Author Archives: Pirho

City Council Sues City Over Two Bridges Towers Approval

LOWER EAST SIDE, NY — Two days after the City Planning Commission approved four towers to rise in Two Bridges, the City Council and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer followed through on their vow to sue city officials to stop the plan from moving forward.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Councilwoman Margaret Chin and Brewer filed the joint lawsuit Friday to force a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP, of the high-rise developments proposed by four developers.

The suit targets the Department of City Planning and its director, the City Planning Commission and its chair and the Department of Buildings to halt construction on the project until the proposal goes through “the public review process it legally requires,” according to the City Council.

SHoP Architects

“The Council is taking legal action to correct mistakes made by the City in trying to rush through a massive multi-site development without the public review process that projects of this size legally require,” said Johnson.

“We expect projects which produce almost 3,000 units of new housing to go through the public review process mandated by the City Charter so we can assess the appropriateness of these developments.”

The controversial “minor modification” does not require the massive developments planned by JDS Development Group, CIM Group, L+M Development Partners and Starrett Development to go through ULURP. The towers — one set to soar more than 1,000 feet high — will bring some 2,700 new units all together and 690 apartments earmarked as affordable.

The City Planning Commission approved the project in a 10-to-3 vote on Wednesday.

The Two Bridges area, which used to be an Urban Renewal Area, allows for greater flexibility on land-use regulations when it comes to building residential projects that span multiple property lots because it was designated a Large-Scale Residential Development (LSRD) area in 1972.

Friday’s lawsuit claims city planners usurped the City Council’s authority by approving the project and argues that the project is in violation of the LSRD special permit.

“Conveniently, DCP has improperly designated these modifications as “minor”, which would exempt these projects from the entirety of the ULURP process and deprive the Council of its oversight and regulatory role over these projects and the Borough President of her role to review and make recommendations,” the suit states.

“Projects of this magnitude are required to undergo the full battery of hearings and oversight that ULURP provides.”

The Mayor’s office and the Department of City Planning did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer called the Department of City Planning’s process and standards for reviewing the project “made up.”

“I don’t like suing the mayor or his agencies, but if that’s what it takes to get the residents of Two Bridges the full review and real negotiation they’re entitled to under the law, then I’m all in,” Brewer said in a statement.

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Save The Clock Tower

The former home of the New York Life Insurance Company, located at 108 Leonard Street, is being converted to residential Condos after a legal battle with preservationists. Back in the late 1920’s the city took ownership, after the New York Life Insurance Company moved out to 51 Madison Avenue, across from Madison Square. The interior has been given landmark status, but developers, and the LPC are breaking the rules. “Under city law, an interior landmark is supposed to be open or accessible to the general public regularly. But the ante room and some other interior landmark spaces will only be open to residents.”

108 Leonard rendering

Preservationists are up in arms about the space being closed off to the public. Along with the anteroom, the clock which has always been maintained my clock aficionados since it’s restoration in 1980, is also a landmark feature and will be converted to electric, because of the building’s conversion to residential. Preservationists lost a lawsuit filed in 2016, which now put the clock in jeopardy, despite the Commission’s ruling in favor of keeping it mechanical.

A historic depiction of the building when it was headquarters for New York Life Insurance.CreditThe New York Public Library/Picture Collection

 

550 Madison gets landmark designation | Real Estate Weekly

 

The city’s Landmark Preservation Commission has designated the former Sony Building at 550 Madison Avenue a landmark. Calling the 37-story office tower a leader in postmodern design, LPC vice chair Frederick Bland said, “This is the building that established postmodernism as a legitimate architectural movement. It deserves to be preserved for future generations.”

Built between 1978 and 1984 by American architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee, the tower was billed as the world’s first postmodernist skyscraper and set the stage for the postmodernism movement.
While it was first known as the AT&T building, the phone company sold the building to Sony in 2002 and it soon became known as Sony Plaza. In 2013, the Chetrit Group and Clipper Realty purchased the building for $1.1 billion with a plan to covert the building into luxury condos.

When that plan fell through, Chetrit and Clipper sold the building in May 2016 for $1.4 billion to Olayan America, the American subsidiary of the Saudi Arabian investment conglomerate, The Olayan Group.
In a statement issued following the LPC decision yesterday (Tuesday) Olayan said, “Since acquiring the building, we have taken our role as stewards of this important building very seriously. We look forward to an ongoing dialogue with the LPC and other stakeholders to preserve 550 Madison’s legacy as a commercial Class A destination in East Midtown, with smart and sensitive modifications to serve modern tenants.”

The Olayan Group has so far invested $300 million to renovate the building and return it to its class A office status.

Olayan expects the upgrades to command higher rents, but will now also have to be compliant with the landmark status of the building’s exterior.

Despite that extra layer of bureaucracy, Olayan said, “We are proud that 550 Madison is now an official New York City landmark, claiming its place in our city’s architectural heritage.

