Court rejects challenges to sale of Two Columbus Circle

Preservation group opposes conversion and remodeling of modernist building. Landmark West, a historic preservation group, seeks to stop the EDC’s sale of the nine-story modernist building at Two Columbus Circle to the Museum of Arts and Design. In February 2005, it lost its first two challenges to the sale, (2 CityLand 28 (Mar. 15, 2005)), when the First Department ruled that the Landmarks Preservation Commission was under no obligation to hold a public hearing on the potential designation of the building after making an internal agency decision that it was unworthy.

In April 2005, Landmark West sued the City alleging that the terms of the sale constituted an illegal gift under the state constitution, and that the City was prohibited from selling Two Columbus Circle without a bidding process or state approval because it was public land and part of the public trust.

In May, LandmarkWest filed a request with Landmarks asking again for a decision on whether Two Columbus Circle deserved a designation hearing. It then petitioned the court to bar Landmarks Chair Robert Tierney from any involvement in the decision, alleging that Tierney’s past communications with Laurie Beckelman, a former Chair and now a representative of the Museum, violated City law.

Justice Michael Stallman denied both claims. The court ruled that the sale was not an illegal gift because the $17.05 million sale price exceeded the building’s appraised value. The Museum’s potential to expedite construction and reduce the sale price by $2 million, making the price $150,000 less than the appraised value, did not alter this decision.

The court denied both arguments that Two Columbus Circle was public land or a public trust even though the building was given as a gift to the City in 1980 with terms requiring its return if it were not used until 2010 as a “public facility for visitors’ services.” The court reasoned that since the gift could return to the donor, it could not be a public trust and it was not public land under the City Charter unless mapped by the City as such. Since the City transferred the land to the EDC, a non-City agency, its sale did not violate the competitive bidding requirement.

In the second case, Stallman rejected the request to bar Tierney from discussing Two Columbus Circle with the Museum or any party. Landmarks’ decision on whether the building was worthy of designation was not an adjudication under the City Charter that barred discussions by Commissioners with parties involved. Landmark West’s claim for over $1.1 million in damages was also denied.

Landmark West! v. NYC, 2005 NY Slip Op 25362, Sept. 1, 2005 (N.Y. Cty. Sup.Ct.) (Stallman, J.); In re Landmark West!, 2005 NY Slip Op 51374U, Sept. 1, 2005, (N.Y. Cty. Sup.Ct.) (Stallman, J.).

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.