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.
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Terminal 6 has been on Death’s Row at least since June 2010. So why are so many aflutter now? It’s an old adage but a persistent one: It hasn’t happened until the New York Times reports it, or until there’s a television tie-in as newsworthy as the cheesy jet set-orama, "Pan Am" on ABC. As NYT’s David Dunlap pointed out, the boarding gates are already rubble. More to the point, he describes structural innovations so sophisticated that they are invisible:
While many architects speak of creating transparent spaces, Mr. Pei actually achieved the effect through the complex engineering that underlies the seemingly straightforward structure. The main pavilion of Terminal 6 sits under a deep steel roof truss that rests on the spherical tips of 16 enormous cylindrical concrete columns. That eliminated the need for load-bearing walls, which allowed Mr. Pei to design a pioneering all-glass enclosure that is suspended from the roof truss. Even the supporting mullions between the main window bays are made of glass. One can look all the way through the terminal and out the other side. All sorts of subtle maneuvers make this transparency possible. For instance, rain is drained off the roof in channels that run through the spherical joints between the roof deck and the supporting columns, eliminating the need for any visible ductwork.In other words, no lovable wings on this hub. Instant image points helped get a last minute reprieve for that other threatened terminal, Saarinen’s TWA, while this one has the slight chill of a grainy B&W that appeals more to connoisseurs. The web-wide chorus of shock and disbelief that got twittering this morning is too late and too little to stop the destruction. Meanwhile Saarinen’s TWA may have been saved, technically, but its current state of limbo is way too far off the beaten path for eager travelers racing to get on security line, and it is far from secure. We keep asking Andre Balazs about his plans to turn it into that utter oxymoron—a hip airport hotel—but no plans have materialized, and he’s busy rescuing hotels that already exist in the East Village. Good luck, Terminal 6, and see you in the history books.
Another entry in the good bad news department today, as the Post breaks the big story that St. Vincent's hospital in Greenwich Village is on the verge of bankruptcy again. According to the tab, crosstown rival Continuum Health, which runs Beth Israel, St. Luke's and Roosevelt hospitals is prepared to take over the city's last remaining Catholic hospital, and it could close many of the hospitals services, such as surgical and in-patient care, and possibly even the emergency room, one of the few on the west side of Manhattan. So how is this good news, that this critical hospital might close? Well, that pride of place, combined with the first bankruptcy, was part of the reason St. Vincent's used to justify its major expansion and real estate deal with the Rudins, which would have created a new hospital by Pei Cobb Freed and a huge condo project by FXFowle. Now all that could be in doubt:
The proposal throws into doubt St. Vincent's existing plan to build a new medical facility and sell its campus to the Rudin Co. for $300 million to erect a condo complex. The hospital had only just gotten the go-ahead from the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission last summer to proceed with its $1.6 billion modernization project after years of protests.While there is still time for a resolution to be worked out—we got about a dozen different press releases about the news from shocked and concerned politicians today—it looks like the hospital's expansion plan is at least on hold, possibly indefinitely. This could mean that the dogged efforts by preservationists to preserve the O'Toole building, formerly Albert C. Ledner's one-of-a-kind National Maritime Museum Headquarters, could be back on life support and possibly on the way to a full recovery. Not to mention a victory for the Village NIMBYists who felt threatened by two new towers in their low-rise, historic neighborhood.
Goldman Sachs has been much in the news lately for its continued blockbuster bonuses as much of the workforce continues to languish. But the new headquarters for the company designed by Harry Cobb has also made headlines for some time now thanks (or no thanks) to construction accidents. The latest occurred this weekend, when glass panels fell in the middle of the night from the 38th floor onto the West Side Highway, shutting it down for a few hours according to the Post. The Tribeca Trib also reports the accident also shut down a Battery Park City ice rink that was set to open Sunday, delaying the inaugural opening by a day. What's worse, though, is the Trib says construction managers knew about a crack in the panes that precipitated their fall but delayed fixing it.
Robert Blackman, Tishman’s executive vice president, said workers had spotted a half-inch-long "hairline" crack in a window on the 38th floor of the $2.4 billion office tower on Nov. 13, but chose to put off replacing the glass until after the external construction hoist on the north face of the building was dismantled. “[The broken glass] was deemed not to be a safety concern to us,” Blackman told a Community Board 1 members Tuesday night, upset over this, the fourth reported incident of falling objects from the site. “I would have been the first to have stopped the job if we thought it posed a risk to this community.” Blackman said “unusually high winds” the morning of Nov. 28 were likely what spread the crack across the upper portion of the 10-by-7-foot window. Around 7:30 that morning, pieces of the window fell off of the building, landing on West Street and on a platform inside the construction site.That's more than two weeks between spotting the damage and the accident. Were this the first problem at the site, that might be understandable, but as has been widely reported with the news of this latest accident, it's not. There was an errant piece of steel that fell onto a neighboring soccer field in the middle of a game, a hammer that hit a cab, and, most tragically, the seven tons worth of girders dropped on a construction trailer that paralyzed the architect trapped inside. What has not been mentioned yet, though, is that falling glass is nothing new for Pei Cobb Freed.
