When the plan to rezone Midtown East was revealed last year, there was much excitement and much grumbling, but the outlines of the battle to come lacked definition. In retrospect, it seems so inevitable: how could the conflict over the heart and soul of the city’s central business district take any shape but that of progress versus preservation?
It is a conflict that haunts, if not defines, every land use debate in the city, and a particularly fitting one for Midtown. The district developed around, and largely because of, Grand Central station—a building that not only epitomizes the conflict, but helped to define it.
Best Laid Plans
From the start, one of the biggest concerns over the proposed Midtown East rezoning has been the fate of the area’s historic buildings. Midtown has its fair share of landmarks already, but it is no Upper East Side or Park Slope. No doubt there are precious older buildings worthy of preservation, or at least consideration for landmarks protections, especially when staring down all the development that is likely to come from a huge rezoning like the one the Bloomberg administration has proposed for Midtown East.
To that end, the Municipal Art Society has put forward 17 buildings it believes the city ought to consider protecting before the Midtown East rezoning goes into effect. The administration is rushing toward approving this plan sometime next year, but survey of the area’s historic buildings actually has more time than it might seem to proceed, since it has promised the rezoning will have a sunrise provision preventing it from taking effect until 2017. Still, that does not mean any of these buildings could be saved from being torn down and becoming the next Empire State Building.
An assault on the city’s Landmarks Law has quietly been taking place in the corridors of power, through press releases and legislation, for going on a year now. But groups allied against landmarking are planning to fire their first public volley tomorrow, The Observer has learned, with the announcement of a coalition of development and labor groups known as the Responsible Landmarks Coalition.
Formed by the Real Estate Board of New York, it is made up of a number of influential real estate and labor organizations, “and it is only going to get bigger,” one person involved in the effort said. “We are going to have some very major institutions looking at these landmarks.”
The main issues of concern for the coalition are the increasing prevalence of historic districts, a lack of transparency in the landmarking process, and insufficient public input. The coalition will argue that the growing number of landmark buildings and historic districts are hampering the city’s economy and stymieing development.
While the Landmarks Preservation Commission is usually the great bane of architects and developers, it seems the commissioners have at least one soft spot in their preservationist hearts for, of all things, math.
Downtown Brooklyn developers and cooperators, with a hefty helping hand from the real estate lobby, threw everything they could at the Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District, a new landmarking effort aimed at saving the area’s historic highrises. In the end, the preservationists won out, as a City Council subcommittee voted unanimously yesterday to approve the historic district, all but ensuring its passage by the full council on February 1.
Sometimes landmark battles have happy endings.
Last week, Mayor Bloomberg and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstal made a bet on yesterday’s AFC Championship game, as politicians are wont to do. Part of the deal was the all-too-expected community service project in the opposing city, part of the deal was a little more interesting, if cheesy. It was agreed that a team Read More
Steven Spinola, the all-powerful head of the Real Estate Board of New York, seems to think so.
He told the Post that “landmarking the entire city does not leave opportunity to grow,” and he has a point that there won’t be much of the Upper West Side left that is not Read More
The media crowd outnumbered the Landmarks Preservation Commission 10 to one at the Tuesday morning vote for 45-47 Park Place.
The five-story building—a prominent example of the store and loft structures that dominated the drygoods warehouse districts of Lower Manhattan—is just not worthy of landmark status, the commissioners agreed. And it’s not the Commission’s Read More