N.Y.U. Expansion Plan Changes Course

NYU Fourth Tower PlanWhen New York University announced that it was abandoning a proposal to build a fourth structure on the Silver Towers site, it changed the direction of its expansion plan.

Activists opposing New York University’s “2031 Plan” for expansion won’t have the “Silver Sliver” to kick around anymore.

That was the news yesterday afternoon as the university announced it would not be filing with the Landmarks Preservation Commission for approval to build the tower, which would have been the tallest building ever constructed on Bleecker Street. Although criticism of the tower had come from many quarters, the death blow seems to have been the hostility of internationally renowned architect I.M. Pei, responsible for the design of the three buildings already on the landmarked Silver Towers site. In news accounts, the proposed tower was disparagingly nicknamed the Silver Sliver.

In a Nov. 10 letter to Robert Tierney, chairman of the commission, Pei partner Henry Cobb described the proposed tower as “profoundly destructive of the landmarked entity, because it closes a composition that was intended to be open and upsets the carefully considered balance between solid and void.” The tower would isolate the complex from its “surrounding urban context.”

Speaking to The Local Thursday afternoon, Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Historical Preservation Society and a vocal opponent of the university’s plans, described the announcement as “very good news.” He said the proposal for the Pei complex faced “broad opposition” in the community.  Community Board 2 had yet to pass a resolution concerning the tower, but following a large turn-out by protestors at the board’s Nov. 8 meeting, there had seemed a real possibility the board would have withheld its support.

Mr. Berman also said that the university was delaying the filing of applications for the rest of the plan until Fall 2011, indicating that it had not anticipated the degree of resistance it would face in the community.  “They have realized they don’t have their ducks in a row,” he said.

NYU Plan Mercer StreetThe university’s expansion plan also calls for a series of changes along Mercer Street.

John Beckman, the university’s vice president for public affairs, strongly denied this.  He told The Local that plans for the rest of the “core” are still on schedule. Whereas the tower required landmarks approval, developments nearby – such as on the university-owned Morton Williams supermarket site – do not.  In a press release, the university said that it would now “begin work on its Uniform Land Use Review Procedure application seeking approvals to build on the blocks near Washington Square Park that are already owned by the University.”

Mr. Beckman admitted that the university had always known that the landmarks approval process for the Silver Towers site would be challenging, but in a 2008 meeting, Mr. Pei had expressed no disapproval of the addition to his complex.  “Clearly,” said Mr. Beckman, “he had a change of heart.”

Mr. Beckman said that the elimination of the tower provided clarity about plans for the rest of the “core.”  Since the Morton Williams supermarket site has a larger footprint than the tower site, a building of 17 to 20 floors – as opposed to the tower’s proposed 38 – the university expects to be able to achieve a similar overall square footage by building there.

To the extent the “core” plan can survive this setback, yesterday’s news seems to have few implications for nearby neighborhoods such as the East Village.

Kim Davis is the community editor of The Local East Village.