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Proposed Sullivan-Thompson Historic District elicits support, dissent at LPC

The proposed historic district was hotly debated in front of the city’s Landmarks Commission

Dozens of neighborhood residents and activists appeared in front of the Landmarks Preservation Commission this morning to voice their support of, or dissent for, the Sullivan-Thompson Historic District.

The proposed 157-building district, roughly bounded by West Houston, Sixth Avenue, and Watts and Thompson streets, is the third and final phase of the mid-aughts proposition to create a wide-reaching South Village Historic District; its two former phases have largely been landmarked as part of the Greenwich Village Historic District Extension II and an abridged South Village Historic District.

The designation of the Sullivan-Thompson Historic District would complete the preservation trifecta, freezing in time a collection of tenement buildings and historic storefronts that preservationists say speak to the Italian immigrant experience in late 19th century and early 20th century New York City.

LPC hearings tend to attract parties in favor of preservation, and today was no exception. More than a dozen neighborhood residents and high-ranking officials (both in person and by way of proxy), including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, New York State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, and New York City Council member Corey Johnson, showed up to voice their support for the designation.

“This district is part of the narrative of New York City,” Glen Umberger of the New York Landmarks Conservancy said, pointing to the area’s history as the destination for Italian immigrants at the turn of the 20th century. That wave of immigration left a considerable mark on the development of tenement buildings in the neighborhood.

A representative for the Historic Districts Council noted how the area “most notably demonstrates New York City’s evolution of housing development spanning two centuries” while also acknowledging that if the Sullivan-Thompson Historic District is worthy of preservation, so too should areas of the historically immigrant-rich Lower East Side. (That’s another preservation battle for another day.)

Community members who spoke for the designation voiced their fears about unchecked new development in the neighborhood, particularly connected to Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s buying spree in the area. Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation Executive Director Andrew Berman says new development could rise to 300 feet under current zoning regulations. Others expressed dismay over projects like Trump Soho, the President-elect’s long-troubled condo and hotel, that has already compromised the surrounding area’s historic fabric.

But not all in attendance were for the creation of the historic district. Joseph Rosenberg of the Catholic Community Relations Council urged the commissioners to consider the “onerous burden” a landmark designation would place on the upkeep of St. Anthony of Padua buildings, particularly those he finds undeserving of historic preservation like the convent at the corner of Prince and Sullivan streets. Rosenberg reminded those on the commission that the church is doing work in the present day that benefits the immigrant community.

Neighborhood resident Steve Hamilton spoke for excluding the east side of Sixth Avenue between Spring and Prince streets, a block on which he’s lived for decades. “We struggle to maintain our 200-year-old building and landmarking it would stop our methodical effort to maintain the spirit and beauty of this cherished artifact dead in its tracks,” Hamilton said, offering that “sensible zoning” could be an alternative to the historic district. “Landmarking our block will force us to sell our building as we’ll no longer be able to afford to maintain it. You will have created a museum but destroyed a community.”

Not at the forefront of the hearing, but embedded in the public’s testimony, was conversation of the deal to sell Pier 40s air rights for the redevelopment of St. John’s Terminal. The Sullivan-Thompson Historic District has been eyed as a bartering tool for the redevelopment, particularly by City Council member Johnson, who indicated in August that he’d lean more in favor of the redevelopment if the LPC created the historic district.

The commission will vote on whether or not to create the Sullivan-Thompson Historic District in mid-December.