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Could Extell's Next Megatower Set a Dangerous Precedent?

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Steven Roth of Vornado Realty and Extell Development's Gary Barnett recently ended their seven year feud by agreeing to a deal that ensured that both companies' new superluxury midtown towers (Vornado's 220 Central Park South, and Extell's 217 West 57th Street) would have unimpeded views of Central Park. However, in order to maximize the views, 217 West 57th Street will have to cantilever a section of its tower over the American Fine Arts Society, a four-story individual landmark occupied by the Art Students League, to whom Barnett offered $25 million (in addition to the $23.5 million he already gave them for their air rights) if they would agree to the cantilever. They went for it, as did the Landmarks Preservation Commission at a hearing yesterday afternoon. The only people that weren't happy with the deal, as is so often the case, were the preservationists. They might have had a point, though.

The cantilever would begin at around 290 feet up the tower, almost 200 feet above the roof of the American Fine Arts Society, and stretch out only 28 feet. (It's also worth noting that, as a result, the height of the building will be lowered around 100 feet, from 1,550 to somewhere in the mid 1,400s.) Extell and architect Gordon Gill argued that the effect of the cantilever would be negligible, and that the cantilever was so far above the historic building that the two would be perceived completely separately. Preservationists, however, saw things differently, and, more importantly, they saw the beginning of a disturbing trend. "HDC is troubled by the oncoming trend of cantilevering over historic buildings," said Nadezhda Williams of the Historic Districts Council, referring to another project with a cantilever, COOKFOX's 39-41 West 23rd Street, approved by the Landmarks Commission just last week.

Max Yeston, a graduate student in historic preservation and urban planning, quoted the Landmarks Commission's 1978 statement to the Supreme Court on the landmark (ha) Penn Central case, in which the court overturned a proposal to erect an office tower above Grand Central Station:

[We have] no fixed rule against making additions to designated buildings ... But to balance a 55-story office tower above a flamboyant Beaux-Arts facade seems nothing more than an aesthetic joke. Quite simply, the tower would overwhelm the Terminal by its sheer mass. "Extell will tell you that you can hardly notice the cantilever when standing half a block away," Yeston continued. "But when you look up at the building from the sidewalk, it will clearly violate the skyplane, and it will appear that the League has been absorbed into a larger structure. There is precedent against this kind of intervention, whether it starts directly above or 194 feet above the landmark." Other preservationists pointed to the 1981 St. Bartholomew's decision, in which Landmarks denied a proposal to put an office or hotel tower on top of historic church, using cantilevers to let light in.

None of this swayed the commissioners, though, who dismissed comparisons to Penn Central and St. Bart's as apples and oranges. The proposal passed by a vote of 6-1, with commissioner Michael Goldblum as the lone voice of dissension, who maintained that a cantilever over an individual landmark is not appropriate, and that this one in particular will have an effect on how the historic building is viewed.
· Look At Extell's Next Midtown Tower, A 1,550-Foot-Tall Doozy [Curbed]

217 W 57th St

217 West 57th Street, Manhattan, NY 10019