Concrete was also at the heart of the matter in another interesting CM project in Manhattan, what became Olympic Tower, across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Rockefeller Center at 51st Street and Fifth Avenue. The site had been occupied for many years by a Best’s department store, and had recently been bought by an old friend and client, Arthur Cohen of Arlen Real Estate. Cohen had had us build a Kmart mall in Yonkers when he had been CEO of Kmart, and now he wanted us to construct his new building. Arlen Real Estate also owned a concrete company, and that became part of the story.
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His partner on the site, who owned a property adjacent to Best’s in which he had had his New York headquarters, was Aristotle Onassis, the Greek shipping and airlines magnate. Olympic was the name of his airline, and that would give the building its name.
The two men had formed an equal partnership and hired SOM to design a building. Before that process was complete, Cohen wanted to hire us as Construction Managers.
There was a wrinkle, though. A real estate construction consultant to the Port Authority and to Pan Am wanted to recommend us to Onassis. So I was in the enviable position of being recommended to both partners in a venture. But the consultant wanted me to represent only the Onassis interests, not the Arlen interests.
The first big question to be answered, in terms of construction processes, was whether the building should be steel or concrete. Steel is usually recommended for office buildings, and concrete for residential buildings; concrete floor construction actually has better sound dampening qualities than steel, and can better absorb sound so that the noises from one apartment and floor will not bother tenants in the next apartment. Since this was to be a mixed-use building, offices on the lower floors and luxury apartments above, we might have used either system. Onassis, heavily involved in the shipping business, favored steel; Arlen owned a concrete subcontractor.
In sum: Arlen wanted an all-concrete building, while SOM (and Onassis) wanted an all-steel building.