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NEW YORK — One Bryant Park has become New York’s latest fashionable address. Boasting 54 environmentally conscious stories and 2.1 million square feet of office space in midtown Manhattan, the new Bank of America tower will join the glittering New York skyline when it opens in spring 2008. And at least one law firm and lobby shop is snapping up space there. In August, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld leased the largest block within the tower that is not reserved for the bank itself. The firm is paying top market rates — upwards of $100 per square foot — for a 15-year lease on 204,000 square feet. That means a ballpark rent of $20 million per year. It’s a hefty chunk of change, even for a firm that represented Anadarko Petroleum Corp. in its $23 billion acquisition of Kerr-McGee Corp. and Western Gas Resources Inc. in June, and grossed $618 million in 2005. But the firm needs more room: Including the new fall class, Akin Gump’s current New York office hosts almost 175 lawyers, and plans to keep growing. New York managing partner Daniel Golden considers the lease a bargain, based on the assumption that rates in the neighborhood will continue to rise. “We’re talking about taking occupancy in September 2008,” says Golden, “and we’re at the lowest vacancy rates of all time in New York. I think when we get there, people will be paying $125 per square foot for comparable space.” Real estate analysts agree with the prediction. “That seems to be where rents are now for Class-A, top-tier office space,” says John Cicero of Miller Cicero, a commercial real estate appraisal firm in New York. Some commercial landlords are already asking up to $175 per square foot, according to Cicero. Explaining the allure of the Bank of America Tower, he says, “You’re in a brand new building, right in midtown Manhattan, in front of the park, near Grand Central Station and Port Authority. There are very few large blocks of space available.” The firm probably could have found something cheaper: The average rental rate in midtown Manhattan is $54 per square foot, according to a recent study by commercial real estate powerhouse CB Richard Ellis Group Inc. But Kenneth Rapp, an executive vice president at CB Richard Ellis, acknowledges that lawyers have special needs — window-lined offices with some internal space, but not too much; air conditioners that run 24 hours a day; and designer buildings that can work wonders for recruitment. Still, Rapp is surprised by the rent Akin Gump is willing to pay. “Triple digits are more hedge fund rates than law firm rates,” says Rapp. “Lawyers just don’t generally spend that much.”
Aruna Viswanatha is a reporter for The American Lawyer , an ALM publication where this article ran.

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