As New York City Mayor Edward Koch praised the $868-million deal that gave a Japanese company controlling interest in the largest shareholder in the Rockefeller Center, people in the street today expressed anger to see another piece of Americana fall into foreign hands.
The sale came just weeks before the lighting of the famous Christmas tree that overlooks the center's skating rink and the opening of the Radio City Music Hall Christmas show with its high-kicking Rockettes.
"Money talks very loudly," New York resident Sumner Baye said. "It's amazing. . . . I wish we could keep it in American hands. I don't think it's very good to be selling everything to the Japanese."
The sale Monday gave Mitsubishi Estate Co. a 51% interest in Rockefeller Group Inc., the largest shareholder in the 57-year-old, 19-building complex in midtown Manhattan.
Mayor Koch praised the deal at a news conference with representatives of both companies, saying New York is an international city and should be pleased to get foreign investment.
"The undercurrent here is there is some threat because the participants are not American. That's ridiculous," said Koch, who called critics of the deal "xenophobic" and said Rockefeller Center was not going anywhere.
"How can anyone suggest foreigners can't make investments in the international capital?" he asked. "The fact is we grow with those investments."
Koch and the companies took pains to say that no changes were planned in Rockefeller Center and that the money will help renovate and expand the area.
"Radio City Music Hall will go on forever," Koch said.
New Yorkers, however, were not happy with the deal, the latest in a series of sales to foreign investors of key pieces of city real estate.
"I'm disturbed like a lot of people," commented James Hesslin on his way through the center. "We seem to be selling the country away. New York is like that; Los Angeles is like that. The Japanese are buying property all over."
Tove Borgnine, a cosmetics company owner and wife of actor Ernest Borgnine, said seeing another country buying a piece of property built by the Rockefeller family was "very sad.
"We really have to start maintaining some American spirit in the sense of keeping our property," said Borgnine, a Los Angeles resident on a visit to Manhattan.
She said she meant no disrespect to the Japanese, calling them a "wonderful people," but "this is our land."
The center between 5th and 6th avenues and 48th and 52nd streets was built mostly during the Depression. Its centerpiece is 30 Rockefeller Plaza, a 70-story limestone masterpiece. Long called the RCA Building, it recently was renamed the GE Building after General Electric Co. bought RCA.
In addition to the ice skating rink and Radio City, the center has 15 million square feet of rental space. It has 388 elevators, 35 restaurants and a weekday population of 240,000.