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NEW YORK CITY-Insignia/ESG has landed the role it was born to play. Next month, the firm will take over management and leasing of its headquarters property: the 2.8 million-sf MetLife Building, closing the books on one of the most coveted agencies of 2001.

While every major building manager in town champed at the bit for a chance to manage the Grand Central tower, Insignia’s prestige went on the line when the agency for its home base went up for grabs. Shorenstein Realty Services last month opted to give up the contracts for both the MetLife and Fred F. French Buildings, the latter a 425,000-sf MetLife-owned property at 551 Fifth Ave. Shorenstein had managed the properties for 10 years before deciding to get out of the business of handling third-party properties to focus on its owned real estate.

“We’ve been coveting this building for 10 years, that’s all,” quips Insignia chairman and CEO Stephen B. Siegel. “There were seven in the original bid list. We put in an enormous amount of man-hours on this, working out leasing, management, security, the renovation. It’s been a long, tough and somewhat nerve-wracking process because it was very important to us. We knew the competition was tough. There are some highly qualified firms out there.”

Insignia takes over both properties Jan 1. Office leasing will be handled by Keith Caggiano, Howard Fiddle, Lewis Miller, Peter Turchin and Jon Zuckerman; Paul Allegretti, Gregg Popkin and Wayne Taub will manage the property; and David Green and Allison Winters will handle the retail leasing end.

While the leasing contracts are expected to net millions in fees for Insignia, the management side of the deal is at least equally intriguing to industry watchers. With its multiple entrances and direct access to Grand Central Station, post-Sept. 11, Siegel says security issues at the MetLife Building will be at the top of Insignia’s priority list. Currently, security at the facility is tight but cumbersome, with visitors often waiting in long lines for visitor passes and bag searches.

“We’re working on it almost day and night,” Siegel tells GlobeSt.com. “We’ve been examining every single possibility you can imagine. Security agencies, turnstiles, cardkey access. We’re not nearly far enough in the process to target anything specific, but it will be a combination of people and technology, not one or the other.”Built in 1963 by architects Emery Roth & Sons, Pietro Belluschi and Walter Gropius, the 808-foot tower is and currently undergoing a lobby renovation as well as an external façade cleaning. Formerly known as the Pan Am building and sold to its current owner in 1981 for $400 million, the 58-story MetLife building is fully leased with no significant rollovers expected until 2005. Its current estimated value is $578 million, according to city records. 551 Fifth Ave., also leased up, was completed in 1926 by Fred F. French. It has an estimated worth of $44.5 million.

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