Preservation Issues

Midtown East Update

-Minnie E. Young Residence – 19 E. 54th Street Hiss & Weekes, 1899-1900

-Martin Erdmann Residence – 57 East 55th Street Taylor & Levi, 1908-09

-18 East 41st Street Building George & Edward Blum, 1914

-The Yale Club, 50 Vanderbilt Avenue James Gamble Rogers, 1915

-Grand Rapids Furniture Building, 18-20 E. 50th Street Rouse & Goldstone, Steinman, 1915-16

-400 Madison Avenue H. Craig Severance, 1929

-Citicorp Center – 884 Third Avenue Hugh Stubbins & Assoc. with Emory Roth & Sons

Also Calendared for Designation -Pershing Square Building – 125 Park Avenue York and Sawyer, with Sloan, 1923

Also Calendared for Designation -Graybar Building – 420 Lexington Avenue Sloan & Robertson, 1927

Also Calendared for Designation -Shelton Hotel / Halloran House – 425 Lexington Avenue Arthur Loomis Harmon, 1924

Also Calendared for Designation -Hotel Lexington – 509 Lexington Avenue Schultze and Weaver, 1928

Also Calendared for Designation -Benjamin Hotel/Beverly Hotel – 557 Lexington Avenue Emery Roth, 1926-27

September 29, 2016

The Conservancy’s Public Policy Committee heard a briefing on the proposal to rezone Midtown East this month, as the Department of City Planning (DCP) held a public scoping meeting on its framework proposal and the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) held hearings on seven individual landmarks.

Conservancy briefing
The Conservancy, which served on the East Midtown Steering Committee, heard from representatives of DCP, LPC, the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT), and the Metropolitan Transit Authority, who expanded on details of the plan. The rezoning will encourage substantially taller and larger new commercial buildings when developers purchase air rights from landmarks and make improvements to the transit infrastructure.

LPC representatives talked about the process of surveying buildings across the rezoning area, and selecting 12 buildings to landmark, from three eras of development in Midtown East. They stated that there is no cap on the number that could be designated. The rezoning plan will benefit these landmarks by allowing a much larger area for the transfer of development rights, but it will also require an assessment on each transaction.

Money from the assessment will go toward improvements to subway stations and to the public realm, such as open space plazas, which the DOT would implement. Some Committee members challenged DOT representatives on the difficulty of how transit works in the area now and wondered how the addition of more density will affect future traffic.

Sites closest to the subway stations will be required to make transit improvements such as widening escalators to increase circulation on crowded platforms, before they can purchase landmark development rights. MTA officials said that while these major enhancements would be tied to the development of new buildings the MTA will continue to perform routine maintenance on the stations. Committee members also questioned whether these improvements would offset the thousands of expected workers from the new office towers.

LPC hearing
We testified in support of the seven Midtown East landmarks at a September 13 LPC hearing.

They included:

• Minnie E. Young Residence 19 East 54th Street 1899-1900, Hiss & Weekes

• Martin Erdmann Residence 57 East 55th Street 1908-09, Taylor & Levi

• 18 East 41st Street Building 1912-14, George & Edward Blum

• Yale Club 50 Vanderbilt Avenue 1913-15, James Gamble Rogers

• Hampton Shops Building, 18-20 East 50th Street 1915-16, Rouse & Goldstone, and Joseph L. Steinman

• 400 Madison Avenue Building 1928-29, H. Craig Severance

• Citicorp Center / St. Peter’s Church 601 Lexington Ave. 1973-78, Hugh Stubbins & Associates, with Emery Roth & Sons

All seven buildings received support from the Borough President and preservation advocates. Representatives of the Yale Club, 18 East 41st Street, and St. Peter’s Church spoke in favor of the landmarking, and there was no opposition to any of the proposed sites. The LPC has indicated that there will be a designation vote by the end of the year on these seven and the five buildings heard in July.

We applaud the LPC for its work, but do not feel that it is complete. In 2013, the Conservancy, along with the Municipal Art Society and Historic Districts Council, released a joint list of 16 priority sites for landmark designation. The LPC has heard half of those buildings, but it has has indicated that it does not plan to hear the rest in the immediate future. We urge the agency to bring the remainder to a public hearing. Otherwise, Midtown East is likely to lose them. Of the remaining eight, the Hotel Intercontinental and Postum Building, which are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, are now labeled as projected development sites in the scoping documents.

DCP scoping session
Conservancy testimony at the September 22 scoping meeting raised questions about specifics of the mechanism to allow landmarks to transfer development rights across the entire rezoning area, which will run approximately from 39th to 57th Streets, Madison to Third Avenues. While the City does allow individual landmarks to transfer rights to adjacent sites, this will be the first significant expansion of that ability, and the framework from the scoping documents does not include some details that will be essential in evaluating the program.

The assessment on those transactions could be between 20 and 40% of the proceeds, with a price floor set for the assessment regardless of the actual sale price. We joined with stewards of landmarked institutions in requesting that any assessment be minimized so that it does not undermine the intent of the transfer provision as originally envisioned: to provide significant relief from the cost of maintaining landmark buildings and to assist in their overall preservation.

We are concerned for how this process will work in Midtown East, and if it will be used as a template to reconsider transfer of development rights in other parts of the City. These are some of the questions that we raised: How will the price floor be set? How often will the floor be re-evaluated, and how nimble will the process be, to work with landmark owners and developers as real-life factors change? Will the floor be the same for fully commercial development and mixed-use commercial and residential? Will it be the same across the entire district? Will there be a mechanism to prevent a private entity from capturing the market by buying and holding rights?

DCP expects to certify the proposal by the end of the year, triggering the seven-month public review process.