“Ownership strongly supports designation of the iconic office tower and applauds the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s decision.”

Source: 550 Madison gets landmark designation | Real Estate Weekly

Cuomo Seeks State Control of Penn Station Neighborhood

ALBANY — A proposal being floated by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo during the 11th hour of budget negotiations would create a large, state-controlled development area around Pennsylvania Station, giving the governor greater sway over one of Manhattan’s name-brand landmarks and a powerful talking point against his intraparty rival, Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The state would have its primary development agency, the Empire State Development Corp., work with another agency controlled by the governor, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, to control and redevelop a multiblock area around the station.

The governor’s initial proposal — outlined in a two-page document dated Tuesday, less than a week before the state’s deadline to adopt its budget — freed the new joint entity from a raft of zoning, environmental, and land-use laws. But those ideas were abandoned as news of the proposal broke and brought about a serious and immediate blowback, from Democratic lawmakers in both legislative houses in Albany, and from city leaders, including the City Council speaker Corey Johnson and City Hall officials.

“It completely erases any role for the city, local officials or the surrounding community,” said Alicia Glen, deputy mayor of housing and economic development, citing concerns about environmental review and potential loss of tax revenue from new buildings. “It’s beyond the pale.”

By late Wednesday, the governor’s office was assuring lawmakers that the proposal, which was obtained by The New York Times, was merely a draft, and an early bid in what was expected to be heated negotiations over any redevelopment plan.

“Penn Station is currently untenable. It is congested, chaotic and poses a serious threat to public safety in this time of heightened terrorist threats,” said Dani Lever, press secretary for Mr. Cuomo, noting that the state was already investing in a new train station across the street from the current station. She added that the proposal was lawful and would include “consultation with community leaders and elected officials, environmental reviews and local government reviews.”

But early reaction to the initial proposal, which was reported by Politico New York Wednesday afternoon, included concern that such a impactful, long-ranging plan could be adopted so quickly for the neighborhood.

State Senator Brad Hoylman, a Democrat who represents the area surrounding Penn Station, described the local community boards as “preserving the character of their neighborhood.”

Wiley Norvell, a communications adviser in City Hall, said the city has been in talks for months with the state, the M.T.A. and Vornado, a major property owner in the Penn Station vicinity, over possible development plans for the area. But Mr. Norvell said that there had been no discussion of the sort of proposal that the Cuomo administration is now floating. He said the city first saw the proposal on Wednesday and did not get the text of the proposal from the governor’s office.

There were some supporters for the governor’s approach, as well. Kathryn Wylde, the president of Partnership for New York City, sent a statement late Wednesday saying that Penn Station “requires substantial investment of funds that the M.T.A. currently does not have.”

“The governor’s commitment to make this a state priority is a positive step forward on a project that will not happen without extraordinary intervention by the state,” Ms. Wylde said.

The governor has sought to impress his powers on Mr. de Blasio on a variety of occasions, from putting state police troopers in the city to criticizing how the city handled the Ebola scare. But on Wednesday, Cuomo administration officials stressed that the proposal was still in discussions — even the exact borders of such a project were in flux.

But the overall goal remained to turn Penn Station, long derided as a dark and dismal rail hub, into a modern facility, while also incorporating commercial, residential and mixed-use development surrounding it. In addition, such a project would provide jobs, increase the tax base and “enhance the recognition of the city and state as a worldwide center of commerce,” according to the draft proposal.

Whether any such proposal could gain legislative approval, particularly with the budget ticking down, is questionable. Richard Gottfried, a veteran member of the Assembly who represents the Penn Station area, said he only heard about the proposal on Monday, and thus far did not like the idea.

“The area around Penn Station is not some undeveloped, poverty area needing government investment in order to prosper,” said Mr. Gottfried, a Democrat. “If anything, it is attracting more investment from the real estate community than it can handle.”

William Neuman contributed reporting.

99 Years!

99 years ago, the Hotel Pennsylvania made history, by opening it’s then regal doors to the public.  Since then it’s made history several times over.  Below are two pieces of original artwork from Yoichiro Yoda, a gentleman, who I have the pleasure of sitting down with, and discussing the Hotel, its rich history, and its possible fate.   The Hotel Penn has always been a love of Yoichiro’s and inspired him to do paint portraits of it, on more than one occasion.

 

Yoda “Moonlight Serenade”

 

Yoichiro Yoda “ Basement Bathroom

Want to know more about Yoichiro?  Here is a little history of him taken from an interview from Yale University’s Radio WYBCX.

“Yoichiro Yoda was born in Kagawa, Japan in 1972. When he was 3 months old, he came to New York City where he has lived ever since. Yoichiro’s paintings are based on silent films, film noir, lost memories, and New York City history. Yoichiro received a Bachelors in Fine Arts degree from Tyler School of Art in 1995, and received his Masters in Fine Arts degree from Queens College in 1998.

