|For Immediate Release:
January 31, 2013
|Contact: Mike Morey,
MIDTOWN 21C COALITION RELEASES FIRST AND ONLY COMPREHENSIVE STUDY OF HISTORIC ASSETS AND DEVELOPMENT HISTORY OF MIDTOWN EAST
Study Finds Midtown East Architectural History is One of Continual Change with True Landmarks Typically Identified When they Were First Eligible 30 Years After CompletionBuilding-by-Building Analysis of Structures Targeted by Preservation Groups for Landmark Status Show Series of Architectural Knock-offs, Imitations, and Reclad & Enhanced StructuresMidtown 21C: If Landmarks Are Created Solely for the Purpose of Opposing Redevelopment, they Jeopardize New York’s Future and Midtown East’s Reputation as Premier Office District(New York, NY) – Midtown 21C, a coalition of leaders in business, labor, and real estate advocating for a rezoning of Midtown East, released the first and only comprehensive analysis of the development history of the business district and the structures targeted for landmark status by local preservation groups. The analysis makes clear that the development history of Midtown East is one of continual change and that this essential quality of the district should not be undermined by landmarking unimportant buildings. The study demonstrates that the structures presently being targeted for landmark status by preservation groups are minor buildings that have been eligible for designation for many decades and have never been acted on. They comprise minor works by known architects, architectural knock-offs of previously landmarked buildings, placeholders whose design goals were to generate economic return, and buildings that have been reclad and refaced to such a degree that they have lost any architectural significance that would merit landmark status. The report, commissioned by Midtown 21C is entitled Icons, Placeholders & Leftovers: Midtown East Report and was conducted by renowned Philadelphia-based consulting firm CivicVisions.
The 52-page analysis examines the cultural and architectural history of the district and evaluates the buildings targeted for landmark status by local preservation groups, and points out that truly historic and iconic properties worthy of landmark status had typically been designated shortly after they became eligible at 30 years of age. The report notes that roughly ten percent of the land area in the Midtown East zone is already landmarked and another ten percent of the structures have been refaced to upgrade their appearance and make them more energy
efficient and appealing to today’s office tenant. An additional ten percent of the area is covered with knockoffs of the Look Building, Lever House, or Seagram Building. It also finds that a significant number of buildings in the proposed rezoning area were the work of the architectural office of Emery Roth & Sons, which was noted more for their ability to produce efficient buildings, not architecturally distinctive ones. Frequently, these buildings were knock offs of current designs, resulting in many look-alike designs around Midtown East that undermine the NYC culture of originality. As a result, the knockoffs and placeholders, as well as the Roth buildings, are neither iconic nor unique –and do not merit landmark status.
In addition, the report raises important questions about the appropriateness of landmarking buildings whose original materials are often no longer available or manufactured and whose construction systems have inherent problems that earlier builders were not aware of. The cost of maintaining such buildings to the appropriately high standards of a landmark can exceed the economic return that these older buildings can be expected generate in today’s demanding market.
The report highlights Midtown East’s continuous transformation over the last century and a half. It demonstrates that the district evolved from a mid 19th century neighborhood of townhouses and churches with a train line in the middle, to a center for rail transport and commerce that eventually led first, to the era of Park Avenue apartments, and by the 1920s to a new office market. Midtown East has been a business district far longer than any other use, primarily because it is the best use that complements the city’s premier transportation network. Until the end of the last century, every decade has seen a significant number of new sites assembled and new towers built, continuing the district’s long reputation as one of continual change that meets global demand.
The CivicVisions’ analysis also demonstrates a high-level of correlation between potential development sites as identified by the New York City Department of Planning and structures the various preservation groups have targeted for preservation. This correlation has made it clear that the landmark process is not being used to identify “special” buildings that matter to the entire city. At various times, there have been a total of 82 buildings in the district mentioned for landmark protection by local preservationist groups. If all of the sites currently identified by preservation groups were accepted as landmarks, the number of the development sites identified by the City would be cut by more than half and wholly 72 structures in the entire Midtown East zone would be landmarks. Such designation would effectively end the district’s ability to continue creating the critical fission that attracts new businesses and new jobs and would undermine its purpose as the premier office district in the world.
“This report puts to rest the false arguments for preserving old buildings simply because they’ve survived. Instead, Midtown East’s dynamic history should serve as a blueprint for its future,” said Richard Anderson, President of the New York Building Congress and member of the Midtown 21C coalition. “From its inception, this district has been a step ahead of the competition because it adapted and changed to meet the demands of the future. Rezoning will encourage the development that will allow Midtown East to remain a vital hub of global business activity that creates jobs and permits the change that has historically set this district apart.”
“CivicVisions’ report shows two things. First, Midtown East already boasts some of the City’s, indeed the world’s, greatest landmark buildings. Second, none of the many buildings now being proposed for landmarking are ‘special’ enough to merit that status,” said Steven Spinola, President of the Real Estate Board of New York and member of the Midtown21C coalition. “Landmarking unmeritorious buildings will stunt the area’s growth, diminish revenue to pay for needed infrastructure improvements and prevent new buildings, possibly true future landmarks, from being built in Midtown East.”
“We must remain committed to the growth and development of this vibrant city, and should recognize that change and expansion are part of the dynamism that makes New York City great,” said Hector Figueroa, President of 32BJ SEIU and a member of the Midtown 21C coalition. “The landmarks commission must commit to a fair and balanced approach to both landmark designation and responsible development, particularly when opportunities to stimulate the economy and create
more family sustaining jobs are especially needed.”
A successful rezoning of Midtown East with the resulting construction of new icons for the 21st century will affirm New York City’s role as the hub of business activity in the new, global economy. It will allow the development of state-of-the-art office space, construction of energy efficient structures, as well as create thousands of well-paying jobs—construction and permanent—while raising vital funds to improve New York’s transportation infrastructure and pedestrian spaces.
For more information on the report please visit Midtown21C’s new website: www.midtown21C.org. The website serves as a hub of information on rezoning and the positive impact it would have on keeping New York City competitive as a global business center. The site also provides rezoning supporters with the opportunity to take action by joining the growing coalition of voices speaking out in favor of a rezoned Midtown East.
Midtown21C is advocating for the 2013 approval of a rezoning of New York City’s Midtown East that will ensure this pre-eminent business district remains globally competitive in a 21st century economy. Members of the coalition include: the New York Building Congress, Building Trades Employers Association, Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, Hotel Trades Council, 32BJ Service Employees International Union, and the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY).