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Citi doesn't live here anymore as name comes off New York skyscraper

Bloomberg  |  New York 

Citigroup Inc, the global bank that got a $45 billion government bailout, faces another indignity: Its name will be stripped from the Citigroup Center in Manhattan after 30 years.

Building owner Boston Properties Inc will rename the tower 601 Lexington Ave next year after completing lobby and plaza renovations, said Arista Joyner, a spokeswoman for the real estate company. The move “doesn’t have anything to do with Citi’s current difficulties,” she said.

Citigroup Center joins a long line of iconic midtown skyscrapers from the RCA building to the Pan Am tower that have been given new identities as their namesake companies were bought, sold or failed. In Citi’s case, the bank, which is firing 52,000 workers worldwide, hasn’t owned the 59-story building for seven years and occupies three floors, according to property data service CoStar Group Inc It had 18 floors in 2001.

“Buildings no longer have important historic status for companies, if they ever did,” said Kenneth T Jackson, a Columbia University history professor and editor of the “Encyclopedia of New York City.” “As they get larger and larger, one building does not mean much.”

The change will happen as Citi Field, the New York Mets new baseball stadium, opens in the borough of Queens. New York based-Citigroup agreed to pay $400 million over 20 years for naming rights to the property, the richest contract of its kind ever. The Major League Baseball stadium opens April 13.

In Midtown, Citigroup is losing its place in the skyline by choice, said Joyner of Boston Properties.

The name change has been in the works “for years” and is part of an agreement Boston Properties has with the bank, said Joyner. “They have been great tenants for us and we’re happy with our relationship with them. We expect Citi to remain a large tenant in the building.”

Citigroup sold part of its stake in the building in 1987. Boston Properties bought a controlling stake in 2001 for $755 million. Citigroup’s current headquarters is at 399 Park Ave.

A decade after the tower on Lexington Avenue and East 53rd Street was built in 1977, the company, then named Citicorp, acquired several low-and mid-rise buildings in the area after then Chairman Walter B Wriston surveyed the view from his windows and told someone to “get rid of those massage parlours,” according to “New York 2000: Architecture and Urbanism Between the Bicentennial and the Millennium,” by Robert AM Stern, David Fishman and Jacob Tilove.

The silvery tower, designed by Hugh Stubbins and Emery Roth, is known for its “stilts,” which lift the base above the street, and its 45-degree angled top. Architecture historian Carter Horsley wrote on his web site that it was “the most dramatic skyscraper to be erected in midtown since the Chrysler Building” 11 blocks to the south.

At 915 feet, it is the city’s seventh-tallest building, according to Emporis.com, a commercial building database.

Renamings of skyscrapers often don’t work, said Carol Willis, director of New York’s Skyscraper Museum and author of “Form Follows Finance,” a book about the nexus between big buildings and big business.

The former RCA building’s name change to GE, for General Electric Co, hasn’t “taken very well,” she said.

“It just doesn’t make sense to have it be called Citigroup Center anymore,” Robert Selsam, Boston Properties senior vice president in charge of its New York buildings, said at an October investor conference. “And frankly, we’re tired of the fact that every time Citibank has a problem all of the TV cameras come and photograph the Citigroup Center sign on the front of our building.”

First Published: Mon, December 15 2008. 00:00 IST
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