Yoichiro prefers to use film sets from various films, real interiors of old 42nd Street theatres, spliced together with different time periods to create a reinterpreted version of history, as if to reclaim what we have once lost.

Growing up in New York City, Yoichiro has witnessed and documented the horrific demolition of historic theatres and old time businesses on 42nd Street. He has created in addition to his paintings, documentary films, “Last Days of 42nd Street”, “Last Days of Hotel Pennsylvania”, and “Last Days of Coney Island”.

In his paintings, Yoichiro feels it is important to make the backgrounds look as fake as possible, to get away from the normal everyday reality (which has become more phony and “set like’ during the last 20 years.

Yoichiro also has a number of “series” paintings, where he uses a single film, such as “The Shining” and “The Great Gatsby”. In these series paintings, Yoichiro has altered the backgrounds of the existing sets in the film and replaced them with sites that often appear in his paintings, like Hotel Pennsylvania, and Lynnewood Hall, an old decaying mansion of the Gilded Age near Tyler School of Art.

Most recently, Yoichiro was accepted to participate in the 2016 Setouchi Triennale, an arts festival in Kagawa Prefecture, Kagawa Japan, which began in 2010 as a way to revitalize, restore and bring back to life the islands of the Seto Inland Sea with art. Yoichiro’s project is to create a movie theatre based on several 42nd Street theatres (that no longer exist today) on Megi Jima, or Megi Island. He plans to paint the interiors with the names of all the historic theatres and businesses that were lost on 42nd Street on the theatre’s walls, then hang many 24” x 20” portrait paintings of various film stars, including Charlie Chaplin, Robert Ryan, Clara Bow, and Carey Mulligan. He also plans to screen “Last Days of 42nd Street”.”

City landmarks second-oldest religious building in the city — Old St. James Episcopal Church in Elmhurst

Photo courtesy of NYC Department of Records

A 282-year-old church in Elmhurst is officially a city landmark after the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) unanimously voted to give it that designation today.

Old St. James Episcopal Church, located at 86-02 Broadway, was built in 1735 by the Church of England for the Anglican community. It was built in what was then called Newtown Village, which was established by the English in 1652 and was one of the first five towns established in Queens.

“The Commission is proud to designate this historic church, significant for its association with the early colonial settlement of Queens and with the beginnings of the Protestant Episcopal Church in New York,” said LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan. “As the second-oldest church building in the city, pre-dating St. Paul’s Chapel in Manhattan, it is a site well-deserving of the protection landmark status provides.”

The structure includes 18th- and 19th-century design features and materials and is an “architecturally significant example of the colonial meetinghouse,” according to the LPC. It also includes 19th-century Gothic Revival and Stick style details.

British soldiers used the church during the Revolutionary War but ultimately spared the building. The church’s parish became one of the earliest members of the Episcopal Diocese of New York.

The structure went through several renovations throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The first iteration was a rectangular building with shingles, round-arch windows and a tower facing the graveyard, which is now a parking lot.

In 1848, the congregation built a larger church one block away and the original building became a parish hall and chapel. The building’s style was updated in 1883 with Gothic Revival and Stick Style decorative details and the parish constructed a small rear addition where the original tower was previously located.

In the 20th century, the hall became a community meeting place. The building was mostly restored to its 1883 appearance in 2004 with the help of a $150,000 grant from the Landmarks Conservancy’s Sacred Sites program.

The restoration cost $430,000 in total and the improvements included a new roof, the restoration of the cedar siding, wood windows and reconstructing the decorative bracketing along the exterior.

“I have been a proud supporter of efforts to designate the Old St. James Episcopal Church as a New York City Individual Landmark and I’m thrilled that the Landmarks Preservation Commission has voted to do so,” said U.S. Congresswoman Grace Meng, who wrote a letter to the LPC to advocate for landmark status. “Although this historic church is already on the National Register of Historic Places, the designation as an individual New York City Landmark will allow for further preservation of this structure, and greater awareness of the early history of our great city. It will also ensure that future generations are able to share in the story and history of this wonderful facility.”

Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank & 15 Penn Plaza

Once agin, 15PP has reared its ugly head. This time in the form of Morgan Stanley, and Deutsche Bank. Multiple papers are reporting that the two financial giants are in talks with Vornado to move to the site of the Hotel Pennsylvania.  As you know back in 2007 Merrill Lynch was close to signing with Vornado, before the stock market crash.  No further details are known about  the possible deal yet, we are investigating, and will of course let everyone know via our Facebook, Twitter, and websites.

One interesting notes on this is Vornado just took a loan from Deutsche Bank to the tune of $396M for the mortgage on 85 10th Avenue.  

Pennsylvania Station

Thanks to Bruce Price‎ and Joe Lasala, for posting these images of the Original Pennsylvania Station. I never knew they had such a grand restaurant.

Architectural layout of the Pennsylvania Station showing the location of the restaurant.

And a sad site during the demolition of Pennsylvania Station.