15 July 2007

Never in his wildest dreams did professional wrestler Lou Albano imagine the United Nations moving into his own 79-year-old building. Little did he known that before the end of the year 2007, 700 after 700 of U.N. staffers for three consecutive years will be parked under his carved name on East 46th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues. Our well-rounded neighbour who, when in action, wrapped a rubber around his goatee would have been glad to learn some new literature, other than songs of his once-favourite Cindy Lauper, like "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." They call it politically correct "terminology." Like "Capital Master Plan," a code word originally intended for getting rid of one third of the existing staff under technical guises. Another term is "swing space," to relocate occupants of 10 floors at a time, an organized deportation pending reconsideration, in 2009, of everyone's job, title and level. Otherwise, how would you renovate the U.N. building without somehow renovating its U.N. staff? That, indeed, was the Master Plan -- the "Quiet Revolution" initially entrusted to a willing insider like Kofi Annan who was unexpectedly derailed by those Oil-For-Food, sexual harassment and nepotism scandals. Now a "tabula rasa" -- a blank board -- will have to start anew -- and quickly, before a five year term expires.

Now if the U.N. compound, built in the 50s, is considered old and risky, Albano's was built in 1928, about a quarter of a century earlier. Clearly, the rent is lower than elsewhere in the neighbourhood. But its interior is totally gutted. Part of the deal reportedly is that the U.N. will pay for total renovation while similarly paying for the upgrading of its own premises. So, rental, plus total renovations (plus contracts) will be contributed to make Mr. Albano look like a distinguished international civil servant. Already, a Spokesman for the Capital Master Plan, a Mr. Werner Schmidt, told Real Estate Weekly that "those who go to the Albano Building are the lucky ones because they only have to move once." How many times do the others have to move? It depends on who you talk to. There is mention of about 300, mostly from Information Technology (with its new Korean chief) will be moving across the river to Long Island City in a new building hosting the U.N. Credit Union. That, by the way, is a sound choice. The Library would share an expanded warehouse at the Falci (not Fulci!) building. Other library staff would spread between DC1 and 2.

There is certainly a boom in Manhattan real estate and construction is ongoing every day. There are good deals, bad deals, so-so deals and offers that you couldn't refuse. Perhaps Albano's is one of them. Ali Baba will be opening next door. Perhaps the Chef de Tandoori will be persuaded to join the move.