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Elected officials support Saint Vincent plan

Elected officials support Saint Vincent plan

Crain’s NY 7/15/2008

By Kira Bindrim

Several crucial elected officials gave their support Tuesday to Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers’ plan to tear down the O’Toole Building to make way for an $835 million, 21-story hospital tower.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, New York state Sen. Tom Duane and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan) all came out in favor of Saint Vincent’s application for a hardship exemption to demolish the building, voicing their support during a hearing with the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.

“St. Vincent’s has made a compelling argument that the proposed hospital building offers the most efficient way to fulfill its mission,” Sen. Duane said in his testimony Tuesday, calling the demolition “the only financially feasible option, although a regrettable option.”

In addition, some 100 people staged a demonstration in favor of the hospital’s plan outside the hearing Tuesday, which took place at New York University Law School in Greenwich Village. The Commission, which says it has yet to make a final decision, heard testimony from groups that included Saint Vincent and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, which opposes the demolition.

Saint Vincent applied for the exemption after the Commission ruled against its initial proposal, saying the O’Toole building is an important example of modern architecture. To receive its exemption, Saint Vincent must prove the building is eitherphysically or financially preventing it from carrying out its mission. The organization says renovating the existing hospital would be a 15-year, $1.6 billion endeavor, and argues that constructing a new facility makes more financial sense.

Precedent would agree. Since 1965, 17 nonprofits have applied for hardship exemptions. Two applications were withdrawn, but 12 of the remaining 15 were approved. Tuesday’s hearing is the first of its kind in nearly two decades.

Still, the Greenwich Village Society and other community groups remain firmly against the plan.

“I think there are very serious doubts about whether or not St. Vincent’s has really shown there are no viable alternatives,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society.

Saint Vincent’s development plan also calls for the sale of eight buildings on the east side of Seventh Avenue, between West 12th and 13th streets, to the Rudin family for $310 million. That money would be used to construct the new hospital but in May, several commissioners denounced the proposal, saying the Rudin family’s plan to demolish the buildings to construct a residential tower was “inappropriate.”

Saint Vincent later revised its proposal, offering to preserve several buildings and reduce the height and bulk of others. Some community leaders and officials, including Sen. Duane, remain opposed to the plan.

*Capalino note: The end of this article was incorrect, Sen. Duane does, indeed, support this project as mentioned at the beginning of this article.