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Extell’s Fifth Avenue tower may have to build around mystery buyer’s holdout

When Extell Development Corp. builds a long-awaited supertall office-and-retail tower at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 47th Street, one piece will be conspicuously missing from the 1,100 foot-tall giant — the actual corner of Fifth Avenue and 47th Street. A mysterious Korean company swooped onto the site late last year and snatched up 576 Fifth Ave., the last parcel that Extell chief Gary Barnett needed to create a block-long façade on the avenue that he spent 10 years trying to assemble. He owns the rest of the blockfront — as well as vacant land and buildings along West 46th and 47th streets. But his massive project will have a large missing tooth at its northern corner. Now, questions are being raised about the timing and purpose of the Korean company’s purchase. Barnett recently filed plans with the Department of Buildings for options for two different towers at the site: One option, a supertall, would be mainly for offices and would have 1.5 million square feet of floor space. The other option, which would be smaller, would stand only 476 feet in the event Extell can’t land an anchor office tenant to build the jumbo. Both designs are wending their way through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, hoping to earn a significant size bonus in exchange for upgrades that Extell would make to the nearby East 53rd Street and Fifth Avenue subway station. Such deals are allowed under new East Midtown zoning rules. Among other proposed improvements, Extell would make the deep E, M and F station accessible to disabled people for the first time. But Barnett must also deal with the challenge of designing and constructing his new tower around 576 Fifth Ave., which opened in 1907. The Korean company swooped in last fall and bought the 1907-vintage, 12-story location for $101 million — or $1,285 per square foot. By comparison, the average fourth-quarter sale price for Manhattan office buildings was $954. The purchase price was below the $113 million asking price posted in October 2020, but much higher than other offers submitted in the blind-bidding process, according to a source. Sources said those offers last summer, including one from Extell, were in the $60 million to $80 million range. The pricier sale to the Korean group apparently took Barnett by surprise. The buyer’s identity was shielded behind an LLC. However, The Post has learned that it’s a South Korean holding company, Sae-A Trading Co. Ltd. The global firm manufactures and sells apparel through several subsidiaries. It also owns Southern California golf courses. The head of Sae-A’s US operations, Chloe Saiyon Kim, did not respond to e-mails seeking comment on her firm’s plans for 576 Fifth Ave. Barnett didn’t respond to requests for comment, either. Observers who didn’t want to be named wondered why Sae-A paid more than it needed to for a building faced with difficult years ahead. “Whatever they do, it’s going to be surrounded by Barnett’s project on three sides, with all the noise, demolition and debris that will bring,” one source said. “Also, although there are no rules, it’s considered bad form to step into another company’s assemblage just when it’s nearly complete.” Another possibility raised by a different insider is that Sae-A was aware of Barnett’s almost-complete assemblage and bought 576 Fifth in hopes of selling it to him for a higher price. However, that source said, “They already paid $101 million. What’s the upside if they sold it for a few million more?” In any event, there’s no indication that Extell and Sae-A have had any contact. Sae-A is said by sources to be highly secretive with a byzantine organizational chart. Despite having 60,000 worldwide employees at its various subsidiaries, it’s stayed below the radar in New York. Its only public-record mention was a lawsuit filed against it in December 2020 in Manhattan Supreme Court by a former vice-president, Victoria Kim (no relation to Chloe Kim), who claimed she was fired for not being a “traditional Korean.” She claimed she was subject to age and gender discrimination and victimized by a “hostile, intolerable workplace based on gender harassment.” Sae-A denied the charges last month. The case is pending.

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