A double whammy came last week for Boston developer Don Chiofaro's Boston Arch project, which we first wrote about last month. On Thursday, The Boston Business Journal ran a story suggesting Chiofaro was stuffing the BRA's mailbox with letters supportive of his KPF-designed project, while the following day it reported that the aquarium the project was meant to improve feared for the worst. The letters are part of the redevelopment authorities public comment period, and among them was one from the president of the Boston Aquarium who wrote that, according to the Journal, "the project threatens the long-term viability of the Aquarium." As we noted in our June report, officials at Massport were concerned about undue impacts on Logan flight paths, something Chiofaro told us was being addressed. But maybe note, as the Journal turned up the following comment in a Massport letter:
“Massport strongly supports the continued economic development of the City of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” the letter stated. “However, as owner and operator of one of the Commonwealth’s most critical transportation infrastructure assets, Massport cannot condone and urges you to help prevent any degradation of the airspace surrounding Boston-Logan by tall structures proposed as part of this project.”Chiofaro did not comment for the story, but what he had been doing was far more intriguing:
In total, there were 381 letters and postcards submitted in support of the Harbor Garage project, compared with the 252 letters opposed to the project. [...] Of the 266 postcards in favor of the 1.5 million square foot mixed-use project, 144 were signed by people who do not live in Boston, according to the BRA.Then again, most of those letter opposing the project came from residents of the neighboring Harbor Towers apartment buildings, who obviously have a stake in the project not going forward. Looks like it's up to the BRA on this one, though if that is any indication, Chiofaro may just be out of luck.
We've been following the proposed hospital cum condos plan for St. Vincent's rather closely as its percolated through the LPC the past year-and-a-half, but due to conflicting plans and just a smidge of St. Vincent's fatigue, we couldn't make it to yesterday's latest hearing on the Rudin condo proposal. As we understand it, though, it was no different than the proposal unveiled 51 weeks prior. What was on view, however, were some fancy new renderings of those same old buildings, which you can find here. According to the Times, the proceedings were raucous as usual, with some 80 opponents speaking out against the project, a 233-foot condo tower designed by FXFowle along with a handful of condo conversions made out of historic hospital building. These apartments, developed by Rudin Management, are meant to help finance the recently approved 286-foot hospital tower designed by Pei Cobb Freed that will rise across Seventh Avenue on the site of Albert Ledner's former National Maritime Union Headquarters. "Essentially, they felt the building had to come down," LPC spokeswoman Elisabeth de Bourbon told us today in a phone interview. Did they happen to say how big is too big? "They didn't specify," de Bourbon replied. "They just said it was too bulky and too tall." Dan Kaplan, the FXFowle partner in charge of the project, assured us the firm would be back. "I was encouraged by the Commisisoners' constructive comments on the scheme presented," he wrote in an email. As for these renderings, it's always impossible to tell what a building will really look like once it's built, but these don't seem so bad, do they? Then again, the design team has often been criticized by the commission for manipulating their media to only produce the desired affect. But hey, who can blame 'em?
The Observer points us to a lawsuit filed today in State Supreme Court aimed at stopping the demolition of Albert C. Ledner's National Maritime Union HQ in Greenwhich Village, now known as the O'Toole Building. If you read the paper with any regularity, you should know full well the story of St. Vincent's Hospital's attempts to replace the one-of-a-kind "overbite building" with a 300-foot tall Pei Cobb Freed-designed hospital tower. Well, the lawsuit may be just in time, as the Landmarks Preservation Commission is due to vote today on whether or not it approves the outsized plans for the new hospital building. As we most recently reported, a majority of commissioners are leaning towards approval, meaning the suit may be the last chance to save Ledner's building. The petition, which can be found here, was filed by the Protect the Village Historic District and a coalition of preservation groups and neighbors. It effectively calls into question the commission's torturous 6-4 October vote, which condemned the building in question, on the grounds that the hospital, and its development partner Rudin, were not wholly forthcoming. The petitioners claim the developers mis-attributed their "constitutional hardship"--St. Vincent's argues that it cannot carry out its charitable duties in its current facilities and that it cannot find a suitable replacement site beyond the O'Toole building--and that this hardship was falsely accepted by the commission. Perhaps more importantly, they challenge the fact that the property was knowingly purchased as a landmark by St. Vincent's:
In addition, petitioners contend that because St. Vincent’s acquired O’Toole Building AFTER the restrictions imposed by the Landmarks Law were already in place, the Hospital could not have had “reasonable investment-backed expectations” of the sort that would justify a constitutional exception to the otherwise proper and lawful restrictions on an owner’s use of its property that are codified in the Landmarks Law.This has been a major issue for preservationist throughout the two-year fight because they fear it sets a dangerous precedent wherein any charity could purchase a landmark, claim it does not suit its needs, and then demolish it. The hope is that with the subpeona power of the courts, the petitioners can bring to light many of the concerns that were never fully aired in public at the commission, such as the financial position of the hospital and any closed-door discussions and analysis performed by the developers with regards to alternative site. Still, one prominent land-use attorney who often goes before the commission doubted the suit's success. The attorney, declined to comment because, on the one hand, a number of associates lived in the neighborhood and were upset by the proposal, while on the other, the firm had and might yet deal with similar claims. Generally speaking, however, the attorney said the commission is always very cautious on such matters. "The hardship is rigorous, it's difficult" the attorney said. "It's difficult to meet the standard, and the commission is sure to dot all its 'i's. Usually, it's difficult to overturn these administrative decisions." Indeed, at the October vote, every single commissioner read from prepared remarks, something almost never seen, especially from the entire commission. An LPC representative even explained that prepared statements were used to be sure everything was on record and legitimate. The rep then added, "You know, in case there's a law suit." Well, the commission's gotten it's wish, so to speak. (The city has declined to comment until it receives the petition, which a spokesperson said it had not.) Whether this turns into another Atlantic Yards, or even another Grand Central, which is what got us here in the first place, remains to be seen. Then again, if they vote down the hospital tomorrow, maybe it won't even matter. But if not, we can only hope Joe Pesci is on the petitioner's side, 'cause he sure puts up a good fight.