A Look Inside Vanbarton Group’s Pearl House Project in NYC

A sneak preview of Pearl House, one of the city’s largest office-to-multifamily conversions.

As more and more tenants leave old office properties in favor of highly amenitized workspaces, office-to-residential conversions are anticipated to play a pivotal role in introducing new apartments to the market, especially where land availability is scarce like in New York City. Vanbarton Group’s Pearl House project in the Seaport district is a good example of this trend.

Believed to be the largest office-to-residential conversion in New York City’s history, Pearl House has recently launched leasing for its upcoming 588 units. Previously a 24-story office building, the property is rapidly transforming into a 30-story community with studios and one- and two-bedroom units designed by Gensler. Located at 160 Water St., Pearl House is also set to include a 3,500-square-foot fitness center, spa, bowling alley, high-tech sports simulator, kids’ room, pet wash, as well as three interconnected lounges.

Multi-Housing News caught up with Vanbarton Group Managing Director Joey Chilelli to discuss the efforts behind converting a 1970s office building of this size into a modern residential community.

What were the top challenges you encountered while working on Pearl House?

Chilelli: There have been several physical challenges, including structural steel reinforcement, the removal of floor area—mechanical shafts/voids—to reallocate to other parts of the building that were much more usable and valuable, and planning for and physically installing all the new mechanical, plumbing and electrical risers that would need to be precisely planned to not be in conflict with the structural steel and leave us with great layouts for the apartments.

READ ALSO: Solutions for ‘Dark Spaces’ in Office-to-Residential Conversions

The redevelopment includes the addition of five new floors atop the existing 24-story office tower. Can you share details about the project’s layout before and after the transformation?

Chilelli: This is correct, but we also added a floor in the old double height mechanical floor, the 14th floor. So, in total, we added three full floors and three half floors, for a total of six.

The office building had perimeter offices, which took up just about all the natural light, and the interior of the floorplate included cubicles and an acoustic drop ceiling. The building had a central heating and cooling system from rooftop cooling towers and a central steam system on the 14th floor.

The new residential building includes apartments along the entire perimeter with new state-of-the-art glass to allow for maximum sunlight to engulf the apartment interiors. Additionally, a series of three voids/mechanical shafts were cut into the floorplate where we removed the concrete and metal deck to reallocate the square footage to the new floors.

Apart from size, what unique features sets the Pearl House project apart from other office-to-residential conversions in the city?

Chilelli: There are numerous and although we won’t go into detail on every last one of them, the main points include more than 30,000 square feet of amenities between a lower level, ground floor and roof deck, new types of uses for amenity spaces that reimagine the resident lifecycle at the building, recessed lights in all rooms of apartment homes. Gone are the days of needing to have a floor lamp unless a resident wants one for décor reasons only. Other amenities include built-in technology, ability to enter the apartment from your phone, light control from your phone, including dimming, heat/AC control from your phone, 24/7 package room, bird-friendly glazing on all glass up 75 feet, including residential units and the 16-foot ground-floor glass.

Additionally, the building is extremely energy-efficient and will reduce its carbon footprint from 5,000 metric tons of CO2 to just over 1,400. Numerous materials, including the flooring and insulation are Greenguard Gold Certified with low VOC caulk and paint.

What is the profile of the target renters?

Chilelli: We believe we will attract a demographic between 20 to 40 years of age on average. Students finishing up undergrad, graduate students as well as young professionals looking to get their first non-shared apartment. Additionally, professionals looking to be near the office or with great access in/out of the city or close to schools for their young children. The building will attract residents by the thoughtful design, finishes and amenity package and world class management staff.

Adaptive-reuse projects have become a common way to help ease the housing crisis, even in neighborhoods where you wouldn’t typically find much housing a few years ago. Tell us more about Pearl House’s location and how the Financial District is evolving.

Chilelli: Pearl House is situated in a location that has been home to a lot of exciting change, whether it was the new Pier 17 or The Tin Building, the Financial District has been changing for over a decade. Combine the exciting new venues with excellent schools, location for transit, water and greenspace, the Financial District is a proven residential neighborhood. Vanbarton has invested in the Financial District for years, including redeveloping the property next door, 180 Water, with a development partner in 2017, creating 573 apartments. Vanbarton saw the potential and has been a significant part of the activation of this area of the city from a 9-to-5 work environment to a 24/7 thriving community.

How do you expect this project to impact the NYC residential market once completed?

Chilelli: We believe Pearl House will show just what can be done with an outdated office building and the impact that it can have on the streetscape as well as the neighborhood with the amount of life that is being brought into the space. The thoughtful design, meticulously planned finishes, layouts and common spaces will deliver a new level of a hospitality feel to a residential building.

We also believe that although this office building is being converted to residential apartments, the impact we will have in our neighborhood will attract new retailers and office users to the area, bringing back the office space that was eliminated.

READ ALSO: Is Converting Office Into Multifamily a Good Fit?

Post-pandemic, conversions from office to residential have become more commonplace. What do you think is attracting investors to this niche?

Chilelli: The opportunity to create a residential asset, which is in high demand from an investor standpoint. The opportunity comes from the attractive acquisition basis and creating a core multifamily asset.

Will we see more of these conversions as remote and hybrid work become the norm?

Chilelli: Conversions have been taking place for decades and I do believe these will be more in the forefront versus background as well as more of them but not in a way that transforms all of the vacant or near vacant office buildings. This will certainly help bring a meaningful amount of apartments on the market.

Do you have any other office-to-residential conversions in the making or planned?

Chilelli: Yes—980 Avenue of the Americas is our next project where we are converting a former WeWork space of roughly 75,000 square feet to almost 100 apartments. This project is finishing up the planning stage and the team will commence demolition in the coming weeks with apartments coming to market in 2025.

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