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NEW YORK CITY-Less than a year after breaking ground, the final beam in the final building of Forest City Ratner Co.’s 16-acre MetroTech Center complex has been hoisted into place. The topping-out ceremony for 9 MetroTech Center South begins the 14-year, $1-billion project’s last chapter, and represents a milestone in the revitalization of Downtown Brooklyn.

Forest City Ratner president and CEO Bruce C. Ratner, Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz and Dr. Michael A. Stocker, president and CEO of anchor tenant Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield were joined by officials from the New York City Human Resources Administration–also a major tenant–for the topping-out ceremony. To commemorate the event, Ratner, Stocker and several city officials and civic, business and community leaders signed the steel beam before it was installed.

“The topping-out of this building brings us one step closer to completing our vision for MetroTech Center,” said Ratner. “And, as the first commercial office building developed in the city since 9/11, this achievement stands as a testament to New Yorkers’ historic determination to endure and thrive in the face of adversity,” he added.

Health insurance giant Empire will take 395,000 sf in the 670,000 building and will house 1,300 employees displaced in the World Trade Center attacks, where the firm occupied 450,000 sf. HRA has leased 193,000 sf for 700 workers in a deal negotiated by Robert Ballard, Frank Coco and Richard Donohue of Cushman & Wakefield.Then-Insignia/ESG powerbroker Mary Ann Tighe (prior to her leaving I/ESG for CB Richard Ellis), Joan Meixner and Howard Fiddle negotiated the long-term lease for Empire Blue Shield. (The same Tighe-led team negotiated a 105,000-sf Midtown lease for the firm in October.) Asking rents at MetroTech are in the high $30s and sources say the insurer made a deal in the mid-$30s for its space.

Tighe tells GlobeSt.com that Brooklyn “was not the obvious choice” for Empire Blue Cross, “but it became the first choice. And, in a way, the employees led the way.” She notes that the option of a setting up shop in a “new low-rise building, right at a transportation hub,” received the warmest employee reception of all the relocation choices offered, some of which were in Manhattan.

Tighe adds that the recent topping-off ceremony represents more than the completion of a building. “This is the first new building to be developed after 9/11,” she tells GlobeSt.com. “And it seems very fitting that the topping off should coincide with the anniversary of the event. It makes us focus on the fact that even from tragedy, positive things can emerge.”

Designed by Cesar Pelli & Associates in association with Swanke Hayden Connell, the building will feature 19 stories of office space and rise roughly 325 feet above street level. Typical floorplates have 37,000 sf of rentable space. Rents in the area are about $37 per sf.

The property is located at the northwest corner of Flatbush Avenue Extension and Myrtle, adjoining the headquarters of the New York City Fire Department located at 9 MetroTech Center North.

Originally designed as a 532,000-sf, 13-story building, the City Planning Commission approved FCRC’s request to modify its specifications last November and construction on 9 MetroTech Center was begun soon thereafter.

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