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East River Esplanade Gets $8M Payday From Rockefeller U.

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The fourth time's the charm for Rockefeller University. After announcing plans to expand its East Side campus last summer, the university won approval from the local community board's land use committee. The school's plan to build a research lab and a conference center above FDR Drive would add another overhanging structure from East 64th to East 68th Streets, just south of the Weill Cornell Medical Center. The $240 million proposal by Rafael Viñoly Architects now includes $8 million worth of upgrades to the East River Esplanade, which was key to the board's 25 to 3 vote of approval. The board previously urged the university to make changes to the plan that would better benefit the neighborhood, but some residents were still not happy.

The graduate school and research hub will add 181,000-square-feet through a two-story research building and a one-story conference center, as well as a one-story recreationg center on the adjacent main campus. After community members voiced concerns about the less-than-stellar waterfront trail, the university agreed to fund a spruced-up public park. Rockefeller's Vice President of planning and construction George Candler also promised that the school would host more public events in response to concerns the institution is not open to the surrounding community.

But the multi-million dollar pledge still wasn't enough for some vocal dissenters who questioned whether the new buildings would actualyl reduce open space in an area they say is devoid of it. The university has built above FDR Drive twice before, and cantilevers might one day block out any views of the Manhattan skyline along the drive. Board member Marco Tamayo acknowledged that they were only a few avnues east of Central Park, but pointed out that the between Lexington Avenue and the river, there's not very much green space. "We want the two acres of land for open spaces," Tamayo said. "We don't want the money."

Others spoke up in favor of the proposal, citing other modifications that Candler mentioned: a taller 8-foot sound barrier during construction, a commitment to funding upkeep at the new esplanade area, and the possibility of holding board meetings at the conference center built by a global architecture firm with a history of sexy jutting cantilevers. Board secretary Jane Parshall spoke up after talk of changing the formal resolution. "I'm shocked at this discussion," Parshall said. "We should feel lucky that the university has been as generous as it has been."
—Tobias Salinger
· Space-Starved East Side University Wants To Expand Over FDR [Curbed]