NYU’s proposed 38-story tower under fire

By Yaffi Spodek | June 22, 2010 02:15PM

NYU’s Alicia Hurley and a rendering of the proposed fourth tower (building in the middle)

“Overtaxing,” “disturbing,” “untenable” and “a misfit for the community” were some of the choice words used last night by Greenwich Village residents to describe New York University’s expansion plans, particularly the school’s proposal to build a 38-story tower on Bleecker Street.

They came out in full force to
hear a preliminary presentation of the tower plan by Alicia Hurley,
the vice president of NYU’s government relations and community
engagement department. But the two-hour-plus meeting was dominated by
the standing-room-only crowd airing their grievances, including
attacking Hurley and her design team.

Called “NYU in NYC,” the university’s ambitious plans — including the
new tower — would add 6 million square feet to the university’s East
Village campus and across the city,
with a 2031 completion date.

Last night’s presentation centered on the proposed 385-foot-high
tower, which would be built in the Silver Towers area — two
“superblocks” the school owns, from West 3rd to Houston streets
and LaGuardia Place to Mercer Street — already home to three NYU
towers designed by architect I.M. Pei. The new building would also
house a hotel on the bottom 15 floors that would be open to the
public. Other parts of the expansion plan call for the relocation of
the Jerome S. Coles Sports Center and a new green corridor and
playground.

If NYU has its way, the proposed tower, designed by Grimshaw
Architects, would be located on university-owned space that was
designated as a landmark in 2008. The second-choice location for the
four-quadrant building is at the current site of the Morton Williams
supermarket, which NYU purchased in 2001. However, opponents to the
plan noted that since the supermarket is situated on land that was
formerly owned by the city, the deed restriction would need to be
lifted and the space would be off-limits until 2021. Neither option
has found favor with local residents, who resent the congestion that
will affect their residential neighborhood and fear the loss of trees
and green space during construction.

“The biggest problem is that NYU has overbuilt and oversaturated the
neighborhood,” Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich
Village Society for Historic Preservation, told The Real Deal after
the meeting. “The fact that they are asking for commercial zoning for
a hotel in a residential district is unacceptable.” He suggested the
Financial District as a viable alternative for the expansion plan.

NYU maintains that building the fourth tower would preserve and
complement the original design of the I.M. Pei towers. The design was
based on a “tower amid the landscape idea,” according to the NYU team,
seeking to “maximize air and light,” and also to create more green
space. “We are making every effort to stay on our own property and do
the expansion as sensitively as possible,” Hurley said at the meeting.
She added that the university is continuing to explore remote
opportunities across the city, outside the contested location, while
acknowledging that 50 percent of the expansion will be done in the
Greenwich Village area, where the school is based.

David Gruber, chair of the institutions committee of CB2 who ran the
meeting, stressed that NYU’s plans were only proposals and not a “fait
accompli.” In the fall, the full community board will vote on them,
acting only in an advisory capacity, while the city will have to give
the school approval — including a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure
— to go forward with the two-and-a-half decade long project.