Despite ESB protests, Council approves 15 Penn Plaza

By · Published in 2010

15 Penn Plaza, right, could lead to numerous improvements in and around Penn Station. (All renderings courtesy of The Architect’s Newspaper)

By a vote of 47-1, the City Council approved Vornado’s plans to build a 1216-foot tall building at 15 Penn Plaza. In recent weeks, the plan had come under fire by the owners of the Empire State Building who claimed that another tall building just two avenue blocks away from the iconic tower would disrupt the skyline. The City Council, however, encouraged by Vornado’s pledge to spend $100 million on transit improvements, gave the new tower the go-ahead anyway.

“New York as a city has to grow,” David Greenbaum, the head of Vornado’s New York office, had told reporters this week. “This project has been fully, fully considered by the City Planning Commission, it has been considered in the context of SEQRA and the EIS. In our opinion, and theirs, there will be no adverse impacts.”

At one point during the debate, Anthony Malkin, owner of the Art Deco New York City icon, had proposed limiting buildings within 2000 feet of the Empire State Building. The city, said Greenbaum, would be foolish to kill development within such a significant swath of midtown. City Council members, including Leroy Comrie, chair of the Land Use Committee, were highly skeptical of this argument. “I think what you’re asking us to do is beyond any one project,” Comrie said. “You’re asking us to make a policy decision. You’re asking us to look at many things beyond this one project.”

To dispute this claim, Vornado released a set of renderings that show how the Manhattan skyline will appear with both the Hudson Yards development and 15 Penn Plaza. The Empire State Building’s owners may have been overstating their case a bit. Take a look and click to enlarge:

While the development rights battle has played itself out, the underground development will soon take center stage. Of the $100 million pledged to Penn Station, the bulk of that would go toward reopening the Gimbels Passageway, shown in renderings below. Other plans include plans include wider staircases, a direct entrance to the express platforms at 32nd and 7th and a variety of new entrances and connections between the subway and PATH at 6th Ave.

With City Council approval, Vornado will now search for an anchor tenant before beginning construction. It will still be a few years before the skyline looks different so enjoy those Empire State Building views while you still can. I’m eagerly awaiting the transit improvements and see this is a model for private investment in public transit. Since Vornado’s development will lead to a massive increase in transit demand for the area, the real estate giant should contribute to the transit infrastructure in the area.

8 Responses to “Despite ESB protests, Council approves 15 Penn Plaza”

  1. John says:

    The angle of the artists’ renditions here are interesting, in that they’re careful to give Vornado’s tower the widest separation as possible from the Empire State Building. You’ll note that they did not offer up a rendering from, say, the view coming out of the Lincoln Tunnel into Weehawken or the view drivers or even subway riders on the No. 7 would have coming in from Queens, where there would be virtually no separation and the buildings will look more like mismatched twin towers.

    This isn’t new — Robert Caro’s book on Robert Moses goes into detail how Moses’ design artists for the Brooklyn-Battery Bridge he wanted used the highest angle possible for their 1939 conceptual renditions to minimize the ground level impact, while the bridge’s opponents did their own conceptual drawing from ground level, to make the placement of the bridge towers and approach roads at The Battery look as obtrusive as possible.

    The public can now debate the merits of the Vornado proposal, and whether or not the city’s need for new business and additional mass transit infrastructure funds outweighs the aesthetics of changing the visuals in the Herald Square area. But in this age of computer programming, I’ll bet we see more obtrusive renderings of the new tower and its relation to the Empire State Building in the upcoming public relations battle (possibly with computer designs from the ESB’s owners themselves, in an effort to get the public to force the City Council to reverse it’s vote).

  2. E. Aron says:

    No problems with new towers but why is it ugly as sin? That is a seriously hideous glass box..

  3. Chris G says:

    I for one don’t mind the new tower design. It reminds me of a smaller version of the IFC in Hong Kong.

    As for the ESB trying to block this and other growth, its a great example of the no we can’t USA we live in now. Glad the council saw through that.

    I personally wouldn’t care if that part of town was packed in with towers to dwarf the ESB out of the picture.

    • AK says:

      You may not care, but based on polling and public response to this tower (and others), many people do. I don’t understand militant pro-development forces, just as I don’t understand militant anti-development forces. This is the Empire State Building we’re talking about– it is an incredibly important symbol– I don’t think spending time to determine whether we want to obscure views of it means we are living in a “no we can’t USA”.

      • Chris G says:

        Spending time to determine is the same thing as another study.

        We study everything to death in this country when most of what wants to be done is and has been done successfully for years elsewhere.

        Congestion Tolls. Next train signboards. A/C provided enclosed subway stations. All of these in no way would be bad for NYC. Yet all we can do is study the ideas. Or take time to determine whether they work, when SO many cities around the world prove they do.

        So yes, it is a no we can’t usa.

    • anon says:

      Yes, it reminds you of a smaller version of the IFC in Hong Kong because that’s essentially what it is. Same architecture firm. The design is a re-tread. That alone should have been sufficient to oppose it. Why should NY’s skyline get sloppy seconds?

  4. Steve says:

    Whatever happened to property rights? Vornado owns the property, so he has every right to build 15 Penn Plaza. I’ll cry no tears for that jerk Malkin – “Mr. ESB Lights” celebrating the Chinese but not for our own Marine Corps(WTF is that?). I say build it, and hurry up.

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