On the eve of World AIDS Day, dozens crammed into the City Planning building in downtown Manhattan where the Rudin Organization presented plans for the former St. Vincent’s Hospital site at a Universal Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) hearing. The commission is set to vote on the plan on January 24, but over the last few months yet another issue has emerged at the long contested site. Activists from the Queer History Alliance continue to press for an AIDS Memorial to be placed at a proposed park across the street from the former hospital, which was considered ground zero during the height of the AIDS crisis.
The so-called Triangle Park has played an interesting role throughout the ULURP. Privately owned by the Rudin family, the park, along with the old O’Toole building, holds air-rights integrated into the development plan across the street where the Rudins want to build a multi-use project that includes housing, retail and a school.
The park sits atop an underground storage space. The Queer History Alliance would like to turn the park into a memorial and the storage space into a museum. Rudin representatives expressed concerns that ranged from above ground access via elevators and stairs, to a Certificate of Occupancy for an underground museum, and adjustments to the environmental impact study.
Earlier this year, Queer History’s Christopher Tepper and Paul Kelterborn, both urban planners, began lobbying for the memorial and by September the group announced a partnership with Architizer to sponsor an international competition for new designs, despite the fact that the Rudins had already retained landscape architects M. Paul Friedberg and Partners for the project. On Monday, Architectural Record signed on as a co-sponsor. The deadline for the competition is January 21 with winners announced on February 1—eleven days after City Planning’s vote.
Tepper said that the competition would seek to combine passive recreation with memorializing. “We don’t want a park that is designed independently from a memorial,” Tepper said in a telephone interview. “It’s about marrying those two ideas.” He added that the group is looking for a “thoughtful place holder and flexibility so that the design process can work its way through.”
By proposing the memorial, the Queer History Alliance threw the latest monkey wrench into the Rudins’ five-year odyssey, which saw the collapse of St. Vincent’s, an unrealized Pei Cobb Freed design, the preservation of Albert C. Ledner’s Maritime Union Building (aka-the O’Toole Building), and new design proposals for the Triangle Park, seen by many as a new gateway to Greenwich Village.
The jury for the competition includes many arch-world stars, but jumps beyond borders. Michael Arad will chair. He is joined by Record‘s Suzanne Stephens, landscape architect Ken Smith, novelist Kurt Andersen, MoMA’s Barry Bergdoll, Elizabeth Diller, the High Line’s Robert Hammond, GMHC’s Marjorie Hill, choreographer Bill T. Jones, and Richard Meier.
There has been some pushback from residents. While the community board supported the notion of the memorial, it also held reservations about using the below ground space. At a meeting in September one resident pointed out that the Village already has an AIDS memorial in Hudson River Park. Nevertheless, the board favored the memorial, as did Borough President Scott Stringer.
At the hearing, Rudin executive vice president John Gilbert pointed out that the project encompassed practically every major urban issue, from education, to preservation, to housing, and open space. “All well meaning policies collide here,” he said of the site.
No matter the outcome of the competition, any commemoration would need support from the Rudins, as they own the property. Earlier M. Paul Freidberg designs did include gestures towards memorializing the AIDS crisis and the Sisters of Mercy who worked at St. Vincent’s through discrete pavement markers. But a discrete plaque is not what the Queer Historians have in mind. “No way is that type of marker commensurate with 100,000 New Yorkers who have died,” said Tepper.