Skip to main content

The Empire State Building vs. 15 Penn Plaza: the battle over views recalls Miss Brooklyn vs. the Willy B (except there were promises from FCR)

After a hearing yesterday, the New York City Council is expected to vote Wednesday to approve a new, 1216-foot tower, 15 Penn Plaza, across the street from Penn Station and two blocks away from the iconic, 1250-foot Empire State Building (ESB).

The ESB's owner, Anthony Malkin [updated], protests that the new tower would block a unique asset on the city's skyline--an argument that depends, of course, on perspective, as the renderings below (via the Times) suggest.

And the campaign against that new tower by the ESB's owner, on a web site and in full-page newspaper ads, sounds a little like the criticisms about the impact of Frank Gehry's Miss Brooklyn tower on the iconic Williamsburgh Savings Bank.

There are a few key differences, however:
  • in Brooklyn, there was a much stronger case against the new tower, given that Forest City Ratner promised at the start that it wouldn't block the bank's iconic clock
  • in Brooklyn, the new building would be positioned on perhaps the main view corridor for the older building
  • in Manhattan, unlike Brooklyn, the owner of the older building spent money on a public campaign to raise awareness
The view from Vornado


The view from the ESB's owner


The dispute

From the ESB web site:
It is not ESB’s height that makes it New York’s most iconic structure. There have been and will be other big buildings in New York City. The World Trade Centers were taller than ESB, and the long-awaited 1 World Trade Center will be taller still. It is not height alone which defines ESB, but its place in the skyline and in the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions around the world.

The proposed development at 15 Penn Plaza—less than two blocks away from ESB—will dilute the distinction of New York’s skyline, our city’s public face to the world. In considering this development, the City Council is poised to rule on an adverse impact on the public face of New York to the world. The impact of 15 Penn Plaza as proposed on the unique setting of New York City’s largest Landmark has to be prominently considered.

This is not about banning tall buildings, but about preserving the very uniqueness of the New York City skyline with ESB visible from its midpoint to its spire, its slender shape during the day and its lights at night, its iconic stature which has become the iconography of New York City. To set precedent to allow ESB to be crowded out by nearby buildings of equal height is to set New York City on a path of Beijing or Shanghai and drown out its uniqueness. Similar to the loss of Penn Station, but at a much more visible scale, this is a precedent which should not be allowed.
The likely resolution

This is not an as-of-right development (to replace the Hotel Pennsylvania) but rather a tower with a 56% density bonus, approved by the City Planning Commission--which answers to Mayor Mike Bloomberg--but disapproved by the local community board, which, according to the Times, cited the lack of a rationale for the density bonus and the potential for long delays.

Vornado would put some $100 million into transit improvements and, of course, has the support of construction unions.

The Times story concluded:
Councilman Leroy Comrie posed a final question at the meeting on Monday that seemed to foretell how he would vote: “Is New York City a snapshot taken in 2010 to be held in perpetuity, or is New York City an evolving, dynamic entity?”
Of course the city is an evolving, dynamic entity; the question, rather, is how and under what rules does it evolve.

The Post editorialized:
[ESB owner Anthony] Malkin needs to get over it.

This isn't an endorsement of the Vornado project per se. Given the torturous New York City project-review process, it's hard to say what the building ultimately will look like.

But it most certainly is a rejection of Malkin's bizarre assertion that his skyscraper deserves such protection.

It's NIMBY-ism gone mad.

Skylines do change. Alas, sometimes for tragic reasons -- as seen on 9/11.

But mostly for positive ones.

Great cities are organic -- vibrantly reflecting the aspirations of the people who live in them.
Except spot rezonings aren't so organic.

A budget caution from the Daily News

The Daily News editorialized against the ESB's perspective but did issue a caution:
The Council should shrug off his attempt to determine whether a skyscraper should go up based on how it would look in a postcard of the Empire State Building. That said, the Council needs to closely measure Roth's plans using a more mundane yardstick: money. He wants to trade transit improvements for a boost in the normally allowed scale of the tower. The Council must determine, in a transparent manner, that the cost and benefits of the transit investments merit the zoning bonanza.

His plan calls for building subway entrances on Seventh and Sixth Aves., installing or improving stairways, widening subway platforms and putting in elevators and escalators. Roth would also reopen a pedestrian passage that crosses underground from Seventh to Sixth, the Gimbels Tunnel.

Closed in the 1980s, the passage would be a shopping strip that relieves sidewalk crowding and provides climate-controlled movement all year.

All big pluses. But, as the community board concluded, most of the improvements would be necessary or beneficial to Roth's two moneymaking propositions: the new building and the Manhattan Mall. The planning commission ruled that Roth's transit investments justified a zoning bonus. The Council needs to be sure.
And did the numbers work for Atlantic Yards? Official city and state agencies never did a rigorous analysis.

The Willy B flashback


Plans for the flagship Atlantic Yards tower, now known as Building 1, are on hold, but, at as I wrote 12/22/06, Miss Brooklyn, though shorter, would still block the clock.

Forest City Ratner agreed to lower the announced 620-foot Miss Brooklyn tower a sliver below that of the iconic 512-foot Williamsburgh Savings Bank nearby, meeting the request of Borough President Marty Markowitz, who had called for the bank to remain the borough's tallest building.

But many residents also asked that architect Frank Gehry's self-described "ego trip" not block the bank's signature clock tower. To achieve that, the developer would have had to make a much greater sacrifice: make the tower even smaller and/or move its footprint.

(Graphic of 620-foot Miss Brooklyn from Final Environmental Impact Statement. Click to enlarge.)

And moving Miss Brooklyn, apparently, was not on the table, even though Forest City Ratner in its initial project announcement on 12/10/03, promised to do just that: The northernmost building on the site, an office building, will be set back slightly from the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, to maintain the view corridor to the Williamsburg Bank building.

The defense came from Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which observed that moving the building east wouldn't be feasible from an engineering point of view and, anyhow, any private owner on that plot could build at that height. (Of course, the private owner is Forest City, so they could follow their own pledge.)

Isn't that called a bait-and-switch?

The Beekman Tower

Interestingly, Gothamist cited another Forest City Ratner building, Gehry's downtown Beekman Tower, which is blocking some views of the iconic Woolworth Building but not generating controversy, in part because it has drawn praise from architectural critics.

In other words, new buildings can coexist if they earn their place. Fair enough. Except there were no promises in Lower Manhattan, were they?

Comments

  1. andrew malkin ≠ the owner of esb. get it right.

    ReplyDelete
  2. My error in trusting the Post, which had it wrong. It's been corrected--my apologies to Anthony Malkin.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

"There is no alternative": DM Glen on de Blasio's affordable housing strategy

As I've written, Mayor Bill de Blasio sure knows how to steer and spin coverage of his affordable housing initiatives.

Indeed, his latest announcement, claiming significant progress, came with a pre-press release op-ed in the New York Daily News and then a friendly photo-op press conference with an understandably grateful--and very lucky--winner of an affordable housing lottery.

To me, though, the most significant quote came from Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who, as the Wall Street Journal reported:
said public housing had been “starved” of federal support for years now, leaving the city with fewer ways of creating affordable housing. “Are we relying too heavily on the private sector?” she said. “There is no alternative.” Though Glen was using what she surely sees as a common-sense phrase, it recalls the slogan of a politician with whom I doubt de Blasio identifies: former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a Conservative who believed in free markets.

It suggests the limits to …