Posts tagged with "Midtown East":

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Landmarks cites nonexistent permits for iconic Citicorp Center plaza

Last month the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) sidestepped a crucial discussion of a developer's plans to overhaul a plaza at the Citicorp Center (now 601 Lexington Avenue), citing permits that were, in fact, never issued (Update 5/8/17: see note at bottom). The opaque and irregular approvals process for these renovations—detailed below—deprived the public of the opportunity to weigh in on highly visible changes to the landmarked Citicorp Center, one New York’s most essential late modern buildings. Those changes especially impact a plaza and fountain by Sasaki Associates, one of the firm’s only surviving works in New York. In March The Architect's Newspaper reported on the planned changes to the building, one of the city's newest landmarks. The 59-story tower, designed by Hugh A. Stubbins & Associates in 1977, commands a busy corner in East Midtown, Manhattan. The landmark designation includes three interrelated structures—a 59-story, 915-foot-tall office tower on the western portion of the site, a six-story mixed-use structure nestled into the main tower, and St. Peter's Lutheran Church of Manhattan—all connected by a series of indoor and outdoor spaces that are privately owned but open to the public. At the Midtown East building, though, proposed changes to those spaces—known to city planners as POPS—have attracted attention.  The LPC put the Citicorp Center on its calendar for landmark consideration in May 2016, and, after one hearing on September 13, the commission declared 601 Lexington Avenue—three buildings and the POPS—a New York City landmark in December 2016. Typically, calendaring puts all renovations on hold—but not this time. In July of that year, just two months after calendering, the owner, Boston Properties, filed plans with the DOB for a $46.8 million renovation that included changes to the POPS and the six-story office-retail building at the base of the main tower. Fast forward to a March 21, 2017 hearing to discuss a proposed renovation, designed by Gensler, that included work on the building's facade. At this hearing, LPC commissioners twice stated that they couldn't comment on the plaza renovations because they were "already permitted" (5:38:01 and 5:41:40), while LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said the owner "already got the permits" for the plaza reconstruction. But where are those permits? The permits the LPC referenced could only been approved by one agency: the Department of Buildings (DOB). For this project, the DOB approves development plans, while the Department of City Planning's (DCP) City Planning Commission oversees and approves changes to privately owned public spaces. Neither agency can approve major changes to a landmark or potential landmark without LPC approval. Today, a DOB spokesperson confirmed to AN that the agency rejected Boston Properties’ plans (just this week, in fact) but stated that the owner may file new plans at a later date. With no permits on file, was the LPC referencing approvals from City Planning? At the March 2017 hearing, the commission stated that, because the DCP oversees privately owned public spaces, any changes to the POPS had to be—and were already—approved by that department. That’s true: At DCP, public review of the project commenced September 14, 2016—a day after the LPC’s September designation hearing—and garnered departmental approval on November 2, 2016, months after the May calendaring and a little over a month before designation. This bizarre dialogue between Landmarks and City Planning left no opportunity for the public to comment on major changes to a landmarked public space. The LPC was unable to confirm what permits the commission was referring to at the March 2017 hearing, despite repeated requests. The designation report (PDF) confirms that the DCP has oversight over the POPS, but it incorrectly says Boston Properties received DOB approval to modify the sunken plaza. (The designation report contains an additional error: The Citicorp Center's calendaring is listed as August 9, 2016 but an LPC press release pegs its calendaring to May 10.) The DOB confirmed that it had not issued a permit for the renovation of the POPS at the site. With regard to the plaza changes, "I'm not sure what the Landmarks Commission thinks it is doing," said Michael Hiller, Esq. Hiller is the founding principal of Hiller, PC, a New York City firm that litigates zoning, preservation, and land-use issues. At press time, the LPC issued the following statement:
The application before the Commission on March 21st was limited to the building’s façade. The applicant represented to the Commission that they had valid DOB permits for the work on the plaza that pre-dated designation and, as a result, that portion of the work was not before the Commission. During the process, the Commissioner’s reference was based on the representation by the applicant. If there were no valid DOB permits for the work on the plaza issued prior to designation, the applicant would be required to obtain an LPC permit prior to the issuance of a DOB permit.
A site visit this week revealed that there is construction fencing surrounding the perimeter of the plaza, though the stair to the subway through the sunken plaza remains unimpeded. Signs show a Gensler rendering of the revamped plaza and office building, above, but the only permits posted are for work on the 29th floor: Boston Properties could not be reached for comment on the current status of the renovations or the approvals process. The changes that DCP approved in Boston Properties’ land use application would add benches and would not reduce the total area of the POPS's sunken plaza. (Technically, to the DCP, the plaza is an "open air concourse," an exposed area that sits more than 12 feet below-grade and provides access to the subway. Here, at its lowest, the tiered public space sits 13 feet below grade.) Its 6,000 square feet of tables, chairs, and concrete gave the Citicorp Center a FAR bonus of almost 59,000 square feet. In exchange, the public received six trees, 19 tables, 76 chairs, and a designer fountain, plus retail at the western edge of the concourse. The DCP-approved changes would add two tables, eight chairs, and 153 feet of benches to the count, and a new fountain would replace the Sasaki fountain in "approximately the same location." Among other changes, the plans call for a stairway from the concourse to the sidewalk would be widened, and repositioned to improved pedestrian circulation from the subway to the street. The land use review application says the changes would "improve public access, provide better circulation and connectivity, and create a more visible and vibrant Public Spaces [sic]." This fountain-for-fountain, space-for-space tradeoff is acceptable per City Planning but for preservationists, the thought of losing Sasaki fountain is devastating. “The Citicorp Center is about public space—that’s what makes it architecturally interesting and designation-worthy,” said preservation activist Theodore Gruenwald. “We are seeing all of these changes done very much behind the scenes, without public oversight.” Designed by Sasaki Associates principal emeritus Stuart Dawson, the Citicorp Center's plaza and fountain is just one of the city’s 333 POPS, the essential New York City micro-spaces that make public places out of office building plazas, atria, and concourses. Introduced as a development incentive in the 1960s, POPS let developers build taller than zoning allowed in exchange for open space. Recently, though, the public-ness of these public spaces has come under threat. The election propelled Trump Tower's inaccessible POPS into the limelight, and the loss of the Water Street arcades last year has further highlighted the vulnerability of POPS, especially those that are more marginal. Though not a POPS, the owners of SOM's landmarked One Chase Manhattan Plaza tried—and failed—to build three glass pavilions on the building's plaza, a move that would have segmented the public space and blocked views of a massive Dubuffet sculpture. Rule-breaking POPS have caught the attention of the law, too. This month the office of the New York City comptroller released the results of a POPS audit (PDF), which found that more than half of the city's privately owned public spaces did not provide mandated access or amenities (though the POPS at Citicorp Center was in-compliance—at least by this measure). UPDATE 5/8/17: The DOB initially represented to AN that there were no permits issued for the work on the sunken plaza and Sasaki fountain. On May 5, 2017, the agency informed AN that an ALT–2 permit to remake the plaza was filed on November 18, 2016 and issued on December 2, 2016. The LPC signed off on the permits that same day, four days before Citicorp's landmarking on December 6 and well after the conclusion of the public comment period. AN plans to update readers on this developing story.
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Changes to this obscure rule could leave Midtown East streets shrouded in shadow

