Although the area around West 72nd Street and Broadway on the Upper West Side is one of the city’s most coveted address zones, developers have always faced a tough time there.
Small lots, a large historic district, longstanding contextual zoning and activist residents who routinely oppose new development make the area a minefield for builders.
While residential development perked up throughout some unlikely city neighborhoods over the last couple of years, new projects seem to be just finding their way to the heart of the Upper West Side.
New projects in the low 70s include a 16-story tower and a 19-story building, raising the area skyline and giving Extell development’s Ariel Towers at 100th Street some company.
The developments promise to reshape the streetscape around Verdi Square, the triangular park at the 72nd Street subway stop and the expansive intersection of Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue at 72nd Street.
At the southwest corner of Broadway and West 72nd Street, Beaux Arts masterpieces like the Dorilton and the Ansonia Hotel will soon be joined by a boxy new glass and steel structure.
Philips International Realty plans a 19-story building at 200 West 72nd Street with 39,412 square feet of retail space and 9,078 square feet of luxury condos in the tower. The building will be rechristened 2075 Broadway when completed in 2008.
When word circulated that Philips intended to buy the outmoded Colonial Club, built in 1892, neighborhood activists sought landmark status for the building, but their attempts failed.
Black netting now covers the entire façde of the Colonial Club as it’s prepared for demolition. Philips also bought three townhouses on West 72nd Street to expand the project footprint.
“The buyers were shrewd to get a crummy office building going nowhere but down and other places with leases running up that don’t really fit in the neighborhood anymore,” said Barak Dunayer, president of Barak Realty on West 72nd Street. “The steel and glass is only beginning around here, and it’s inevitable.”
The Colonial Club lot takes up about two-thirds of the entire block’s frontage along Broadway. The other third is occupied by the seven-story Epic Security building at 2067 Broadway and the eight-story Lester Building next door at the corner of 71st Street.
The completion of a new subway entrance on the north side of 72nd Street and Broadway in 2004 has transformed Verdi Square. The project replaced a portion of Broadway used only by buses with a pedestrian plaza sporting public seating and decorative planters.
Directly across from the subway stop, the converted Apple Bank Building is ready for occupancy.
The upper floors of the eight-story landmark building, which was built in 1929, were gut renovated into 29 residences with one-, two-, three- and four-bedrooms ranging in size from 1,359 to 4,500 square feet. Prices run from $1.85 million to $7.1 million and the building is 40 percent sold. Occupancy begins this month.
The Apple Bank remains in the original stone and marble hall on the ground floor, which is being restored.
Lack of prime space for large projects led the Related Companies to buy the Dakota Stables at 348 Amsterdam Avenue and 77th Street. Neighborhood activists’ attempts to landmark it failed. Used as a parking garage, the building housed an Equinox fitness center, a company Related bought last year.
The property is still under contract and the stable’s retail and residential replacement is in the planning stages.
“This is one of the most centrally located sites available on the Upper West Side,” said David Wine, vice chairman of the Related Companies. He envisions a condo with retail on Amsterdam Avenue and a return of the Equinox fitness club, where membership would be included in the common charges.
Several existing properties limit the proposed plans.
“I foresee an entrance on Amsterdam and 76th and about 15 or 16 stories, depending on which side we go on,” Wine said. “We’re not allowed to build particularly high.”
Other preservation battles loom. The announcement by the First Baptist Church on the west side of Broadway at 79th Street — which sits on air rights and is zoned for a floor-to-area ratio of 12 — that it was evaluating whether to remain at the site or explore redevelopment opportunities, has generated a grassroots groundswell to save the building. City Councilwoman Gale Brewer and Landmark West! have vowed to try and preserve the church.
Development within the historic district is permitted as long as new buildings conform to existing structures.
At 120-122 West 72nd Street between Columbus Avenue and Broadway, a new project planned by Anbau Enterprises, will cover a 100-by-50 foot lot with a 16-story, 27-unit condominium.
Vornado Realty Trust, which paid $24.2 million for the one-story building that housed a 5,600-square-foot Banana Republic outlet on Columbus Avenue between 69th and 70th streets, plans to build a multi-story mixed-use building.
Whether in the district or not, on most side streets building is limited to 10 stories.
The neighborhood’s facelift has claimed several longstanding establishments, including an OTB parlor (to be replaced by the Philips building) and the fluorescent-lit Weber’s discount store, now a Fidelity Investments branch that sports a four-story banner, one of several financial service storefronts that have invaded the square.
Despite the neighborhood’s gentrification, several d class icons remain, including the P & G Cafe and its glorious neon sign at the northeast corner of Amsterdam and 73rd Street, though the local watering hole’s days are numbered.
Those icons are the last traces of Verdi Square’s notorious history. In the 1960s and 1970s, Single Room Occupancy hotels housing recovering addicts and mental patients surrounded the small square, immortalized in the film “The Panic in Needle Park.” Gentrification started, slowly, after Lincoln Center replaced several troubled housing complexes in the mid-’60s.
The neighborhood became a haven for preservation activists, who helped establish one of the city’s largest historic districts, stretching roughly from 67th Street up to 90th Street between the wide corridor formed by Central Park West and the eastern side of Broadway.
In the 1980s, long before residents of other neighborhoods had even heard of the phrase, contextual zoning restricted building heights below 96th Street, said Kate Wood, executive director of the Landmark West! preservation group.
Talk of development in Verdi Square often raises the fate of the iconic, notoriously inexpensive Gray’s Papaya hot dog emporium, which is festooned with a kitschy fluorescent sign and garish lights inside and out. A recent “Recession Special” offered two franks and a drink for $3.50, itself a sign of rising prices — a year ago, the same fare cost $2.75.
Gray’s stands at the coveted southeastern corner of Broadway and 72nd Street next to a five-story retail and residential townhouse and a two-story Art Deco commercial building that would, if demolished, provide an accommodating building site. But Gray’s stands within the historic district.
“People have wanted this corner from a development standpoint, but it’s difficult to compile enough small buildings to build a big one,” said Dunayer. “In this neighborhood, there are a lot of little lots that you can’t do anything with.”
Projects within seven blocks of West 72nd Street
(Key: address, owner, plans)
348 Amsterdam Ave (77th Street)
The Related Companies
New residential project
22 Riverside Drive (74th-75th)
Dominion Property Group
19-story condo conversion
2112 Broadway (73rd-74th)
Stahl Real Estate
Converting offices into 27 condominiums
200 West 72nd Street
New 19 story retail/residential
120-122 West 72nd Street
New 16-story, 72-unit condo
18 West 70th Street
Congregation Shearith Israel
Building community center and 10-story condo
211-217 Amsterdam Ave (69th-70th)
Vornado Realty Trust
Bought for $24.1 million
200 West End Avenue (69th)
The Clarett Group
New 27-story, 191-unit condo
166-188 Amsterdam Ave (67th-69th)
American Continental Properties
Retail/residential project planned
150 Amsterdam Avenue (66th)
A & R Kalimian Realty
Bought for $72 million
2221 Broadway (79th)
First Baptist Church
Contemplating selling building
2222 Broadway (79th)
Owned by Friedland Properties
Potential development site
27 West 72nd Street
Stellar Management and Brack Capital Realty
Bought for $72 million, plans unclear