20 more stories for Beekman building
By Ronda Kaysen
Real estate developer Bruce Ratner announced plans last week to increase the size of his Beekman St. tower from 55 stories to 75 stories, making it the second tallest proposed building in the Downtown skyline after the Freedom Tower, and inciting outrage from local residents and a potential lawsuit from the city council.
The announcement of a 20-story addition to the one-million-square-foot tower on the lot bordered by Spruce, Beekman, Nassau and Gold Sts. was proposed as a solution to concerns from residents of the neighboring Southbridge Towers that the development would block their windows. Ratner’s alternative — to build a taller, slimmer building with an open plaza — is not what the residents had in mind.
“When you negotiate something in a community that the community doesn’t like, it usually goes down in scale, not up,” Paul Viggiano, president of Southbridge Towers co-op board, said at Community Board 1’s meeting, Sept. 21. “We’re going to get all of our political muscle together to do what we can to get this building down [in size].”
Dan Slippen, director of community relations for Pace University, one of the building’s potential tenants, defended the increase in size. “We’ve been trying to make good will with the community,” he told the board. “We went to 75 stories because of an agreement with members of the community who did not want the bulk of the building against their building, which caused the building to rise.”
No official agreement was reached between Ratner and the community, according to Paul Epstein, a resident of 140 Nassau St. “Nobody has reached any agreement with anybody,” he told the Downtown Express, although he and other residents of his building have met with Ratner’s office. Nevertheless, residents of 140 and 150 Nassau Sts. thought the slimmer alternative was an improvement, Epstein said.
Relieved there will be space between his apartment and the tower — Epstein’s bedroom windows look out on the site — Epstein argues that the building needs to be smaller in more ways than height. “The height is what gets some people excited, but the bulk is what counts,” he said. “If it’s going to be in this size range, it’s going to be a massive building [no matter what].”
Frank Gehry will be the architect, but no renderings of the building have been released.
The building’s staggering height and its bulk are not the community’s only concern. With no clear plans for amenities for the neighborhood — aside from the open plaza — C.B. 1 leaders and local politicians have stepped in to negotiate a development that is more appealing to the densely populated neighborhood.
“We have lots of people in this neighborhood that need services and we haven’t been able to create anything for them, no schools, no parks, nothing,” said Paul Goldstein, C.B. 1’s district manager. Goldstein is hoping to set aside 50,000 square feet of space in the new building for a community center for the neighborhood, one with a gym and swimming pool.
In the current plan, Pace University will occupy 330,000 square feet, or about one-third of the tower. In its portion of the building, Pace will house dormitories, a business school and offices, an art gallery and community space for the public. The rest of the building will be devoted to a 25,000-square-foot outpatient facility for N.Y.U. Downtown Hospital, and rental and condo apartments.
The building’s height, he said, is of less concern than its lack of community services. “This huge building is going to go up without anything for the community,” Goldstein said. “It’s a big pill to swallow.”
The city acquired the site under eminent domain in 1964, and then sold it to what is now NYU Downtown Hospital in 1967, with strict height and land use restrictions. When the statue of limitations on the parcel expired in April, Forest City Enterprises began negotiations to purchase the property from the money-strapped hospital.
The project will be partially financed by $243 million in commercial Liberty Bonds for the construction of the lower 24 floors of the tower for Pace University and NYU Downtown Hospital.
“Public funds were used to condemn a property for public use, at least a piece of it needs to go back to public use,” said C.B. 1 chairperson Madelyn Wils at the board meeting.
City Councilmember Alan Gerson may file a lawsuit against Forest City Enterprises on behalf of the City Council to insure the community’s needs are met. “You’re talking about building the largest building in Lower Manhattan and that requires a thorough review,” Gerson told Downtown Express. “We can’t just have such a mammoth development without getting it right.”
The deadline for filing a lawsuit is Oct. 4, although Gerson is not convinced that a resolution will require legal action. “A lawsuit is always the last resort,” he said. “I hope over the next week or so we’ll be able to come up with an arrangement that meets the needs of the community.”
Forest City Enterprises did not comment.
At its Sept. 21 meeting, C. B. 1 passed a resolution supporting Gerson’s suit. “This 75-story building benefits Ratner,” said Wils. “Now Ratner needs to step up to the plate and see how he wants to deal with the community.”