Proposed 23-Story Hotel Tower at Fifth Avenue and West 28th Street Considered by Landmarks

Proposed hotel project (elevation along West 28th Street). Credit: Platt Byard Dovell White

Set-back tower would rise straight up from two-story McKim Mead & White base. On July 24, 2012, Landmarks considered Quartz Associates LLC’s proposal to develop a mid-block hotel tower on top of a five-story bank building designed by McKim Mead & White at the corner of West 28th Street and Fifth Avenue in the Madison Square North Historic District. The hotel would rise above a two-story extension of the building and face West 28th Street. Quartz Associates also proposed adding a new penthouse to the building’s fifth floor along Fifth Avenue. The entire building will be used for the hotel, with the rooftop addition serving as a restaurant.

According to Quartz Associates’ attorney Robert Davis, the proposal complies with the site’s C5-2 zoning. Architect Charles Platt, of Platt Byard Dovell White, presented the proposal. Rather than design the building with a series of setbacks, the tower would be set back fifteen feet from the two-story base and rise straight up. Platt claimed a building with several setbacks would ultimately be too narrow to accommodate the necessary hotel rooms. The tower would be clad in precast concrete with inlaid light-tan brick. It would feature metal spandrel panels and strong vertical piers of different widths facing 28th Street. The tower would be visible from over the roof of the building along Fifth Avenue.

The building’s facades would be largely restored, although some alterations would be made for the hotel entrance on West 28th Street. The penthouse addition on the five-story portion would replace an existing addition, and sit slightly lower and only be partially visible from the street. A canopy would be installed over the West 28th street hotel entrance, inspired by the building’s original bank entrance. Quartz Associates also proposed creating a master plan for  the gradual replacement and restoration of windows on the corner building.

Platt conceded that the tower on a base was not a typology found in the historic district, but “a modern development based on zoning.” He claimed that Landmarks in the past had approved a taller building in the historic district. Quartz Associates has not yet identified a hotel operator.

Preservation groups criticized the proposal. The Historic Districts Council’s Nadezhda Williams testified that the proposal’s design seemed to be “more driven by a desire to take in all that zoning would allow rather than what would be most contextual.” The Society for the Architecture of the City’s Christabel Gough objected to the tower being set back from the two-story extension. In addition to performing extensive redesigns, Gough recommended that Quartz Associates seek a zoning variance to develop the building at the street wall.

The Municipal Art Society (MAS) submitted written testimony urging Landmarks to refrain from approving any new construction until after the owner had restored the building’s facade.  MAS found the height and massing of the proposal appropriate, but said the design and proposed materials required further study.  Chair Robert B. Tierney stated that Manhattan Community Board 5 recommended approval of the project, but asked that the owner return to CB 5 to discuss proposed signage after identifying a hotel operator.

Commissioner Fred Bland found the proposal close to approvable, stating that it “matters not at all” whether or not the tower was set back from the existing base. Bland said having the tower set back would allow the original building to have a greater prominence as you walk toward Fifth Avenue. However, he did object to the width of the proposed canopy. Commissioner Joan Gerner agreed, noting that the neutral chromatic palette of the proposal fit in well with the district. Commissioner Diana Chapin echoed Bland’s comments, saying the setback would allow “for a more discrete perception of the original building.”

Vice Chair Pablo Vengoechea and Commissioners Michael Goldblum and Roberta Washington criticized the design. Vengoechea found that the proposal’s overall massing was excessive, and said the tower was not contextual with the district. Vengoechea noted, however, that the site could sustain a tall structure. Commissioner Goldblum agreed that the massing was inappropriate, and said the tower would be much more successful and contextual if it were built at the street wall. Commissioner Washington said the tower looked “too long… and too out of place” with the base.

Chair Tierney stated that he could accept the plan’s “basic thrust,” but without finding a consensus among the commissioners, he asked the owner and architect to revise aspects of the plan in consideration of the comments.

LPC: 250-252 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan (12-5106) (July 24, 2012) (Architect: Platt Byard Dovell White).

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