St.Vincent’s proposed expansion stirs controversy

St. Vincent’s proposed new hospital and residential development in Greenwich Village. Image: Saint Vincent’s Catholic Medical Centers.

St. Vincent’s made its case for a new building, while residents expressed outrage. Landmarks held two public hearings, on April 1st and 15th, regarding St. Vincent’s Hospital’s and Rudin Management Company’s proposal to build, within the Greenwich Village Historic District, 1.3 million sq.ft. of new residential and hospital space. The plan is arguably the largest ever proposed within an historic district in the history of the City’s Landmarks Law.

Under the plan, St. Vincent’s and Rudin would demolish nine buildings along Seventh Avenue between West 12th and West 11th Streets, including the O’Toole Building, a 1964 structure designed by Albert Ledner. Ledner, who trained under Frank Lloyd Wright, also designed the National Maritime Union building in Chelsea.

The demolished buildings would make room for, and transfer development rights to, a 329-foot state-of-the-art hospital, a 21-story residential tower, and rows of three-story townhouses. The new hospital, designed by I.M. Pei’s architecture firm, would consolidate all of St. Vincent’s operations into one building and feature an egg-shaped terracotta clad tower.

St. Vincent’s attorney, Shelly Friedman, testified that the hospital’s current configuration, composed of several buildings built at different times for different purposes, was inefficient and could not accommodate modern medical technology.

Elected officials expressed sympathy for the hospital’s needs, but had reservations about the plan, namely the extent of demolition and size of the proposed residential tower. A representative of Council Speaker Christine Quinn read a letter requesting further modifications to the plan. State Assemblymember Deborah Glick, however, took an even stronger stance, calling upon Landmarks to reject the plan outright and further stated that “the ideal redevelopment of this site would creatively combine new development while reusing existing landmarked buildings.”

Members of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation argued that the proposed demolition of nine buildings was at odds with Landmarks’ mandate to protect historic buildings and districts. Local residents, meanwhile, generally characterized the plan as inappropriate. One resident described the residential tower as a “Stalinist prison without the charm,” while another claimed that approval of the plan would be an “unforgivable breach of the whole purpose of an historic district.”

Given an opportunity to rebut, St. Vincent’s and Rudin representatives claimed that demolishing the existing buildings was necessary because it was cost-prohibitive to convert them to residential use. Friedman testified that the plan was partially the result of a bankruptcy judgment in which St. Vincent’s agreed to consolidate its operations, sell off some of its property, and build a more efficient hospital that ran at a profit.

Chair Robert B. Tierney closed the April 15th meeting without a vote, promising to reconvene in May to further discuss the matter.

LPC: 20 Seventh Ave., Manhattan (COFA# 08-4933); 1 Seventh Ave., Manhattan (COFA# 08-4934); 76 Greenwich Ave., Manhattan (COFA# 08-4935) (Apr. 1 and 15, 2008).

CITYLANDComment: On May 6, 2008, Landmarks asked St. Vincent’s and Rudin to present a new plan that would preserve, rather than demolish, buildings within the historic district.

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