New Port Authority
By Juan Espada
September 30, 2006
On The Corner: corner of 15th Street and Eighth Avenue, corner of 16th Street and Eighth Avenue, corner of 15th Street and Ninth Avenue and the corner of 16th Street and Ninth Avenue. That's the one square block in Chelsea that makes up the Port Authority building. Many things have changed in Chelsea but that building is still there in all its grandeur, though most of its tenants have changed over the years.
The building was designed by Lusby Simpson and completed in 1932 to house the Port Authority of New York. It is one of the largest buildings in the city, considered to be an architectural marvel and a landmark. The mammoth red-brick structure occupies the entire city block.
This became the headquarters for the Port Authority of New York organization for many years. They even had a heliport on the roof until that fateful day when a helicopter didn't make it and wound up hitting the side of the building. New York City laws were enacted shortly after that horrific accident forbidding helicopters to land atop any buildings and within the inner city. The heliports today can be found along the Hudson and East Rivers.
I don't quite remember what was at the corners of the building when I was in grammar school; that was a very long time ago. Today we find two banks (Citigroup and Washington Mutual), a Hilti store (hardware products and services for the construction industry) and, of course, a Starbucks Coffee shop. Also gone are the truck loading bays on 15th Street and 16th Street. These were great places to play Hide-and-Go-Seek. On weekends, some of the trailer doors were left open and so it became a great place to "make out" when we were in high school. The St. Vincent's Cancer Center now occupies this space with its main entrance on 15th Street.
Eventually, the Port Authority personnel moved to the World Trade Center after its completion. Citibank became the primary tenant in the building until they completed their own Citibank building in Long Island City.
Today, this art deco landmark is becoming one of the most important high-tech facilities in the world. The reason is what lies beneath 111 Eighth Avenue. Several years ago, a tremendous amount of fiber optic cables were dropped in Chelsea, primarily along Eighth Avenue/Hudson Street and Ninth Avenue. Consequently, this old Port Authority headquarters sits atop one of the main fiber optic arteries in New York City - the Hudson Street/Ninth Avenue "fiber highway." It is already one of the country's most important physical connection points of the world's telecommunications networks and the World Wide Web.
As a result, a high-tech juggernaut is getting ready to inject a big glob of silicon into New York City. Google plans to occupy about 300,000 square feet of space. The company will soon open a huge new office and networking facility at 111 Eighth Avenue. Google's new base in the city will dump a sizable influx of Google employees into the social and professional environment of Chelsea and the West Village.
Googles's ultimate goal is to become the planet's biggest computer network, bypassing all cable and telephone companies since it will "have access to as much bandwidth as possible and as much variety of bandwidth as possible," according to a technology consultant and the executive director of NYC Wireless. Some tech watchers have suggested that Google is building a nationwide wireless distribution network to bypass Verizon, AT&T and the rest of the telecom and cable companies. Others have speculated that Google is building its own "parallel Internet" so that it can exert maximum control over online information flow and distribution.
In 2005, the company spent some $838 million on facilities and hardware. Along with massive purchases of unused "dark fiber" (the underground fiber optic cable left dormant since the .com crash), the company has invested in a series of giant data and networking centers. These data centers are home to an estimated 450,000 individual servers. With its vast open floors and technological amenities, 111 Eighth Avenue appears to be an ideal location for a massive Google data center.
Google not only gains a giant space for a new server farm that will most likely house thousands of Google machines, but also gets direct access to the building's network area where telecommunications companies can physically hook up and exchange data cheaply and efficiently. Google would be able to expand its offerings of new Internet products and services such as Internet telephone service, video and Web-based enterprise software.
Last week, Google announced that it would offer a suite of Web-based software services aimed at business customers. It is worth noting that Citigroup, the world's largest bank, still has a network presence inside the Port Authority building. In theory, Google will be able to provide Web services to Citigroup directly through the internal network connections in the building bypassing service providers who buy and sell Internet access as well as top providers AT&T, Verizon, and Qwest.
For the time being, by installing itself above Chelsea's broadband "fiber highway" at 111 Eighth Avenue, Google can bypass many of the major telecommunications firms and interface directly with service providers that are also located in the building. This will significantly cut down the costs associated with reaching business customers on Wall Street and in the media and fashion worlds and generally throughout the Northeast power corridor from D.C. to Boston.
Depending on how the company allocates its employees and hardware, the new office will represent a significant infusion of Google jobs into the Chelsea area. Over time, there will be as many as 500 to 1,000 new hires due to the company's expansion into 111 Eighth Avenue. Google is hiring at a torrid rate to keep up with its rapid growth.
It remains to be seen just what impact the influx of Google employees into Chelsea will have. It will be interesting to see how Google's "quirky, geeky-yet-laid-back" culture will mesh with the trendy restaurants and exclusive clubs of today's Chelsea and the meatpacking district.
Google will likely pay at least $10 million per year in rent ( real estate industry estimates of the building's asking price is about $33 per square foot) not to mention the additional capital and labor investment in the economy of downtown New York City.
If anyone can afford Chelsea real estate, it's Google.