The streets of Midtown East could get a whole lot darker thanks to changes in a little-known equation (outside of architecture, anyway) used to calculate shadows cast by tall buildings.

The city is looking to change a method developers use to calculate how much sunlight a building will obscure once it tops off. Crain's reports that the Waldram diagram, as it's called, will be toggled to encourage taller buildings in Midtown East as part of that neighborhood's anticipated rezoning.

To illuminate city streets and sidewalks that snake through urban canyons, the formula dictates that building taper sharply as they reach towards the sky. Typically, when architects build tall, they are presented with two options: They can create classic, "wedding cake" style buildings with tiered setbacks aligned to the zoning, or they can use calculations like the Waldram formula to attain a smoother, graduated facade. Due to building codes that require multiple stairwells and additional smoke ventilation shafts, building tall becomes less efficient (i.e. more costly) as skyscrapers butt up against building codes and the formula, which applies in Midtown only.

The city is hoping that the rezoning will spur the development of more Class A office space in the 73-block district, which is losing potential tenants attracted to towers in the Financial District with larger floor plates. Consequently, proposed changes will permit towers up to 40 percent taller—and bulkier—than those currently allowed.

The Department of City Planning (DCP) estimated that the rezoning will lead to the construction of a few new towers, so it's unlikely that the entirety of Midtown East will be shrouded in perma-dusk in the future.

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Preservationists rejoice as Midtown East welcomes 11 new landmarks

Today it took the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) only an hour to rebuke some of the city's most powerful real estate interests by designating 11 new landmarks in Midtown East.

