Preservation Issues

Midtown East Update

-1925 Postum Building at 250 Park

-366 Madison, a 1920 building by Warren and Wetmore

September 7, 2016

Landmarks will play a significant role in the City’s new proposal to rezone Midtown East, but the plan still leaves several historic buildings under threat, including the 1925 Postum Building at 250 Park and 366 Madison, a 1920 building by Warren and Wetmore.

The Department of City Planning released scoping documents August 22 that preview the proposal to encourage large-scale development in the area around Grand Central Terminal. The plan envisions up to 16 new towers, with the potential for 14 more. The plan would allow landmarks to transfer air rights throughout the upzoned area but would require an as yet undetermined portion of the proceeds to be paid to the City. The rezoning documents are being released in tandem with the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s (LPC) Greater East Midtown initiative, which aims to designate 12 individual landmarks within the rezoning area.

The Conservancy testified in support of the Pershing Square Building, Graybar Building, and several of the grand pre-war hotels along Lexington Avenue at the first public hearing for the proposed landmarks in July. The second hearing, which will include Yale Club, 400 Madison Avenue, and the Hampton Shops Building at 18-20 East 50th Street, among others, will take place on September 13.

While the Conservancy lauds the LPC’s plans to recognize these buildings, we are concerned about the many significant properties that the City Planning Commission has labeled as “projected” or “potential” development sites. In 2013, when the Bloomberg administration put forward its Midtown East rezoning proposal, the Conservancy, along with the Historic Districts Council and Municipal Art Society, issued a priority list for landmarks; eight of the 16 are on the path to designation, while the remainder, including the Hotel Intercontinental and two buildings along Vanderbilt Corridor (which was rezoned separately in 2014) face an uncertain future (More on the list here).

The proposal will also expand incentives for landmarks within the rezoning subdistrict. It calls for increased floor area ratios (FAR) across the subdistrict, at highest levels along blocks nearest to subway stations. In order for developers to maximize that FAR, those within the transit zones will first need to undertake substantial transit improvements, and then purchase air rights from landmarks. Currently landmarks are allowed to transfer development rights to adjacent and nearby properties. Under the proposal, the receiving area for these transfers would expand to the entire subdistrict, roughly 39th to 57th Street, from Madison to Third Avenues. This measure comes at a literal price, as a portion of the sales would go to a fund that will finance improvements to the public realm, such as open-air plazas, and additional work at MTA stations.

City Planning will hold a public session on Thursday, September 22, 2016 at the Manhattan Municipal Building, 1 Centre Street, with two sessions, at 2:00 and 6:00 pm, to allow for public comments on the scoping documents. The agency will accept written comments until Tuesday, October 4, 2016, and intends to certify the application and begin the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process by the end of 2016.

The Conservancy was a member of the East Midtown Steering Committee, which met some 20 times between fall 2014 and summer 2015. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Council member Dan Garodnick co-chaired the Steering Committee, which included representatives of local Community Boards, civic organizations, and organized labor. The Committee’s recommendations called for a plan that would allow for increased development while maintaining landmark buildings, and improving transportation and the public realm. The Committee was established following the 2013 withdrawal of the Bloomberg administration plan for the area.