Ciprianis Push for Rainbow Room Landmarking

To realize its goal of a landmarked Rainbow Room, Cipriani has enlisted a posse of consultants and lawyers to round up the support of elected officials, executives and the community; to do its own historic research; and to craft an application to the LPC. The team consists of the lobbying firm of Capalino + Company, which is highly experienced in land use; Mary B. Dierickx, a historic preservation consultant who made the 75-page application to the LPC; and Mr. Finnegan, an attorney at Levy Ratner.

The consultants have led Rainbow Room tours and met with preservation groups including the Municipal Art Society and aides to, among others, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who represents the area. The goal seems to be to get the groups and officials to lean on the LPC to act on the application, a subjective decision that mostly rests in the hands of Mr. Tierney, the commission’s chairman, and his staff.

(Elected officials often pressure the LPC, sometimes with success, and Assemblyman Dick Gottfried and State Senator Liz Krueger last week wrote a letter in support of landmarking.)

A commission spokeswoman, Lisi de Bourbon, said LPC staff is looking at changes made to the Rainbow Room, and then it will make a recommendation on landmarking.

 

THIS IS NOT to say that many of those pledging support needed much of a push. A number of the elected officials and preservationists involved voiced strong support for landmarking the Rainbow Room, or at least the main section of it on the 65th floor of 30 Rock.

“It seems to me that the public would be upset by the loss of the Rainbow Room even if most of us don’t go out dancing,” said Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy. “Certainly, the Rainbow Room, we think, is deserving of landmark status.”

It appears the biggest potential obstacle would be Tishman Speyer itself, which is the controlling owner of Rockefeller Center. It is uncommon for the LPC to landmark a property over an owner’s objections, and in this case, the owner is one of the best-known landlords in the city, with holdings that include Stuyvesant Town and the MetLife tower.

The Speyers are also one of New York’s most politically connected developers, and Rob Speyer personally raised $25,750 for Ms. Quinn last year when she was considering a run for mayor, according to campaign filings.

In a statement, Virginia Lam, a spokeswoman for Tishman Speyer, said of Rockefeller Center that “we feel our track record demonstrates that we have worked hard to respect this great and iconic landmark.”

As to the LPC’s examination: “We look forward to its findings.”

Since the Cipriani lease on the Rainbow Room started in 1999, the tenant has had a number of acrimonious quarrels with the Speyers. In 2003, Cipriani sued the landlord to remove new metal detectors that had been installed to search the Rainbow Room’s guests, claiming that the building owners sought to “maliciously damage the reputation and business of the Rainbow Room.”

The two parties have also been engaged in a lengthy dispute over the rent in a five-year lease extension, which began in February. Tishman Speyer, Cipriani claimed in court papers, wants more than $8.7 million a year for the space, compared with the $4 million base rent charged in the 1999 lease.

Seemingly connected to the lease negotiations, which are in arbitration, is a Cipriani lawsuit filed in August. The Rainbow Room managers said in a lawsuit that Tishman Speyer claimed Cipriani was in default of its lease on account of a long-faulty fire alarm system (a lawyer for Cipriani, David Rozenholc, said it has now been rectified, though each party wants the other to pay for the work).

Mr. Rozenholc says these squabbles seem to have no connection to the landmarking, though they do raise the question as to whether Tishman Speyer would be eager to sign a new lease with a seemingly intractable tenant.

As for the timetable of any landmarking, the LPC did not offer one on its decisions. With an eye on its 2013 lease expiration, Cipriani, the company said in its application to the LPC, believes “an expeditious evaluation of these important spaces is necessary.”

—With additional reporting by Chris Shott and Adam Rose

ebrown@observer.com