After hearing public testimony on the Ambassador Grill & Lounge and Hotel Lobby, the commission decided that the Pershing Square Building and the Graybar Building, as well as the Shelton Hotel Building, the Yale Club of New York City, and seven smaller structures, all between East 39th to East 57th streets, from Fifth to Second avenues, were worthy of landmark status.

As the neighborhood is rezoned to allow developers to build more Class A office space, preservationists are concerned that increased height and density allowances will threaten the district's historic architecture. To address the neighborhood's challenges in the face of impending change, in 2014 Mayor Bill de Blasio created East Midtown Steering Committee, a coalition of city agencies, reals estate interests, and nonprofits tasked with creating guidelines to shape growth. The LPC was asked to collaborate with the Department of City Planning (DCP) to make sure important historic items were calendared before DCP moved ahead with the rezoning.

Even as LPC commissioners praised the partnership between their agency and DCP as a "model" of future collaboration, groups with a financial stake in Midtown East especially opposed landmarking buildings like the Pershing Square and Graybar, which harbor key subway and commuter rail access points.

Although city officials who represent the district supported the landmarking of the Pershing Square Building, the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), Grand Central Partnership, the Riders Alliance, and architect Vishaan Chakrabarti, the founder of Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU), argued in July that landmark status would make it harder to upgrade the infrastructure underneath, a potential damper on the neighborhood's projected growth.

The Graybar Building faced a similar geography of public opinion. Despite support from the Municipal Arts Society (MAS), Landmarks Conservancy, and city officials who represent the district, the landmarking was opposed by the owners, SL Green.

In today's meeting, the LPC refuted the real estate and transportation groups' arguments with an appeal to history. The Pershing Square Building especially, said Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan, was developed concurrently with crucial infrastructure. “Mass transit is part of this building. The commission recognizes infrastructure improvements will take place, and historic buildings can adapt to that.”

"The city is undergoing radical transformation," said commissioner Adi Shamir Baron. Highlighting the massive construction site that will soon be One Vanderbilt, she added that even as demolitions represent the health and growth of the city, "the designation of these buildings, individually but especially in aggregate, these 11 go some way towards filling that gaping hole."

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KPF’s One Vanderbilt breaks ground, signaling new era for Midtown East

This week Mayor Bill de Blasio, developer SL Green, and other suited officials gathered for the ceremonial groundbreaking of One Vanderbilt Avenue, soon to be one of New York's tallest towers. The building, designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), will rise 1,401 feet skyward when it's complete in 2020. Notably, developer SL Green, the largest commercial property owner in the city, is investing millions in transit infrastructure upgrades in and around the site, which is across the street from Grand Central Terminal. Litigation that hampered development was settled in August, allowing the project to move forward. On the public side, improvements include a transit hall at the tower's base, a 14,000-square-foot pedestrian plaza on Vanderbilt Avenue, and more points of access to and from Grand Central for straphangers, Metro-North riders, and the Long Island Railroad's planned East Side Access. Grand Central, Mayor de Blasio noted at the ceremony, is the system's second-busiest, with 154,000 people passing through daily. The tower's enhanced public offerings are no accident, but an exchange for super size. The developer and city officials want One Vanderbilt to be a model of the type of development that could happen under the proposed rezoning of Midtown East. "By committing to $220 million in public investment, One Vanderbilt will benefit not only its tenants but the city as a whole," said Carl Weisbrod, chair of the City Planning Commission, in a statement. "As we move forward with a proposal to revitalize Greater East Midtown, we believe that One Vanderbilt will signal this neighborhood's full potential. For East Midtown, the best is yet to come." Weisbrod's remarks allude to the city's plans to add more competitive Class A office space to Midtown East to make the neighborhood more attractive to tenants who flock to modern office space downtown and in New Jersey. In October, Weisbrod told DNAinfo that the rezoning will most likely be approved within 12 months. The public portions of the 58-story building will come online before the project is totally complete. As for design, the tower's taper nods to New York's classic skyscrapers, while its sharp articulations express contemporary supertall ambitions. The $3 billion "trophy tower" will contain 1.7 million square feet of Class A office space, ceilings up to 20 feet tall, and de rigueur column-free floor plates. On its subastral levels, the structure leans back from the street, allowing previously obstructed views of Grand Central's cornice on its Vanderbilt Avenue side. More images of the project are available on the building's new website.
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NYC takes first step towards highly anticipated rezoning of Midtown East

