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Plantworks To Be Replaced By NYU Academic Building

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When Plantworks closed its doors after 40 years on East 4th Street last month, area residents mourned its loss and worried about what would take the lot's place. Most assumed condos, but the reality may be considered even worse by some: New York University is taking over the lot. NYU, which leased the lot to the garden center, wants to do a massive renovation of its Academic Support Center at 383 Lafayette Street and expand it into the East 4th Street lot. But hey, at least it won't be a tower.

Elise Quasebarth from the preservation firm Higgins Quasebarth & Partners presented NYU's plans to the Landmarks Preservation Commission yesterday. The existing building will have its brick rebuilt, parapet reconstructed, masonry and windows replaced, and receive reconfigured storefronts, a new entrance canopy, and a new marquee. New utility structures would also be constructed on the roof. On East 4th Street, the building would be expanded into the former Plantworks space at 22-26 East 4th Street.

Thomas Wong, a partner at Ennead Architects, noted that because the ground floor has undergone so many alterations since the building's completion in 1913, a complete rebuild was the cleanest option. As for the expansion on 4th Street, from the outside, it will look like a new four-story building has been constructed. But in reality, it would be an extension of the existing building. It wouldn't have its own elevator and you would access it from the existing building. Its exterior would be aluminum, zinc, and glass.

New LPC chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said there was much that was positive about the proposal and that restoration and enlargement of the existing building would be "helpful" to the area. Commissioner Michael Devonshire said the choice of materials was "superb" and said the fact that no tower was in the proposal was "commendable." Commissioner Michael Goldblum wasn't wild about the new entrance, though he likes the idea of a modern approach, but saw this as simply a "low cut." He also said that while the new storefront is legitimate, there should be more variation to its rhythm. Goldblum added concern over the seemingly gigantic security cameras that would dot the outside of the building. Commissioner Diana Chapin thought the new building looked good, but wanted a break on the corner and was uncomfortable with the new marquee and the new entrance.

Community Board 2 recommended approval of the project, but wanted more anchoring of the new storefronts. The Historic Districts Council was also generally supportive, but suggested a different material on the new building. "Regarding the new construction, HDC finds the design and rhythm a sympathetic neighbor to the historic building. That said, we discourage the use of GFRC as proposed for the sun screen, and suggest that a higher quality material more fitting to the district such as terra cotta be used on this otherwise commendable marriage of old and new design."

The LPC was very close to approving the project, but the hearing closed with no action. They asked the design team to revise its designs for the entrance, marquee, corner, storefront, and security cameras before returning. It seems likely that when they return, they will win over the commission.
—Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.
· All Plantworks coverage [Curbed]