Empire State Bldg. Owner Stands Up to New Kid on Block

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Vornado Realty Trust
    A rendering of 15 Penn Plaza and how it will fit into the New York City skyline. Note the Empire State Building might start to get a complex.

    Look at Manhattan from afar, and the first thing you notice is the Empire State Building, spiking like a needle above the carpet of skyscrapers that coats Manhattan from tip to tip.

    Now it's got some competition — a proposal for a nearby glass office tower that would rise almost as high and alter the iconic skyline.

    The tower would spoil the famous view of the 102-story skyscraper for millions of tourists, the Empire State Building's owner, Anthony Malkin, testified Monday at a City Council hearing. It "defines New York," he said.

    "We view this as an assault on New York City and its iconography," said Malkin, whose grandfather founded the Malkin Holdings company. It's "the end of the image of New York City that billions of people hold dear."

    Malkin also took out a full-page ad in The New York Times Monday asking the City Council to reject or amend the current proposal for 15 Penn Plaza.

    The City Council is to vote this week on whether to allow a developer to erect a 67-story tower that's only 34 feet lower than the 79-year-old Empire State Building, the city's tallest skyscraper.

    The proposed tower's developer, David Greenbaum, says 15 Penn Plaza would provide critically needed and state-of-the-art office space to midtown Manhattan, creating at least 7,000 new jobs.

    "The fact is, New York City's skyline has never stopped changing, and I certainly hope it never will," testified Greenbaum, president of Vornado Realty Trust's New York chapter.

    The council's Zoning and Franchises subcommittee planned to vote Tuesday on whether to change rules. If they OK the plan, the final word would lie with the City Council — unless the mayor objected.

    Mayor Michael Bloomberg supports the tower, which was approved by the City Planning Commission last month, spokesman Stu Loeser said late Monday.

    The building would stand two blocks west of the Empire State Building on the site of the current Hotel Pennsylvania on Seventh Avenue, steps from Madison Square Garden and Penn Station.

    "Wow! Wouldn't that be sad!" said Christa Huggins, a 35-year-old from Utah visiting the Empire State Building's 102nd-floor observatory.

    Huggins said she "loves the view of New York all the way around, but especially in that direction. And this would block it."

    Renderings of the proposed building — designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects — portray a skyscraper shaped like a giant chisel atop a block. It tapers to a flat edge at the peak and is marked by a top-to-bottom groove on its face.

    In his last-ditch effort to change the plans, Malkin — who also owns a stake in Vornado — appealed to subcommittee members to make 15 Penn Plaza no more than 825 feet high, about two-thirds of the originally proposed size. In addition, he asked that it be streamlined to minimally obscure the view of the western side of the Empire State Building.

    But the idea of even an 825-foot tower next to the 1,250-foot-tall Art Deco symbol of New York — 1,454 feet including its spire — disappointed some tourists.

    "That would still be no good, because I like to look down at the streets of New York." said LeeSa Snarr, 37 — who did so Monday from the 102nd floor.

    Malkin told the subcommittee that the Empire State is "the No. 1 favorite building in the U.S., surpassing the White House."

    It was the tallest building in the world when completed in November 1930. King Kong scaled it in the 1933 movie and subsequent remakes; a B-25 bomber crashed into it in fog in 1945.

    It became the city's tallest building again after the World Trade Center was destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001. Its brightly lit spire shines different colors to celebrate national holidays and special occasions year-round.

    Greenbaum testified that he would work to help improve nearby transportation facilities, including wider rail platforms at Penn Station, one of the world's busiest rail stations; provide better access to subway stations; and ease pedestrian and traffic congestion in the area, which also includes Macy's flagship department store.

    He said he would reopen an underground passage connecting nearby subway lines and PATH commuter trains to New Jersey, so travelers don't have to go outside to transfer.

    The developer has not set a target date for the tower's construction, saying Vornado needs to wait until it signs a large commercial tenant first.

    Malkin said he favors the development of this midtown Manhattan neighborhood, but "we are concerned about the legacy" — of the Empire State Building.

    "We are the stewards of this great icon," he said.