Preservation Issues

2017 Preservation Advocacy - Year In Review

This was a banner year for the Conservancy’s advocacy work. We encountered new issues related to planning and zoning, continued to support landmark designations, commented on several proposals for alterations and other work at landmarks, and waged a successful campaign to save the Federal Historic Tax Credit.

As the year closed out, the Conservancy sent a Request for Evaluation to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), asking for designation of the AT&T Building (550 Madison Avenue). The request came as new owners publicized plans to install a glass curtain wall at the 1984 building’s base. The LPC voted to calendar Philip Johnson and John Burgee’s post-modern icon, with a hearing expected in early 2018.

The Conservancy took part in the successful campaign to save the country’s largest financial incentive for preservation, the Federal Historic Tax Credit (HTC). The HTC was set for elimination as the tax plan unfolded in the fall, but with your help, we showed Members of Congress that the credit was too valuable to discard.

We opposed a proposal to demolish Beth Hamedrash Hagodol Synagogue (60 Norfolk Street) following a catastrophic fire. Before the fire, we had funded a conditions report which found that the deteriorated 1850 building could be reused. We asked the LPC to require that any viable fabric be retained. This delicate work began in December.

When the lengthy Midtown East rezoning process concluded, there were 12 new landmarks, which could transfer unused air rights across the entire rezoning area. We called for elimination of a minimum assessment on each transfer, which will decrease funds for restoration and maintenance. In the end, the assessment was reduced by more than 20%.

We opposed a plan to change the formula for assessments in the Theater Subdistrict Fund, which would have increased the “tax” by nearly 400%. Following a City Council hearing, the plan was withdrawn.

We spoke in support of designating Old Saint James Episcopal Church (86-02 Broadway, Queens), which dates to 1735, as an individual landmark for its architecture and connections to Queens history. We’ve been involved with this building for nearly 20 years, providing grants, loans, and project management to restore the facade.

We supported a proposal to alter and improve the Waldorf Astoria, after we advocated for landmark designation of the interior public spaces in 2016.

Several years after calling for protection of major public spaces at the New York Public Library (476 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan), we spoke out in favor of designating the Rose Main Reading Room and Bill Blass Catalog Room as interior landmarks.

We testified at hearings that closed out the “LPC “backlog” supporting designation of the 1891-92 Romanesque Revival Bowne Street Community Church (38-01 Bowne Street, Queens), and the Loew’s 175th Street Theater in Washington Heights, one of Thomas Lamb’s finest works. Before the hearings we met with owners and City Council staff to allay concerns about landmarking.

Our three-part panel series “Planning, Preservation and Community Participation,” brought together elected officials, planners, architects, developers, and Community Board members in a lively discussion of “supertalls,” density, neighborhood planning, public realm improvements, and practical solutions to the hot button issues affecting historic neighborhoods.

Several themes emerged. We will be looking at public concerns with as-of-right new development, loopholes in the Zoning Resolution, and ways to support Community Boards. The speakers differed on many points, but agreed that New Yorkers need to show their elected representatives that these issues are important to them, by working with the Community Boards, developing neighborhood plans, and by showing up to vote. Working together, we will aim to reset the balance of preservation and growth in New York.