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St. Vincent’s Says It Will Close if It Can’t Build Tower

St. Vincent’s Says It Will Close if It Can’t Build Tower

New York Times 6/4/2008


St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan will have to shut its doors if it cannot build a medical tower in Greenwich Village, representatives of the hospital said Tuesday at a hearing of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The hospital presented a parade of consultants and health-care experts to support its case for a $1.6 billion development plan, which also involves demolishing several structures, including the O’Toole Building, the distinctive white monument the hospital owns on Seventh Avenue between 12th and 13th Streets, where the medical tower would go.

“Without the ability to build new, the hospital will become increasingly obsolete,” Mary-Jean Eastman, a hospital architect, testified. “St. Vincent’s will find it necessary to close its doors.”

Shelly S. Friedman, a lawyer advising the hospital, said that “there is no other solution to this problem than to build on the O’Toole site,” adding, “we can’t proceed if O’Toole remains.”

Commissioners had objected to the hospital’s original plan to demolish nine buildings in the Greenwich Village Historic District to permit the construction of a 329-foot-tall medical building on the O’Toole site and a 265-foot-tall luxury condominium in conjunction with the Rudin Management Company.

So two weeks ago, the hospital introduced a revised plan that lowered the proposed hospital tower 30 feet and made it 40 feet narrower. The condominium, on the east side of Seventh Avenue between 11th and 12th Streets, was made 32 feet shorter and 60 feet narrower. The revisions also saved four of the buildings that the hospital originally wanted to demolish.

The hospital also cited landmark-law provisions that allow institutions to claim hardship as an excuse to demolish old buildings.

Nonprofit landlords can try to make the case that the maintenance of buildings they own interferes with their ability — physical or financial — to carry out their charitable purpose.

The commissioners did not rule on the hospital’s application Tuesday; more hearings are planned. But two elected officials who had opposed the original plan — Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, whose district includes the hospital, and Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president — praised the revisions in statements read at the hearing.

“We have seen significant progress,” Mr. Stringer’s statement said.

But some critics from the community assailed the bulk and height of the proposed towers, said that planned retail space was inappropriate and asked that more of the hospital’s existing buildings be saved.

And several preservationists said that the 1964 O’Toole Building, a sawtooth-sided structure once derided as the “overbite building,” should be preserved as an ornament to modern architecture.

A structural engineer for the hospital, Aine M. Brazil, testified that the O’Toole Building could be renovated into a modern hospital — using the existing structure as a base for a new tower, similar to the transformation of the Hearst Tower on Eighth Avenue — only by incurring significant extra cost and technical complexity and that even then it would be 106 feet higher than the redesigned hospital that St. Vincent’s has proposed.

And Charles F. Murphy, a health care consultant, said that new state hospital policies and regulations covering the size of surgery, intensive care and emergency rooms have made the current St. Vincent’s obsolete.

Hardship applications are extremely rare, and only 17 have been received in the last four decades, according to the commission staff. Twelve of those applications have been approved.