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510 Fifth, Steve Roth, and a Bromance at LPC

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The ongoing legal skirmish at 510 Fifth Avenue, where new owner Vornado has gutted the landmarked modernist interior in the name of adaptive re-use, has revealed what could be a budding bromance between Vornado chief Steve Roth and the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Emails from Vornado's lobbyist, former LPC Commissioner Meredith Kane, and responses from the LPC detail some bureaucratic hand holding, if not something more intimate. The full trail of correspondence shows that the courtship stretches back to early 2010, many months before Roth & Vornado actually purchased the mid-century masterpiece. Those emails continue on for over a year, paralleling the LPC's designation of the interior, the finalization of the agreement with retailer Joe Fresh and the entire process during which Vornado's alterations were sought.

Those communiqués begin in January 2010, when Vornado began looking at 510 Fifth "for possible purchase and retail re-use." At that time, former Commissioner Kane wrote on behalf of Vornado to LPC Chair Robert B. Tierney. Kane notes specific alterations that Vornado hoped to make at 510 Fifth [slide 3]: "On the calendered but not landmarked interior, the proposed changes would be to relocate the escalators." The Vornado lobbyist wonders "whether LPC is willing to entertain these modifications." Kane states that potential-owner Vornado is "currently in a bidding situation" and asks Tierney "not to share our thinking with any other parties which may also consult you on this." That request for secrecy doesn't seem to explain why a later reply from Tierney is completely redacted, showing up in the public court records as nothing more than a thick black line, totally obliterating the Chairman's response to Vornado's request for some up-close and personal hand holding with an apparently nervous Steve Roth [slide 6].

Later emails are spotlighted by The Architect's Newspaper, which also notes the “apoplectic” reaction of the City's legal counsel to the release of the LPC mash notes emails. That stream continues through Vornado's purchase of 510 Fifth in October 2010 and then on to the date when the LPC designated the interior as a protected landmark last February. While it's common practice for the Commission to discuss potential alterations with the actual owner of a designated property, in the case of 510 Fifth the negotiations over what would be allowed were jump-started by the eager Vornado team prior to their purchase of the landmarked property.

Beyond the bromance at 510 Fifth, there's also the recent important ruling by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Lucy A. Billings that allows the lawsuit against Vornado, architecture firm SOM and the LPC to go forward in the name architecture professor Eric W. Allison. The Pratt Institute professor regularly uses 510 Fifth as a teaching tool and has long included the landmarked building in walking tours, showcasing it as a prime example of mid-century International Style architecture. The judge cited established environmental law, tying it into historic preservation law, when she ruled that both Professor Allison and the Citizens Emergency Committee to Preserve Preservation have legal standing to bring action in regard to 510 Fifth.

The NYC law enacted for Landmarks Preservation and Historic Districts specifically states that a core public purpose is for "the education, pleasure and welfare of the people of the City." Judge Billings noted that the City's interest in landmark preservation goes beyond simple property, contractual or business rights and that the Landmarks law was created not only to protect our architectural and cultural history, but also to foster "civic pride" and promote landmarks for the good of the general public and all the people of New York City.
· Manny Hanny Back in Spotlight [Architect's Newspaper]
· Attempt to Block Landmark's Remodeling May Go Forward [New York Law Journal]
· 510 Fifth Avenue coverage [Curbed]

510 Fifth Avenue

510 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY