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Chase’s plan to shrink public space at new Midtown HQ met with skepticism

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“If we’re not getting 3,000 square feet, we should be getting something”

Max Touhey

As JP Morgan Chase moves forward with its plans to demolish and replace 270 Park Avenue (aka the Union Carbide Building), more of what the banking giant has planned for its new HQ—to be designed by Foster + Partners—is coming to light.

The firm recently filed a zoning text amendment seeking to change the size of a POPS that will be at the base of the building from 10,000 square feet—a requirement under the East Midtown rezoning plan that was adopted in 2017—to 7,000 square feet. Manhattan’s Community Board 5 weighed in at a meeting of its land use committee last night; board members were unimpressed with the proposed changes, and ultimately voted down the proposal.

Layla Law-Gisiko, the chair of the land use committee, noted that they would not vote to “give away something in exchange for nothing, just because.”

On hand to present the proposed were representatives from the firm, along with Vishaan Chakrabarti of the Practice for Architecture and Urbanism, who is consulting with Chase and Foster + Partners on the building. They laid out the reasons why the reduction in square footage is necessary, largely because of the building’s foundation and the location of a train shed for Grand Central Terminal, which runs below the building. (Chakrabarti compared its structural issues to dealing with a Rubik’s cube.) They also argued that the proposed POPS location on Madison Avenue (rather than Park Avenue or mid-block) is necessary to create a more attractive space for the public.

That space, at least in its preliminary design, would ideally serve several purposes, per the design team: to add more nature to the area (via a green wall and a water feature); to act as a “glowing room,” bringing more light to the neighborhood; and to function as an urban workspace, with seating and areas where building tenants or neighborhood residents could congregate.

But the board took issue with various elements of the proposal. The largest sticking point was the reduction in POPS size without any additional public benefit to make up for it, which many viewed as a bad precedent to set with the first project to move forward under that plan. Other qualms included the fact that the POPS would not have bathrooms, that it would only be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and that the owners hope to host private events there.

“If we’re not getting 3,000 square feet, we should be getting something,” one of the board members noted. While they voted to deny the application, Crain’s notes that a compromise could be made as the proposal moves to the City Council in the future.

Chase recently closed a deal with Grand Central Terminal for the landmark’s air rights in order to build a more dense tower; GCT will receive $10 million from Chase to help with its preservation efforts, and the firm has also contributed $42 million to the East Midtown Public Realm Improvement Fund, which oversees the street-level improvements happening as part of the rezoning plan.

Preservationists continue to call for the city to try and save the original structure, which was built in 1961 and designed by SOM’s Gordon Bunshaft and Natalie de Blois. The building is not landmarked—and thus, among the city’s most endangered buildings—and the Landmarks Preservation Commission hasn’t indicated that will change any time soon.