Tower Near Empire State Building Wins Council Consent

New York’s City Council approved Vornado Realty Trust’s (VNO) plans for a 1,200-foot (366-meter) Manhattan skyscraper over objections from the owners of the nearby Empire State Building.

The council voted 47-1 to allow Vornado to proceed with 15 Penn Plaza, to be located on the site of the Hotel Pennsylvania across Seventh Avenue from Pennsylvania Station. The company agreed to spend about $150 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,” said Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a Manhattan Democrat. “This proposal is not removing the beauty of the Empire State Building from our skyline, or even diminishing it.”

City Council approval enables Vornado to begin building should it lease enough of the tower to make construction worthwhile. 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.

Peter and Anthony Malkin, the father and son whose company controls the Empire State Building, spoke out against the tower, saying it would mar the skyline. They asked the council to cap the building’s height at about 825 feet and make it more slender. The Empire State Building, Manhattan’s tallest tower, is 1,454 feet to the top of its lightning rod, according to its website.

‘Too Close’

“We thought that 15 Penn Plaza was too close to the Empire State Building for its height and design,” Anthony Malkin said in a statement after the vote. “The City Council is the decision maker on this subject. They have gone out of their way to listen to our position. In the end, they are the elected representatives of the City of New York, and it was up to them to decide.”

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

Charles Barron of Brooklyn was the one council member to dissent. He said Vornado should have pledged to hire more minorities on the project. The company, to address some council members’ concerns, said minority and women-owned contractors would represent at least 15 percent of the total cost of construction.

‘Outstanding Addition’

The project “will be an outstanding addition to New York’s iconic skyline,” said Bud Perrone, a spokesman for New York-based Vornado. “We look forward to working with the council to implement strong minority and women participation in the development and construction of 15 Penn Plaza.”

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 Sixth and Eighth Avenues. The company will spend about $100 million on infrastructure and $50 million on hiring and other costs, according to Nicole Kolinsky, a City Council spokeswoman.

Eight Years

The permitting, demolition of the hotel and building of the tower would have taken as long as eight years, David Greenbaum, president of the real estate investment trust’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.

Vornado’s proposed tower was designed to meet the requirements of financial-services firms for “the new generation of state-of-the-art office space,” Greenbaum said.

A version of the design, by the firm Pelli Clarke Pelli, was “in large measure” meant to serve as headquarters of Merrill Lynch & Co. in 2008, before that deal was scuttled by the financial crisis, Greenbaum said.

A second version, similar in size and bulk to the first, was designed for multiple tenants, he said. Pelli Clarke’s earlier designs include New York’s World Financial Center, Malaysia’s Petronas Towers, and Hong Kong’s International Finance Center.

New Skyscrapers

The tower could be one of a cluster of skyscrapers planned between the Empire State Building and the Hudson River. Brookfield Properties Corp. has a plan, currently on hold, for 900- and 1,200-foot towers at a site on Ninth Avenue, four blocks west of the Empire State Building.

High-rises are also planned for over the Hudson Yards, a rail switching complex west of Tenth Avenue. L. Jay Cross, project president for Related Cos., the developer, said in May that a 2 million-square-foot tower could be the project’s first building.

Those projects are far away enough from the site not to be a concern, Anthony Malkin said in an e-mail.

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kara Wetzel at kwetzel@bloomberg.net

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