Hotel Penn Forever? Community Board Scoffs at Giant Vornado Tower

15 penn Hotel Penn Forever? Community Board Scoffs at Giant Vornado TowerScore one for the gritty Hotel Pennsylvania.

Major landlord Vornado Realty Trust was rebuffed by the local community board on Thursday night in its effort to clear the road for what would be the city’s third-tallest tower to rise in place of the Hotel Pennsylvania across from Madison Square Garden.

Manhattan’s Community Board 5 voted 36-1 against the plan, and did not even offer a list of conditions—typically community boards will give a road map for a compromise—as numerous board members told the developer to come back at some later time when the firm actually had a tenant in-hand. Vornado in 2007 had a short-lived handshake agreement with Merrill Lynch to build a new headquarters there as the first step in a remade office district. Now, it is seeking approval to allow for a faster construction process should it ever have a tenant.

The vote came after a parade of fellow landlords and business owners—many of which were enlisted by Vornado to come speak—testified in favor of the plan, given that it would involve more than $100 million in transit improvements, including opening an underground passageway between Sixth and Seventh avenues. The Durst Organization and Madison Square Garden were among those in favor of the project, and there was also support from the Regional Plan Association and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

Many community board members seemed almost offended that Vornado had requested both an air rights bonus for its transit improvements and an additional increase in the density beyond what they would normally be allowed (one called it “double dipping”). Still, community boards often vote against projects, and some board members did acknowledge that this was a good space for a tall building. 

The rezoning plan now goes to Borough President Scott Stringer for his non-binding recommendations. Ultimately, the City Council must approve or deny the plan, and the local  member is Council Speaker Christine Quinn. 

ebrown@observer.com