Size Matters

Battle of the Skyscrapers! Empire State Building Owner Takes Issue with New Penn Tower

15 penn 1 Battle of the Skyscrapers! Empire State Building Owner Takes Issue with New Penn TowerCount Tony Malkin as apparently not a fan of Steve Roth’s planned tower in place of the Hotel Pennsylvania.

In public testimony submitted to the City Planning Commission in June (recently posted online; page 7), Mr. Malkin, president of Malkin Properties and an owner of the Empire State Building, subtly lashed out against the planned office tower, slated to be between 2.6 and 2.8 million square feet, that Mr. Roth and his Vornado Realty Trust are hoping to build.

The 33rd Street would-be skyscraper across from Penn Station, which has no tenant and would be unlikely to be built until it gets one, would rise to 1,190 feet tall and would be called 15 Penn Plaza. With the 1,250-foot Empire State Building just two blocks away, it would be a large new presence on the midtown skyline (one of the reasons the Empire State Building stands out so much is that it is a good 10 blocks south of anything else really tall). So, from the perspective of views, it’s clear that the Vornado tower would change things for the Empire State Building, particularly from the west.

In his testimony, Mr. Malkin seemed offended that Vornado hadn’t reached out to him more, writing “we only received one phone call” from the developer. He then went on to write that a “full evaluation” was needed of the Vornado tower’s effect on the Empire State Building, which, in the world of development opposition, is often code for “stop this project.”

Given ESB’s great historical significance, its status as a landmarked icon in New York City’s skyline and, most importantly, its proximity to the 15 Penn Plaza Project, Applicant’s thorough communication to us with respect to the, 15 Penn Plaza Project would have been expected. However, we only received one phone call from Applicant about the project and only once it was within the public realm.

Given the 15 Penn Plaza Project’s proximity to ESB, the scale, bulk and the design of the 15 Penn Plaza Project is incompatible with ESB, and the 15 Penn Plaza Project blocks views of the ESB from areas west of the 15 Penn Plaza Project, permanently changing the character of the New York City skyline. Accordingly, we believe a full evaluation of impacts associated with the 15 Penn Plaza Project on ESB is appropriate and necessary.

Of course, it’s a bit late in the game for someone to oppose this tower and force any major changes. It’s nearly wound its way through the public approvals process, and its last hurdle is the City Council, which has not shown signs (yet) that it has any major problems with the tower.

Otherwise, it’s generated a relatively small amount of drama. Borough President Scott Stringer gave a conditional non-binding recommendation in favor of Vornado’s plan, and the City Planning Commission approved it with minor modifications. The community board opposed it, but later wrote a letter to the City Planning Commission noting that it did not have problems with large development on the site, but, rather, had a number of specific concerns (that did not seem insurmountable).

Still, the community board took issue with the effect the building would have on the view of the Empire State Building, comparing it to the Jean Nouvel-designed skyscraper to rise by MoMA, which was chopped by 200 feet by the City Planning Commission. From the community board’s letter:

In comparison, the 15 Penn Plaza application wholly lacks the MoMA project’s distinguished architectural features, produces no benefits for landmark preservation or cultural access, would have similarly detrimental impacts on neighborhood density and traffic, and would notably diminish, not enhance, the skyline position of its iconic neighbor, the Empire State Building. Indeed, the proposed buildings would directly obstruct the view of the Empire State Building from the west, thereby fundamentally altering and diminishing New York City’s skyline in a way few projects have in decades. Should 15 Penn Plaza not be held to the same standards and criteria as Nouvel/MoMA?

ebrown@observer.com

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