NYC Council Committee Approves Vornado Tower Near Empire State Building

A New York City Council committee approved Vornado Realty Trust’s plans for a 1,200-foot (366- meter) Manhattan skyscraper that’s opposed by the owners of the nearby Empire State Building.

The land-use committee approved zoning for 15 Penn Plaza on the site of the Hotel Pennsylvania across Seventh Avenue from Pennsylvania Station, sending the plan to a vote by the full council scheduled for later today. Vornado, based in New York, has agreed to spend about $100 million on transit improvements in the area as part of rezoning approval.

“I’m thrilled to see the potential of thousands of new jobs being created at this project,” Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a Manhattan Democrat, said in remarks prepared for a news conference before the full council vote. “This proposal is not removing the beauty of the Empire State Building from our skyline, or even diminishing it.”

Peter and Anthony Malkin, the father and son whose company controls the Empire State Building, say Vornado’s tower will mar the skyline. They asked the council to limit the building’s height and make it more slender. The skyscraper as planned would be almost as tall as the Empire State Building and sit about 1,000 feet west of where the landmark has reigned since 1931.

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The Malkins took out a full-page advertisement in the Aug. 23 New York Times denouncing the proposal, and commissioned a poll suggesting that two-thirds of New York’s visitors said the tower would “degrade the character” of the skyline.

Peter Malkin, in an interview last week, compared the plan to London or Paris allowing buildings to rival Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower. The Empire State Building is 1,454 feet to the top of its lightening rod, according to its website.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is in favor of the tower, calling the proposal an expression of confidence in the city’s future.

“Anybody that builds a building in New York City changes its skyline,” he said yesterday at a City Hall news conference. “We don’t have to run around to every other owner and apologize. I think this is something that’s great for this city. Competition’s a wonderful thing.”

The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

The council’s land-use committee approved the tower by a vote of 19-1, with two members abstaining. The opposition vote and abstentions were based on members’ concerns that Vornado has not pledged to hire enough minority and women contractors on the project.

‘Important Step Forward’

Quinn said the council had no power to compel minority and women-owned contractor participation in the project as part of its land-use process. Vornado responded to council members’ concerns by pledging a minimum 15 percent participation, which she described as “a very important step forward.”

City Council approval would enable Vornado to begin building when it can lease enough of the tower to make construction worthwhile. The permitting process, demolition of the hotel and building of the tower would take as long as eight years, David Greenbaum, president of the company’s New York office division, told a council subcommittee on Aug. 23. City approval “streamlines” that schedule by three years and provides a more realistic timeline to attract tenants, he said.

The tower would have 2.04 million square feet of office space, 11,126 square feet of retail space and as many as 100 underground parking spaces. Vornado’s planned improvements for the area include creating an underground passageway beneath 33rd Street linking 6th and 8th Avenues.

To contact the reporter on this story: David M. Levitt in New York at dlevitt@bloomberg.net; Henry Goldman in New York at hgoldman@bloomberg.net

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