War Over the Armory

The Armory, seen from Park Avenue.

Tempers are flaring on the Upper East Side over plans to convert the Seventh Regiment Armory, which occupies the block between Lexington and Park avenues between 66th and 67th streets, into a cultural-arts center. Area residents turned up en masse to request Community Board 8’s assistance in quashing the plan proposed by the Seventh Regiment Armory Conservancy to renovate the building and turn it into—depending on who you ask—a 1,500- to 2,500-seat venue.

“We feel there is going to be a very, very radical re-creation and re-assembly of the building,” said Ret. Col. David Dalva, the president of the veterans group. “They are not doing a restoration.”

Area resident Bruce Lee was more succinct: “Boy are we pissed,” he told The Real Estate.

Ownership of the armory has been in dispute for several years: In 1874, the city leased the land to the Seventh Regiment, which built the iconic red-brick fortress in 1877-9 using private funds. Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of the founder of Tiffany & Company, and renowned architect Stanford White decorated much of the armory’s interior. In 2004, the state passed legislation giving itself ownership of the armory—which it had previously claimed over the veterans’ objections. The Empire State Development Corporation then leased the building to the newly formed Seventh Regiment Armory Conservancy to develop it into a cultural-arts center.

But the veterans are not going to go down without a fight.

According to Mr. Dalva. the veterans group hired engineer Brian Ketcham to conduct an analysis of the conservancy’s environmental-impact study, who found it deficient in several respects, including that it undercounted the number of patrons and the number of performance days, and underreported baseline traffic volume.

But in an e-mail statement sent to The Real Estate, Maureen Connelly, a spokeswoman for the Seventh Regiment Armory Conservancy, said, “The supposed negative environmental effects on the neighborhood cited by Mr. Dalva are based on inaccurate information and incorrect assertions about the Conservancy’s program and environmental study.” According to Ms. Connelly, Mr. Ketcham’s environmental-impact study focused on the 59th Street intersection of Lexington Avenue, a stretch that sees far greater traffic than where the armory is, on 66th Street; the study’s estimate of 330 performance days is a gross overcount; and the estimate of 2,500 attendees per night at the armory is incorrect: The cultural-arts center will seat only 1,500.

“Given the turnout and the obvious concern, … we’re forming an armory subcommittee,” David Liston, the chair of Community Board 8, told The Real Estate. “My hope is that the subcommittee serves as a venue to air their concerns and seek some assistance from the community board.” According to Mr. Liston, the subcommittee will meet this month and report back to the full board at its next meeting.

-Matthew Grace

War Over the Armory