A towering symbol of Black achievement is joining the New York City skyline. Affirmation Tower, which is currently in the development phase, is set to not only be Manhattan’s second tallest building by spire height, but the first skyscraper built by Blacks in the city’s history.
The building is a product of a dream team of Black developers including architect Sir David Adjaye (best-known for designing the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.); real estate firm The Peebles Corporation, led by Black multi-millionaire R. Donahue Peebles; century-old Black and woman-owned design construction firm The McKissack Group; real estate investor Steven Charles Witkoff, founder of the Witkoff Group; and Exact Capital.
The team made its presentation to the Empire State Development Corporation last month in response to a request for proposals (RFP) with a commitment of 35% in contracts to people of color totaling more than a billion dollars.
Affirmation Tower will be located at 35th and 36th Streets, 11th Avenue and Hudson Boulevard West––across the street from the Jacob Javits Center, one block from the High Line, Hudson Yards and the No. 7 subway line. The project will sit on 1.2 acres and include a 1663-foot tower, two hotels, an observation deck and skating rink as well as commercial office spaces.
Affirmation Tower’s roof height would be taller than One World Trade, however, out of respect for what One World Trade Center represents, the team chose to frame the skyscraper as Manhattan’s second tallest building by spire height, and One World Trade would remain the tallest building in the city.
More than 55,500 New Yorkers will be hired over six years including 15,000 permanent jobs, bringing in more than $3.5 billion in new tax revenue for the city and state over 30 years. Another $3.5 billion is to be spent on the project which will be awarding contracts. The project will provide $4.4 billion of new economic output per year.
Affirmation Tower will house offices for the Mid-Manhattan branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The branch’s former building on the Upper West Side was demolished. Negotiations are underway to also house offices for the NAACP New York State Conference in Affirmation Tower.
In an interview with the AmNews, NAACP New York State Conference President Hazel Dukes said NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson thought it was a great idea to put the offices in the Affirmation Tower because of the building’s African American influence.
“It will be historical for the city and the state of New York,” Dukes said. “This will really be the icing on the cake for what we’ve been fighting for all these years. McKissick and Don Peebles have a track record. They are qualified and they can do this.”
In an interview with the AmNews, Cheryl McKissack, President and CEO of The McKissack Group, said 80% of Affirmation Tower will be Black-owned and aims to be a tourist destination similar to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The McKissack Group will be a 10% partner on the building.
“It’ll gain so much notoriety because it’s never been done before,” McKissack said. “We need something big and bold to say that New York is the place that you want to be because we’re forward-thinking, we’re progressive in our thinking. We’re not just doing the status quo. We’re doing something new here. This project is emblematic of true equity in development. A symbol for all who visit New York, cementing in brick and mortar that New York is serious about economic inclusion.”
McKissack added that Affirmation Tower is a concept she hopes will be replicated in other cities across the nation. The building is getting international attention because of its historical significance.
“Affirmation Tower in New York will spur other developments across the country, especially in urban areas,” McKissack said. “Other cities are taking note and they’re competing for people to come to their cities and they know that this is a big attraction. We’re striving for excellence here. If you go to Affirmation Tower versus the Freedom Tower or Hudson Yards, you’re gonna have the same level of quality.”
Exact Capital, which will be a 10% partner, will serve as financiers, project management and communicate with all members of the development team. The company’s managing partner, Craig Livington, said the racial equity movement in 2020 has opened people’s eyes and acknowledged that economic opportunity has not been fairly allocated amongst all Americans.
“Affirmation Tower is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to contribute to the rebuilding of New York City coming out of this COVID era,” Livington said during an interview with the AmNews. “For African Americans, it’s a unique opportunity to affect the skyline in New York City to build a building that will be an international landmark for generations to come and also a source of pride for African Americans. This building affirms the concept that we can be broad, we can be inclusive, and that African Americans can participate in the economic story of New York.”
Livingston adds that the project will feed the “Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) ecosystem” creating jobs and economic stimulation for the Black community.
“Whenever a Black developer is awarded a project, we have a much higher propensity to employ more African American, Black, minority companies and they in turn employ Black and Brown employees,” he said. “We are feeding this ecosystem. These dollars are being proliferated through different companies and into our communities and it’s meaningful. This is something that should happen all over the country as we look at the reopening of so many different cities and the rebuilding of so many different economies coming out of this COVID era.”