Preservation Issues

Stringer Supports Midtown East Over Conservancy and Community Objections


Grand Central Terminal


Manhattan Borough President, Scott Stringer


Philip Johnson, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Bess Myerson, and Ed Koch.


Midtown East

“Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for their future? Americans care about their past, but for short term gain they ignore it and tear down everything that matters. Maybe…this is the time to take a stand, to reverse the tide, so that we won’t all end up in a uniform world of steel and glass boxes.”

—-Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Midtown East Rezoning Update
August 1, 2013

Borough President Scott Stringer tried to “split the baby” by recommending conditional approval of the Midtown East rezoning proposal. The Conservancy urged him to reject the proposal which poses a threat to architecturally distinguished buildings in Midtown East.

Stringer’s statement followed a last-minute promise by the Mayor that the City would put in upfront money for transit improvements that would be repaid through future development. It was a promise with no details of how much money, where it would go, or what it would accomplish. Similar plans have not worked at developments including Hudson Yards.

The Borough President’s recommendation made clear that landmarked buildings should not stand in the way of new development, and he did not call for the designation of any new landmarks.

The plan purports to replace “obsolete” office buildings, yet the City identified “projected” or “potential” development sites that include at least 17 landmark quality buildings. These buildings represent New York’s history and complement Grand Central Terminal.

Stringer’s statement followed a last-minute promise by the Mayor that the City would put in upfront money for transit improvements that would be repaid through future development. It was a promise with no details of how much money, where it would go, or what it would accomplish. Similar plans have not worked at developments including Hudson Yards.

The New York Times architecture critic and editorial board, community boards, and preservation groups had asked Stringer to reject the proposal (Read NY Times editorial).

“After a year of talks, we have no more clarity today on the commitments the Administration is prepared to make. It is a series of empty promises from an Administration that will not be in office in another five months.” Community Board 5 District Manager Wally Rubin, speaking for the Multi-Board Task Force on Midtown East.

Community Boards Five and Six issued a resolution rejecting the proposal along with a lengthy analysis that raises significant questions on nearly every aspect of it. By a unanimous vote, the Manhattan Borough Board—consisting of all Manhattan community boards— has also rejected the rezoning. “ If you start building on a faulty foundation, the building is not going to be stable,” said Lola Finkelstein, chair of the Multi-Board Task Force

The Conservancy agrees that change and growth are integral to New York’s success; however, we must also protect the distinct historic architecture that makes the City great. The Midtown East proposal will almost certainly encourage the loss of those buildings and that history. Saying no to this plan will help clear the way towards a new vision for Midtown East that protects the best of our architectural heritage and allows the public a voice in the area’s development beyond passing this blanket rezoning.

As New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman said on July 25 (click here to read the article), today’s businesses are choosing to relocate to historic buildings because of their unique qualities: “(T)he rezoning of East Midtown harks backward, to the era of ‘Mad Men.’ … Businesses are seeking spaces in untraditional neighborhoods with distinctive building stocks, like the Flatiron district, Chelsea and Lower Manhattan, and Dumbo, in Brooklyn. Google chose Chelsea because the district’s vibe seemed to match the company’s self-image, and many of its employees live within walking distance or a short subway ride away.” These are the kinds of buildings that are identified as development sites in the Midtown East plan.

Kimmelman also referred to an earlier Times op-ed piece by noted architect Robert A.M. Stern, which was critical of the rezoning. Stern wrote, “in fact the best path toward ensuring the future of East Midtown may well be that of preservation. Preservation, which too many in the real estate community reflexively oppose, has been a better stimulant for development than rezoning.”

Take Action
The next opportunity for you to act will be at the City Planning Commission public hearing, Wednesday, August 7, 2013, 9:00 am at the US Custom House, One Bowling Green. If this plan passes, the public will no longer have a voice when developers want to demolish the historic buildings of Midtown East, so join us at the hearing.

Update – Conservancy Testifies at City Planning Commission Meeting

The Conservancy testified at a City Planning Commission public meeting that the Midtown East upzoning proposal ignores the landmark quality architecture which should be the foundation for revitalizing this section of the City. Speaking alongside numerous elected officials, the Community Board’s Multi-Board Task Force, and dozens of concerned citizens, we requested that the Commission reject the plan and clear the path for a new vision for Midtown East that recognizes the potential for growth and new construction, celebrates the historic buildings that provide unique character, and allows the public to continue to have a voice in development and transportation decisions.

The City Club of New York, which also testified at the CPC meeting, has issued a report on Midtown East that considers the legal basis for allowing the City to sell development rights, a lynchpin of the proposal, and finds it lacking on several key points, including the relationship between the price that has been set for the development rights and how the funds will be used. See their website to read the full report.

The CPC is expected to vote on the rezoning proposal in late September; it will go to the City Council after that.

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