eight decades, The Rockefeller Group has initiated some of the most memorable endeavors in American commercial real estate. Its proud tradition of real estate excellence began with the development of the world’s finest urban business and entertainment complex Rockefeller Center.
The company marks its 80th anniversary on December 6, 2008. It was incorporated December 6, 1928, as the Metropolitan Square Corporation.
After building the original 6 million-square-foot, Art Deco complex throughout the 1930s and into the ’40s, The Rockefeller Group developed several towers in the immediate vicinity in the ’50s and ’60s. By the early ’70s, the company had added four International Style towers to Rockefeller Center on the west side of Avenue of the Americas, more than doubling the size of the original center.
Beginning in the mid-1970s, The Rockefeller Group applied its distinctive brand of quality to develop signature office complexes across the country, and the company began acquisitions and formations of new business lines complementary to its office development and management core. The expansion of these activities has been especially vigorous since the mid 1990s.
1930s & ’40s
1950s & ’60s
In the 1950s, The Rockefeller Group led an office real estate expansion onto the western side of the Avenue of the Americas. The company entered a partnership with Time Inc. to construct the 48-story Time & Life Building. That tower, which opened in 1959, is credited with launching the renaissance of the west side of the Avenue of the Americas, as well as the expansion of Rockefeller Center itself. (In December 1986, The Rockefeller Group purchased Time Inc.’s 45 percent ownership of the building.)
The Rockefeller Group continued developing real estate opportunities in the immediate vicinity through the ’60s and into the ’70s. In 1962, it constructed the 43-story Sperry-Rand Building at 1290 Avenue of the Americas. The following year it purchased the 28-story Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company Building at 600 Fifth Avenue. Later that same year the company participated with the Uris Building Corporation (its partner on the Sperry-Rand Building) and the Hilton Hotels Corporation to build the New York Hilton on the Avenue of the Americas.
New Towers Double Rockefeller Center’s Size
At the end of the ’60s, The Rockefeller Group announced its plans for the three largest additions to Rockefeller Center: 1251, 1221, and 1211 Avenue of the Americas, better known at the time as the Exxon, McGraw-Hill, and Celanese buildings, respectively. These buildings added over 6 million square feet of prime office and retail space to Rockefeller Center and have been commercial successes. Today, The Rockefeller Group maintains an ownership and/or management position in the 7.7 million square feet of premier office space that makes up Rockefeller Center’s western corridor.
1970s & ’80s
Beginning in the mid-1970s, The Rockefeller Group embarked on a series of important strategic ventures and acquisitions, expanding its reach well beyond Rockefeller Center and augmenting its activities to new businesses complementary to office development and management.
In 1976, The Rockefeller Group acquired Cushman & Wakefield, Inc., a New York City commercial real estate brokerage firm, from RCA, one of the original and most prominent tenants of Rockefeller Center, itself later acquired by General Electric Corporation. Cushman & Wakefield, founded in 1917, expanded exponentially as a Rockefeller Group company, becoming a full-service real estate company with over 40 offices across the country during the 1980s. Beginning in the early 1990s, Cushman & Wakefield began a vigorous global expansion.
Signature Office Towers Developed Across the Country
Also in 1976, The Rockefeller Group formed a new subsidiary, Rockefeller Group Development Corporation, which has since built some of the most successful office complexes across the United States. The developments include the following:
Suburban Offices, Foreign Trade Zones
In 1978, The Rockefeller Group joined with a local developer in Morris County, New Jersey, and began development of a 7 million-square-foot build-to-suit business park called the International Trade Center (ITC).
At the end of 2000, approximately 50 percent of the project had been developed. In the constructed buildings, the ITC is fully leased and boasts such international tenants as BMW of North America, Seiko Corporation of America, Calvin Klein Cosmetics Company, Lucent Technologies, and BASF Corporation.
A key component of the ITC is the federally chartered New Jersey Foreign Trade Zone, which allows imported goods to be assembled or warehoused without incurring import duties or tariffs until they actually leave the trade zone to enter the U.S. market for sale.
Beginning in the mid-1990s, The Rockefeller Group began developing additional suburban office parks and foreign trade zones, described briefly ahead.
Business Communications & Technology
In 1984, following the breakup of AT&T, The Rockefeller Group formed Rockefeller Group Telecommunications Services, Inc., to give Rockefeller Center tenants a single onsite source for all telephone service and equipment needs, and to deliver The Rockefeller Group's brand of service quality and customer satisfaction.
While growing to become the preferred provider among Rockefeller Center tenants, RGTS also expanded its services to other buildings in Manhattan, and then to key locations to meet client needs across the country.
To remain at the forefront of communications technology, RGTS has continuously updated its infrastructure, expertise, and services. RGTS adopted its new name Rockefeller Group Technology Solutions at the start of 2005 to better reflect the broad communications services and solutions it provides.
1980s & ’90s
In 1985, The Rockefeller Group purchased from Columbia University the land underlying the original 1930s Rockefeller Center buildings, which became national landmarks later that same year. The purchase allowed tenant leases to be extended beyond the 1994 limit of the land leasehold. Also, it made practical a wide-ranging $300 million capital investment plan to upgrade the infrastructure, amenities, and some aesthetic features of the 50-year-old buildings to sustain their Class-A status and attractiveness. Finally, the land purchase made it possible to place a $1.3 billion mortgage loan on the landmarked portion of Rockefeller Center. The lender was Rockefeller Center Properties, Inc. (RCPI), a real estate investment trust.
Continued operation and capital enhancement of Rockefeller Center’s landmarked properties was viable and indeed attractive through the 1990s, despite the severe real estate recession New York City endured for much of the decade’s first half. But the prolonged recession outlived the landmarked properties’ ability to service the $1.3 billion mortgage debt incurred in 1985 to RCPI. In July 1996, The Rockefeller Group transferred ownership and management of the landmarked portion of Rockefeller Center to RCPI in settlement of the debt. Today The Rockefeller Group maintains an ownership and/or management position in the 7.7 million square feet of premier office spaces that make up Rockefeller Center’s western corridor.
The Rockefeller Group strengthened its position in commercial real estate in 1989 when Mitsubishi Estate Co. Ltd. (MEC), one of the world’s largest real estate companies, became its majority shareholder. MEC is a leading international owner and developer of first-class commercial and residential real estate. As a result of a series of stock purchase options, MEC today holds a 100 percent stake in The Rockefeller Group. Mitsubishi’s commitment to commercial real estate has enabled The Rockefeller Group to continue pursuing new opportunities and to sustain growth among all its subsidiaries. Mitsubishi Estate Company has increasingly called upon The Rockefeller Group and its subsidiaries to assist with Mitsubishi’s own developments in the U.S., and it lent its strong support to Cushman & Wakefield’s entry in Tokyo’s commercial real estate market in 2000.
Cushman & Wakefield, already a leading national real estate services firm, began a broad, sustained global expansion in the early 1990s. The objectives were twofold: to meet the increasingly complex real estate needs of its many multinational clients, and to remain at the forefront of its own increasingly competitive industry. At the end of 2000, Cushman & Wakefield had 10,000 employees and 145 offices in 46 countries around the world.
Serviced Office Business Formed
The Rockefeller Group expanded into yet another area of commercial real estate in 1993, through its formation of Rockefeller Group Business Centers, Inc. RGBC rents premium individual offices and suites, fully furnished, equipped, and professionally staffed, by the day, week, or month. RGBC has opened multiple locations in New York and on the west coast. As anticipated, the markets for serviced offices and commercial real estate have proved excellent complements to each other.
The Rockefeller Group’s other subsidiariesin real estate development and management, brokerage and real estate services, and business telecommunicationshave each enjoyed significant new growth in revenues and activities since the mid 1990s.
Development of offices, suburban office parks, Federal Trade Zones, and distribution/light industrial facilities flourished in the new century, first in New York and New Jersey, then in Florida, California, and other locations across the country. Business growth in these areas drew upon The Rockefeller Group’s established expertise and its expanding recognition for premiere development quality and high satisfaction from occupants, property investors, local governments and regulators, and concerned community groups. Development activity in 2002 numbered 11 projects in 4 states totaling approximately $600 million. By the end of 2006 there were 26 projects in 8 states totaling over $2 billion.
In 2005, The Rockefeller Group became the official Master Developer for a portion of a historic area in Shanghai, China, known as The Bund, once the home of the city’s financial and trade industries. The Rockefeller Group and its partners are redeveloping a six-block historic area in three phases, restoring the area’s landmarked buildings and developing new, architecturally compatible buildings to evoke the best of the world-renowned glamour and elegance that Shanghai enjoyed during the 1920s and ’30s as a center for international trade and travel.
Real Estate Investment Management Business Entered
The Rockefeller Group formed a new partnership in 2003 enabling it to participate in real estate investments and developments backed by pension funds and other large institutional investors. The company acquired CommonWealth Partners, a real estate investment management and development firm that was one of eight core real estate investment companies serving CalPERS the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, one of the country’s largest institutional investors. When office prices subsequently rose to record levels, CWP sold most of its building portfolio in 2005 for more than $1.5 billion, netting an excellent return.
The Rockefeller Group subsequently formed a new real estate investment subsidiary in 2007, Rockefeller Group Investment Management, to coordinate all investment management activities for the company and to raise funds to underwrite a greatly expanded real estate development program.
Brokerage Business Divested
After the company’s development growth needs diverged increasingly from those of Cushman & Wakefield, its real estate brokerage and services subsidiary, The Rockefeller Group chose to sell its controlling interest in C&W at the end of 2006 to IFIL Group, the investment group of the Agnelli family of Turin, Italy, most widely recognized as the founders and owners of Fiat Group, the leading auto manufacturer in Italy.
The sale agreement was crafted to provide solid support from IFIL for C&W’s continued expansion into diverse real-estate service specialties and to markets around the globe. The sale’s proceeds aid The Rockefeller Group’s expansion of the real estate development and investment management businesses. At the time of the sale, C&W had achieved its highest valuation in the 30 years that The Rockefeller Group had owned it.
2000s The Rockefeller Group Today
Today The Rockefeller Group is an admired leader in a broad range of commercial real estate businesses and related services.
Rockefeller Group Development Corporation owns and/or manages 10 million square feet of premier Manhattan office space, and on a national level it currently has more development projects underway than at any other time since the company was formed, a pipeline valued at more than $2 billion. www.rockgroupdevelopment.com
Rockefeller Group Investment Management coordinates all investment management activities for The Rockefeller Group, including raising funds, structuring joint ventures, and managing investor relations. www.rgim.com
Rockefeller Group Business Centers, Inc., The Rockefeller Group’s newest company, has enjoyed strong, steady success since it first opened its doors in 1994 to rent individual furnished offices and suites. RGBC now has four locations, for a total of 400 serviced offices. www.rgbc.com
Rockefeller Group Technology Solutions, Inc., has proved an enduring business success and source of long-term customer satisfactionrare, elusive achievements in a rapidly changing industry. Since its formation in 1984, immediately following the break-up of AT&T, RGTS has extended its comprehensive on-site telephone and communications service to over 30 Class-A office towers, over 500 client firms, and over 50,000 telephone lines. RGTS’s success today is rooted firmly in its founding commitments to remain at the forefront of advancing communications technology and to define and deliver the highest standards of customer service. www.rgts.com