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Rockefeller Group Buying Land Under Rockefeller Center

February 5, 1985

NEW YORK (AP) _ After renting for more than 50 years, the Rockefellers have agreed to buy the land under Rockefeller Center, paying Columbia University $400 million for 11.7 acres of prime mid-Manhattan real estate.

The deal, announced Tuesday, covers the parcel of land between 48th and 51st streets, from Fifth to Sixth avenues - upon which sit the original 13 buildings of Rockefeller Center, including the RCA building, Radio City Music Hall, the ice-skating rink and, annually, the famous Christmas tree.

The Columbia Board of Trustees approved the sale at a meeting Monday. The transaction - which works out to more than $34 million an acre - is expected to be completed later this month.

To Columbia, the deal means an opportunity to garner more income on an investment that accounts for almost half of the university’s endowment. The Rockefellers had been paying $11.1 million a year in rent, and the university will quadruple that income by investing the money from the sale.

For the Rockefellers, the deal ″creates a whole new era of opportunity,″ with the possibility of improvements and new construction for the complex, said Richard Voell, the Rockefeller Group’s president and chief executive officer.

Columbia had owned the land since 1814. John D. Rockefeller Jr. rented it and in 1931, despite the Depression, started work on the complex.

Thirteen buildings were built on the Columbia parcel. Later, six other buildings were constructed on another 11 acres owned by the Rockefellers and their tenants. That part of the development was unaffected by the sale.

The Rockefeller Group and Columbia last negotiated a lease in 1973, in the midst of a glut of Manhattan office space that depressed prices. The lease ran until 2069, with rent renegotiation every 21 years.

Columbia President Michael Sovern noted the ″enormous prestige of this property and the possibility of its appreciation in value in the coming years,″ but he said ″so low a yield″ could not be justified.

Voell said the Rockefeller Group wanted to buy the land because the uncertainty surrounding the renegotiations of the lease made it difficult for the Rockefellers to make longterm investments in the center.

He implied there were no plans to sell the complex, emphasizing that the purchase signified a ″commitment″ to the center and to the city.

More than a million square feet of undeveloped space remains, most of its atop the smaller buildings in Rockefeller Center. Those buildings could be topped with higher structures, Voell said.

Voell said changes would be made cautiously. ″There’s a feeling that that’s the way it was and that’s the way it ought to stay,″ he said.

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