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Builder, Architect, Critics Dissect Megatower One Vanderbilt

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Zoning, said Times reporter Charles Bagli, is "one of the most arcane topics you could ever imagine. Soporific if there ever was one." Yet a crowd packed the lobby of the Museum of the City of New York last night to hear a discussion of the rezoning of East Midtown—in particular, the five-block stretch of directly west of Grand Central dubbed the Vanderbilt Corridor. The centerpiece of that stretch is a proposed office tower called One Vanderbilt, a 1,500-foot-tall behemoth that developer SL Green, in collaboration with Hines, wants to build at the corner of 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue in exchange for $210 million worth of transportation upgrades to the area. Getting the building approved has been no easy task, what with community boards and neighbors being how they are, so last night's panel brought together One Vanderbilt's owner and designer as well as more community-focused representatives to duke it out over whether the tower's girth will be worth it in light of its other benefits to the neighborhood.

Hines' Tommy Craig, Kohn Pedersen Fox president James von Klemperer, City Planning's Manhattan director Edith Hsu-Chen, City Council member Dan Gardonick, and Municipal Art Society executive director Margaret Newman all expressed views of the tower that, understandably, reflected their separate camps.

Here's a handy recap, with each person's best quotes of the night that reflect his or her standpoint. (And in case you need context, or a refresher on the project from its inception to now, all of Curbed NY's past posts act as a timeline.)

Hines' Craig said: The building should get built. Here are the things I'm thinking about.
· "We think about policy through perspective of private sector."
· "We're going to pursue high density. If not here, where? If not now, when?
· "That, plus the opportunity to combine open space next to Grand Central."
· Features that have been added to the building reflect the input of the MTA: "There of four corners are portals that move people through Midtown. We've dedicated three of the four corners to public space or transit."
· "Grand Central is a level below, so we're trying to perform this function of bringing people up to the street level."
· "We spent a lot of time on [height] and its effects. Sixty stories—it is a full city block directly across from Grand Central. It's set back on the south and there's a taper to create sight lines. Some of the floors at the top are a leap of faith, because they are naturally inefficient."
· "The facts of the commercial market is that it's not really possible to do a new building under current market conditions without some sort of subsidy."
· "Part of the tension here is we need to create flexibility in the zoning, so we balance the requirement for light and air at the street and the need to create buildings that have efficiency , and that is exceptionally hard."
· "I think it's an unusual matrix of things that has to come together to create a commercial project. You will not find many tenants of scale, more than 250,000 square feet, paying more than $100 per square foot—which is the rent constant we need to cover the cost."
· "Cost escalation in this market is real. It's driven by demand in residential sector, but margins are lower in commercial sector."
· "I don't think the absence in New York is an absence of supply. We're trying to lead to a resurgence in the area instead. The premise of [rezoning] Midtown East is to make sure it doesn't go beyond the point of being a second choice for big users."
· How long will it take to build? "I don't think it will take as short as 11 months [like the Empire State Building], and I don't think it will take as long as 15 years [like One World Trade Center].

Architect Klemperer said: The building should get built, and it will be beautiful, too.
· "What is most important, at the base of the building, is the way the development gives back."
· "It ultimately flatters the architecture of the landmark next door."

Politician Garodnick said: The building should get built if and only if the neighborhood receives enough benefits to make it worth it.
· "I represent the area from 14th to 97th streets, mostly on the East Side. While I agree that the world is not falling apart as a result of the current state of East Midtown, it is clear that it has gotten less competitive, and ... largely because the zoning rules, there is no incentive for anyone to ever do anything with these buildings."
· "I was very critical of the last proposal of the Bloomberg administration. I thought that the last proposal gave a lot of certainty to the development community and not a lot of certainty to the public."
· "The discretionary review process for the public [which every new building in the rezoned district would have to go through] gives us what we lacked. Every site would have to go through discretionary review to evaluate whether density that is being requested is deserving based on what infrastructure improvements are being proposed. We're in a better place today then we were last year."

City planner Hsu-Chen said: The building should get built, because Midtown East needs new office space to stay competitive. And the rest of Midtown East should be rezoned, too.
· "It's really, really important that East Midtown have state-of-the-art new-construction space."
· "There was a concern that new development we were encouraging was allowed for as of right. This particular proposal proposes an increase in FAR only through discretionary review."
· "A new special permit that would allow a floor area bonus if major improvements to transit and pedestrian system made. [They're] outlined up front before the floor area bonus is granted."
· A central tenet of the rezoning proposal in general is "facilitating and increasing the ability for landmarks in Grand Central sub-district to transfer their unused development rights to a receiving site, which can go up to 30 FAR."
·

MAS's Newman said: The building should get built if and only if development is responsible, it doesn't look hideous, and the neighborhood receives enough benefits to make it worth it.
· We look at the "impact of tall buildings and new construction on city, on view corridors and on the skyline."
· "These are really large buildings. Some of them are quite beautiful, some of them are not."
· It will have a "harmonious relationship to Grand Central."
· "The base is set back further than the current building, allows views of GCT."
· "The transit hall [of One Vanderbilt] gives access to East Side Access. Both the MTA and the city don't have money to do things to integrate the new transportation. If that isn't built, then the whole way people get in to the East Side Access is problematic. It's an important piece of infrastructure that needs to be built.

The building hopes to finish its review process this spring and start construction, while the Midtown East Rezoning steering committee wants to issue its recommendations in the spring.
· All One Vanderbilt coverage [Curbed]
· All Midtown East Rezoning coverage [Curbed]

One Vanderbilt

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