Italy's Agnelli family, which controls the Fiat car group, has teamed up with the Greek shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos and David Rockefeller in a $440m (pounds 280m) bid for control of the Manhattan office and entertainment complex. The investment bank Goldman Sachs is also backing the bid.
The entry of the trio of billionaires means that the 80-year-old Mr Rockefeller, who is worth an estimated $1.3bn, now has the financial backing for the bruising fight to win back the prestigious property, which was built by his father, John D Rockefeller Jr.
The consortium is in a three-way fight for control of Rockefeller Center Properties, holder of the $1.3bn mortgage on the property. It faces competing bids from a group led by the Chicago investor Sam Zell, who is backed by the Walt Disney entertainment group and General Electric, and another consortium led by one of the company's biggest shareholders, Gotham Partners.
The battle also has a broader significance. The Rockefeller Center is the last commercial property bearing the name of the Rockefellers, who six years ago sold 80 percent of the ownership to Japan's Mitsubishi Estate. Mitusbishi placed the property under bankruptcy protection last May. Now the Rockefellers want it back.
Last week, Mr Rockefeller, the family patriarch, said he would contribute $200m from his own pocket together with the Agnellis and Mr Niarchos.
The Rockefeller Center, a landmark complex of buildings in midtown Manhattan, is home to McGraw-Hill, Time Warner and General Electric's NBC studios. Its Art Deco buildings surround an outdoor skating rink that at Christmas time is decorated with an 80-foot fir tree, rivaling Washington's national Christmas tree. Radio City Music Hall and the Rockettes have been an entertainment tradition since the Great Depression.
The Agnelli family, headed by 75-year-old Gianni Agnelli, and the 86- year-old Mr Niarchos each plan to contribute $90m to the bid in return for a 20 per cent stake.
Mr Niarchos, a self-made man who was forced to leave college at 19 to work in his uncle's flour mill, now has an estimated net worth of $4bn, according to Forbes magazine. Mr Rockefeller's $20m investment would entitle him to a 5 per cent stake in the Rockefeller Centre if the bid was successful. Goldman Sachs, which is contributing $220m to the offer, would hold the remaining 50 per cent.
Rockefeller Center Properties shares closed at 7 5/8, down 1/8 on the New York Stock Exchange.
The company's board meets today to review the bids.