Municipal Art Society's Reaction to St. Vincent's

Yesterday, we wrote about the public hearing at the Landmarks Preservation Commission where St. Vincent’s submitted its application for hardship status to get permission to demolish the O’Toole building and build a new hospital on the Seventh Avenue site.

The Municipal Art Society, which also testified at the hearing, issued the following statement in reaction to St. Vincent’s application:

New York, NY, June 3, 2008 — The Municipal Art Society today called for the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to review rigorously the hardship application submitted by St. Vincent’s hospital to demolish the O’Toole building.

Constructed in 1961 to the design of Albert Ledner for the National Maritime Union, the O’Toole building is a mid-twentieth century modern landmark in the heart of the Greenwich Village Historic District. St. Vincent’s acquired the building in 1973 and has used it for outpatient clinics and offices. Last month, the LPC rejected St. Vincent’s application to demolish the building for the construction of a new hospital facility on the site. The hospital has since applied under the hardship provision of the Landmarks Law to move forward with the demolition and new construction.

“The hardship provision of the Landmarks Law is an important tool that ensures that maintaining a landmark to the standards of the Landmarks Preservation Commission does not cause undue hardship for owners,” stated Melissa Baldock, Kress/RFR Fellow for Historic Preservation and Public Policy at the Municipal Art Society, “We urge the Landmarks Preservation Commission to review rigorously the hardship application filed by St. Vincent’s to demolish the O’Toole building.”

In the past, the hardship provision has been reserved for exceptional cases in which owners have not been able to find a way to successfully use and adapt their buildings within the LPC’s regulations of appropriateness. Baldock noted, “In the 43 years of the Landmarks Law, the provision has only been invoked 16 times prior to this application by St. Vincent’s hospital, and the last time a hardship application was filed was in 1989.”

For a non-profit organizations like St. Vincent’s, the courts have determined that under the hardship provision, the LPC must examine whether the “maintenance of the landmark either physically or financially prevents or seriously interferes with carrying out the charitable purpose” of the owner.

The Municipal Art Society called for the LPC to explore in the hardship proceedings all of the avenues that would enable the O’Toole building to be preserved. After its initial analysis of the hardship filing, MAS felt that more options need to be explored in the fulfillment of the hardship process before the LPC can determine whether or not O’Toole can be demolished. MAS is calling upon the LPC to hire experts to help the agency analyze the spatial needs and economic issues of the hospital and look at alternatives to demolition.

As part of its effort to construct a new hospital, St. Vincent’s is selling its property on the east side of Seventh Avenue between West 11th and 12th Streets where the hospital is currently located. The current proposal involves selling the property to the Rudin family, who plan to develop the site for residential use. The original proposal for the residential development asked the LPC for permission to demolish all eight of the existing St. Vincent’s buildings on the east side of Seventh Avenue. However, the LPC encouraged to the Rudins to revise their proposal so as to incorporate the preservation of four historic buildings on the site, while leaving room for new construction. The current proposal, also considered by the LPC today, involves a mixture of renovated historic buildings and new construction.

“MAS is pleased that the revised Rudin proposal incorporates four of the existing St. Vincent’s buildings,” Baldock said, “However, we believe that the details and the specifics of the development need more thought before the project can be determined appropriate for the Greenwich Village Historic District.”

Municipal Art Society's Reaction to St. Vincent's