St.Vincent’s future remains uncertain

Commissioners deeply divided in their responses to proposed new hospital. In the most recent chapter of St. Vincent Catholic Medical Center’s process to gain approval for a consolidated, modern hospital, Landmarks met on December 16, 2008, to discuss the proposed new building. A month earlier, Landmarks had approved the demolition of the 1964 O’Toole building on Seventh Avenue between West 12th and West 13th Streets, clearing the way for construction of a new hospital on the site. 5 CityLand 158 (Nov. 15, 2008).

Landmarks Chair Robert B. Tierney allowed St. Vincent’s the opportunity to summarize the proposal, describe the process by which it reached its current design, and respond to public testimony from the previous hearing. Attorney Shelly Friedman testified that the new building would “truly be a hospital of the future” and would not require a new structure after 30 years.  Bernadette Kingham-Bez, senior vice-president of St. Vincent’s, claimed the new hospital would be built to “evolve with the health care needs of the future.”

Bill Higgins, of Higgins and Quasebarth, stated that the proposal fit into a “tradition of hospital design as a formal expression of hospital technology and philosophy,” and invoked the history of vertical forms and large sculptural structures in Greenwich Village. Friedman added that if the building were approved by Landmarks, the project would still require a rezoning, zoning text amendments, and possibly special permits from the City Planning Commission.

Ian Bader, of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Architects LLP, testified that the curvilinear, 299-foot tall building “mediates between the two juxtaposed street grids of Greenwich Village and Manhattan.” Bader also presented an alternate plan, showing how the hospital would look if it were built in a more conventional rectangular shape. Bader claimed a rectangle would lead to a loss of view corridors, an increase in the height of the street wall, and a significant increase in girth. Bader emphasized that the building had been reduced in height and size since the last hearing. 5 CityLand 91 (July 15, 2008).

Although Tierney said that hospitals should generally not be located in historic districts, he stated that the proposal was “headed in the right direction.” Tierney found that the proposal’s strengths outweighed its weaknesses, and that it was an example of significant architecture which would contribute to the collection of unique buildings in Greenwich Village.

Tierney interpreted the comments of elected officials, including Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, Borough President Scott Stringer, State Senator Thomas K. Duane, and Assembly Member Deborah Glick, to generally support the project. Commissioner Fred Bland also expressed support, finding the design “ingenious,” and that it had the potential to surpass the building it would replace.

Commissioner Pablo Vengoechea found the design generally acceptable, but argued that the threshold issue was the building’s height, which still needed reduction. Commissioner Roberta Brandes-Gratz expressed frustration with the application, stating that it was her understanding that the hardship application only applied to the demolition of the O’Toole Building. Brandes-Gratz argued that the proposed hospital would overwhelm the historic district because of its improper scale.

Commissioner Stephen Byrns stated that the proposal was “as inappropriate now as when I first saw it.” Byrns found that the proposal consisted of “too much bulk on too small of a footprint,” and said, “I regret that the proposal has lingered so long on this path.” Commissioner Margery Perlmutter echoed Byrns’ sentiments, saying the proposal was “so far away from anything that speaks to the district, I don’t know where to begin.”

Commissioner Thomas Moore disagreed with many of his colleagues, arguing that the real landmark in this instance was the hospital itself. Moore emphasized the importance of the hospital’s continued operation. He added that necessity was the mother of the proposed design, that the design reflected community input, and that it was as streamlined as it could be.

Landmarks did not vote on the proposal, and Tierney did not state whether the proposal would be voted on or whether St. Vincent’s would return with yet another amended design.

LPC: 20 Seventh Avenue, Manhattan (08-4933) (Dec. 16, 2008).

Leave a Reply

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