Graydon Carter has a penchant for a onetime power plant on the far West Side. The Vanity Fair editor is trying to gather support to renovate the IRT Powerhouse, built in 1904 on the block bounded by West 58th and West 59th at 11th and 12th avenues, and bring a photography museum to its ornate interior, according to multiple people familiar with Mr. Carter’s aspirations for the building.
In recent weeks the editor has discussed the Beaux-Arts, McKim, Mead, and White–designed structure with city officials, community groups and developer Douglas Durst.
While Mr. Carter could not be reached for comment, multiple people involved with the effort to preserve the building and convert its use said Mr. Durst has discussed moving the International Center of Photography, which is in one of his buildings, to the would-be museum.
“Graydon is definitely hot and heavy about studying the photography museum,” said a person in talks about the effort. (A spokesman for Mr. Durst declined to comment.)
One problem: The current owner, Con Edison, has no desire to move. It uses the building to make steam for heating, and photos of its interior show much unused space surrounded by mechanical equipment. But groups such as Landmark West and Hudson River Powerhouse Group have been drawn to its magnetic facade, urging the building to be landmarked by the city and ultimately converted to something else that anyone other than a Con Ed employee can use. (Other ideas thrown around: a Tate Modern for the West Side; extra space for John Jay College.)
“Our past position is unchanged,” said Chris Olert, a Con Ed spokesman. “We want it to remain a steam-generating plant.”
Paul Elston, the executive director of the Riverside South Planning Corporation, a nonprofit set up to help monitor development of the monster Penn Yards site just to the north, pushed by Donald Trump in the 1980s and 1990s, is trying to present alternatives to Con Ed that include a new cogeneration plan, suggesting as possibilities a site owned by Mr. Durst to the south or a Riverside South site to the north.
Mr. Elston’s grand plans involve a group of benefactors raising money to buy the site. “We have proposed that Con Edison and the city agree on a price for the building,” he said, “and that Con Edison sell the building to a nonprofit that will raise the funds for the acquisition and renovation of the building as a community cultural center.” But Con Ed seems to be skeptical that this could be worth its while. And the Bloomberg administration has resisted the idea of landmarking the building against Con Ed’s will.
“Using the IRT Powerhouse for a photography museum or other creative use is an intriguing idea,” Andrew Brent, a spokesman, said in a statement, “but it’s an actively used power plant so any change would have to include plans and funding for a replacement facility.”
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