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Planning Commission Hates America, or Maybe Betsy Ross

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If you've cruised the FDR Drive between 116th and 119th Streets lately, you've noticed that the long-awaited East Harlem megamall, aka East River Plaza, is finally coming together. In fact, the Times reports that the first big-box tenant, Costco, will open November 12. (Target, Best Buy and Marshall's will follow in the spring.) You may have also noticed that the controversial and Madoff-ravaged retail behemoth looks hopelessly bland?a blah facade that wouldn't be out of place on, say, a giant suburban mall (hey, wait a minute!). But the developers had grander plans for the facade. That is, until the City Planning Commission stomped all over the Stars & Stripes.

Here's how East River Plaza's design evolved:

As his project nears completion, Mr. Blumenfeld said he was disappointed that the city's Planning Department had not allowed him to make the center's brick-and-limestone facade more eye-catching from the highway. "This is one of the first properties you see when you come into Manhattan," Mr. Blumenfeld said. "It deserves something more iconic." Under a design commissioned from Kevin Roche, a Pritzer Prize-winning architect, the facade would have been draped in mesh, with an American flag sandblasted onto it.

But city officials issued a stop-work order in 2007 after the Planning Department discovered that the facade did not conform to the design that had been approved in 1999, said Rachaele Raynoff, a spokeswoman for the department. Though the flag design was not rejected on aesthetic grounds, "that is not to say that anybody liked it," she said.

And so East Harlem was forever spared from looking like Jeremy Shockey's biceps. But is this an insult to the amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesties? Somebody get Sean Hannity on the phone!
· A Difficult Birth for East Harlem Mall [NYT]
· East River Plaza coverage [Curbed]

Target East River Plaza

517 East 117th Street, New York, New York 10035 212-835-0860 Visit Website