Move to preserve historic buildings in Midtown


The Bloomberg administration’s proposed rezoning  to permit taller skyscrapers in much of Midtown East could lead to destruction of many historic buildings, activists warned at a community board hearing.

Community Board 5 reviewed the proposal – which would rezone the area around Grand Central Terminal, generally between Fifth and Second avenues, and East 57th and East 39th streets – on March 14. The City  Planning Commission has announced that it hopes to certify the proposed rezoning as early as April.

“To rezone an area is exciting. But there is no need for it to be rushed,” Jacob Morris, a member of the Harlem Historical Society, told the community board.

Skyline of east Midtown.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed the rezoning in July to create more office space on the East Side, air max 90 not unlike the development along the Hudson River on the West Side .

Morris and other opponents, such as the Turtle Bay Association, are worried that many historic buildings in the area, such as the Martin Erdmann Residence, now the Friars Club, at 57 E. 55 St., or the Montclair Hotel, now the W New York Hotel at 541 Lexington Ave., will be destroyed and cost the area its character, especially around Grand Central Terminal.

The Historic Districts Council, which advocates preserving historic buildings, had previously identified 80 buildings in Midtown to be considered for landmark protection. So far, it has submitted requests to the city Landmarks Preservation Commission to evaluate 33 sites.

The Real Estate Board of New York, which represents developers, said in a 79-page report [pdf] that none of the proposed sites are worth saving. “Many of the proposed landmarks are on sites that been identified as best for new development or are on locations that would undermine the potential transformation created by new development,” it said.

The Municipal Art Society opposed the city’s plan, saying it needed to take into account Midtown’s transportation needs and historic preservation in addition to economic concerns.

“An improved Midtown cannot simply mean larger office buildings; it must mean an improved experience for all New Yorkers,” said said Vin Cipolla,, the non-profit group’s president. The art society “doesn’t believe the city’s proposal as currently outlined gets us there. A plan for Midtown’s future must address comprehensively the area’s transportation, public realm, preservation and economic challenges,”.

The area has not been rezoned in over 30 years.  Bloomberg has voiced concern that the East Midtown area may not to be able to compete with the booming West Side. But for some members of the community boards in the area, the rezoning is being rushed without the public’s  input.

Another issue that arose out of the proposed rezoning was the city’s price for air rights in that area, $250 per square foot. Critics, like Morris, argue that it was too low and that the city should raise the price, bringing in money to spend on improving transportation infrastructure and creating public space.

“Why set the prices so low that some developers flip them to then make more money?” Morris said.

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