The full City Council has approved a 1,200-foot office tower planned by Vornado Realty Trust to rise atop the Hotel Pennsylvania, two blocks from the Empire State Building.
The vote came this afternoon, less than two weeks after Empire State Building owner Anthony Malkin launched a public push to block the skyscraper, warning it would detract from his tower’s iconic place amongst the skyline.
The Council, apparently, was unmoved by his criticism. In committee votes today, the bulk of the concerns centered around Vornado’s commitments to hiring minority- and women-owned businesses, a top issue for many on the Council.
Much of their ire arose after David Greenbaum, Vornado’s New York office chief, responded to a question by a Council member on the topic by telling an anecdote meant to illustrate that there are many women who work at Vornado: “I had a party at my house Saturday night, and there were certainly a distinctly large number of women,” he said Monday at a committee hearing. His wife, he said, “saw the number of women there, and she couldn’t figure out if they were the spouse or they were the employees–so, many of them were the employees.”
This appearance of ignorance on the importance of the topic infuriated multiple Council members, and Vornado had to come back with a hiring pledge meant to soothe tempers over the issue.
The lone “no” vote in the 47-1 vote came from Councilman Charles Barron, who echoed the concerns of others on the minority hiring issues, although many of his colleagues ended up voting for the plan. (Two abstained in the committee vote.)
In all, Vornado essentially got what it wanted without having to give up much in return, a rare feat in the development world, particularly given that Vornado was asking for a major upzoning to allow a 2.8 million-square-foot building.
In a statement, a spokesman for Vornado said the building would be an “outstanding addition to New York’s iconic skyline,” thanking the Council for the vote.
After the vote, Mr. Malkin issued a statement that seemed to acknowledge he was going to accept the Council’s vote without any further action (often opponents launch lawsuits).
“The City Council is the decision maker on this subject,” he said in a statement. “They have gone out of their way to listen to our position. In the end, they are the elected representatives of the City of New York, and it was up to them to decide.”