The Department of City Planning (DCP) published plans to allow taller skyscrapers in Midtown East, the first step in the rezoning process for the Manhattan neighborhood. The Greater East Midtown Rezoning proposal seeks to raise the density ceiling for new construction by 30 percent for areas around Grand Central Terminal, bolstering the as-of-right density allowance for a 78-block area between 57th and 39th Streets and Madison and Third Avenues. A rezoning of the area was shot down in 2013 over concerns regarding the proposal's timeline and lack of adequate transportation infrastructure to support an influx of new workers. Under the new plan, greater density would be allowed near subway stations in the district's northern end and along Park Avenue, with smaller density allowances for buildings farther from subways. Crucially, owners of landmarked buildings would be permitted to sell air rights district-wide, not just to adjacent buildings. Although Midtown East is still a premier business district, the DCP says one impetus for the rezoning is that older buildings that populate the district may not offer desirable Class A office space in the long-term (300 of the area's 475 buildings are more than 50 years old). The Second Avenue Subway, which, if it's ever finished, will run on Midtown's eastern edge, may fail to deliver its ROI for the area if more density is not added quickly, DCP claims. The city projects that the rezoning could result in the construction of 16 new towers in the coming years, which would add 6.6 million square feet of office space. Right now, the district contains 70 million square feet of office space, Crain's reports. A public meeting to review the documents is scheduled for September 22.
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Developers Banking on Midtown East Rezoning

Even though the Midtown East rezoning is still under consideration, SL Green Realty is counting on it becoming a reality. According to Curbed, the developer has tapped architecture firm Kohn Pedersen Fox to design an office tower at 1 Vanderbilt Street located a block from Grand Central Terminal. SL Green needs the rezoning to be approved to move forward with the construction of their 1.55-million-square-foot building. The proposed rezoning would allow for taller buildings to be built if developers make a contribution to a fund called a “District Improvement Bonus,” which would be used for area-wide pedestrian network improvements.
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MAS Proposes 17 Midtown East Landmarks to Avoid “Out With The Old, In With The New”

In response to the New York City Department of City Planning’s proposal to rezone Midtown East, the Municipal Art Society (MAS) has asked the Landmarks Preservation Commission to give landmark status to 17 buildings in the 78-block area concentrated around Grand Central Terminal. It is a last ditch effort to preserve several prominent structures—with styles ranging Beaux Arts and Renaissance Revival to Neo-Gothic and Mid-Century Modern—before Midtown gets the green light to raze old structures and erect new (and taller) buildings that provide modern features for tenants who “want open space plans” wrote the DCP in its proposal. The New York Times described the re-zoning as part of the Bloomberg administration’s vision to re-vamp midtown and turn it into a more competitive business district. Some notable buildings that have made MAS’ list include the New York Health & Racquet Club in Gothic Revival Style, the Graybar Building with Art Deco accents, the Neo-Gothic Swedish Seamen’s Church, and the Yale Club noted for its neo-classical façade.
  1. 445 PARK AVENUE, Kahn & Jacobs, 1946-1947
  2. 450 PARK AVENUE, Emery Roth & Sons, 1968-1972
  3. 4 EAST 43rd STREET, Andrew J. Thomas, 1916
  4. 661 LEXINGTON AVENUE, York & Sawyer, 1925-1926
  5. 111 EAST 48th STREET, Cross & Cross, 1925-1926
  6. 18-20 EAST 50th STREET, Rouse & Goldstone; Joseph L. Steinman, 1915
  7. 420 LEXINGTON AVENUE, Sloan & Robertson, 1925-1927
  8. 509 LEXINGTON AVENUE, Schultze & Weaver, 1928-1929
  9. 56 EAST 42nd STREET, J.E.R. Carpenter; Dwight P. Robinson, 1928-1929
  10. 17 EAST 47thSTREET, Henry Otis Chapman, 1932
  11. 5 EAST 48th STREET, Wilfred Edward Anthony, 1921
  12. 125 PARK AVENUE, John Sloan (York & Sawyer), 1921-1923
  13. 250 PARK AVENUE, Cross & Cross, 1923-1924
  14. 525 LEXINGTON AVENUE, Arthur Loomis Harmon, 1922-1923
  15. 270 PARK AVENUE, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, 1956-1960
  16. 52 VANDERBILT AVENUE, Warren & Wetmore, 1914-1916
  17. 50 VANDERBILT AVENUE, James Gamble Rogers, 1913-1915
Download a PDF with more info on each building here.