Proposal would replace Hotel Pennsylvania with 2.1 million sq.ft. tower and reopen Gimbels underground passageway. On July 14, 2010, the City Planning Commission approved Vornado Realty Trust’s proposal to build a large commercial tower, known as 15 Penn Plaza, on Seventh Avenue between West 32nd and 33rd Streets in Manhattan. The site is occupied by the Hotel Pennsylvania, which Vornado would demolish in order to build its tower. Vornado proposed either a 67-story, single-tenant building option or a 68-story, multi-tenant development.
The single-tenant option would feature a 218-foot tall podium with a tapered tower reaching 1,190 feet. This building would be designed to accommodate the needs of a financial institution, including an open central space for unobstructed trading floors. It would also include 10,000 sq.ft. of ground floor retail space and a 100-space underground garage. The multi-tenant option would feature a 134-foot base, and a tapered, setback tower that would reach 1,216 feet. This option would provide 34,000 sq.ft. of ground floor retail space and additional retail space in the upper floors of its six-story base.
In order to obtain a development bonus, Vornado also proposed certain transit improvements. Among the improvements, Vornado would relocate and upgrade subway entrances at West 32nd and 33rd Streets and renovate and reopen the Gimbels/33rd Street Passageway. The Gimbels Passageway, which once connected pedestrians to Penn Station and Herald Square, has been closed since 1986. 7 City- Land 24 (March 15, 2010).
Manhattan Community Board 5 opposed the project, claiming its design was “uninspired” and would fail to “add beauty” to the City’s skyline and streetscape. CB 5 also argued that the proposed transit improvements would not justify a development bonus, claiming that pedestrians would only use the Gimbels Passageway to “avoid bad weather.”
Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer issued a conditional approval. Stringer stated that the proposal would be a unique opportunity for the City to encourage high-density transit-oriented development, strengthen one of the country’s largest central business districts, and improve the area’s mass-transit system. He argued that the proposed transit improvements would be impossible to achieve without the proposal.
At the Commission’s public hearing on May 26, no one spoke in opposition, but the Commission did receive written testimony opposing the project from several residents. The owner of the Empire State Building expressed concerns about the impact of the proposed tower on its antenna transmission facility.
The Commission approved the proposal, stating that the proposed “state-of-the-art” building would be a “fine addition” to the City’s skyline. The Commission pointed out that Vornado had revised its renovation plan for the Gimbels Passageway and would increase the height of the passageway so that no portion would be lower than eleven feet. Vornado also agreed to commit at least 265 feet of the passageway to retail. The Commission noted that the proposed transit improvements would be useful for moving commuters between underground stations and went “well beyond mere repairs.”
The City Council has until September 7, 2010, to review the proposal.
CPC: 15 Penn Plaza (July 14, 2010).