There’s a rule of thumb that applies to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission: The agency shouldn’t try to designate a building a landmark against its owner’s will unless the commission’s ready for a loud public skirmish. And, generally in the Bloomberg administration, the commission has steered clear of such battles, making for relatively few such messy designation attempts.
So in July, it came as something of a surprise when the LPC took the confrontational action of starting the designation process—an act known as “calendaring”—on a pair of connected buildings at Broadway and West 57th Street owned by Extell Development, one of the city’s most active developers.
Indeed, the move has provoked a major fight, as Extell scrambles to ward off the LPC’s designation drive. In recent weeks, the firm has been successfully urging unions, trade groups and, most notably, key members of the City Council to demonstrate push-back against the commission. Already, an LPC vote that had been expected this week has been delayed, with no new vote yet scheduled.
At the same time, preservationists, who have often been critical of the LPC for too frequently deferring to the desires of developers, support the designation—though the buildings had not been among their top priorities.
Both of the Howard Van Doren Shaw–designed buildings, 225 West 57th Street and 1780 Broadway, were built by the B. F. Goodrich Company in 1909 and were part of “Automobile Row,” a concentration of car dealerships, many of which are already landmarked. Extell’s argument is that it was blindsided by the designation effort, and landmarking both properties would ruin its prime development site, precluding the company from building a $1 billion–plus commercial tower. (According to property records, it already has a $256 million mortgage out on the site.)
Accordingly, the firm, which is led by Gary Barnett, has mobilized. Using its own preservation consultant, Extell submitted a compromise plan—landmark only 1780 Broadway, the old B. F. Goodrich headquarters—arguing that the history of the 12-story, brick 225 West 57th Street does not merit landmark status and that its demolition should be permitted.