Elected Officials, Preservationists, Tenant Advocates Condemn Plan by Madison Realty Capital to Demolish Landmarked 1848 Greenwich Village Building for 244 ft. Tall Pied-a-Terre Tower for Super-Rich
Manhattan — Village Preservation (the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation) was joined today by Borough President Gale Brewer, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, a representative of City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, the Historic Districts Council, Village Independent Democrats, and Tenants Taking Control to denounce the plan by Madison Realty Capital to demolish a 5-story, 20-unit apartment building at 14-16 Fifth Avenue in the Greenwich Village Historic District constructed in 1848, and replace it with a 244 ft. tall tower with just 18 units of super-luxury housing. Those assembled condemned the proposed demolition of a historic building in a landmarked district, the inappropriate size and scale of the proposed replacement tower, and the loss of at least ten affordable rent-stabilized units in the building and their replacement with a smaller number of unaffordable units that will likely only serve as pied a terres or second- or third-homes for the super-rich. Preservation organizations spoke to the dangerous precedent the proposal presents for preservation of our city’s landmarks, and tenant groups who have tangled with Madison Realty Capital spoke to their harmful practices and poor treatment of tenants in other properties nearby.
Because the building is located in the Greenwich Village Historic District, the building can only be demolished if the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission finds that the building is of no architectural or historic significance, and the proposed replacement building must be found to be “appropriate” in terms of scale, massing, design, etc. for the site and surroundings. Madison Realty Capital has indicated they plan to argue both, while Village Preservation has compiled considerable research substantiating the historic significance of the buildings (a hearing on the proposal at the Landmarks Preservation Commission has not yet been scheduled).
Destruction of history Village Preservation research has established that the buildings were the home of Academy Award-winning actress Celeste Holm; industrialist and inventor Isaac Merritt Singer, founder of the Singer Sewing Machine Corp.; renowned California Gold Rush writer Bret Harte; Civil War general and Gettysburg Battlefield preservationist Gen. Daniel Sickles; Railroad Tycoon George Blanchard; jurist and philanthropist Charles E. Strong, who led the country’s oldest law firm and helped establish the first medical college for women; and more recently Miriam Bockman, the first woman and the first reformer to lead the New York County Democratic Party. The building was constructed as two separate houses in 1848 by the Brevoort family, one of New York’s oldest and most prominent families, and at the time the houses led the transformation of Lower Fifth Avenue into the most prestigious address in New York City (more details on the history of the building and historic figures who lived there can be found here and here).
Out-of-scale tower Village Preservation research has also documented how out-of-scale the proposed new building would be. Using NYC Open Data figures, they found that the proposed 244 ft. tall tower would be 75% taller than the average building located on Fifth Avenue in the Greenwich Village Historic District, and fully four times the height of the average building on the block (5th/6th Ave., 8th/9th Street), as well as four times the height of the current building. If approved, it would be the tallest tower ever approved in the Greenwich Village Historic District, and it is believed it would be the tallest tower ever built in any historic district in New York City.
Loss of housing and affordability In spite of the massive increase in height, the proposed new building would actually have less housing than the existing building, with just eighteen super-luxury units as opposed to the current twenty. Additionally, at least half of the units in the existing building were affordable rent-regulated units when Madison Realty Capital purchased it, including units housing low-income senior citizens (units in the building were enrolled in the Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption or SCRIE program). The planned tower would have no affordable housing, and its small number of units would likely only serve as pieds-a-terre or third or fourth homes for the super-rich. Madison Realty Capital has also raised the ire of tenants in many of the buildings they have purchased in the East Village, where they claim the company has treated them poorly and warehoused affordable units. For more info on the affordable housing previously found at 14-16 Fifth Avenue, click here.
A comparison of the existing and proposed buildings (including a visualization based upon a prior plan for the site by the same developer) and a summary and images of some of the historic figures who lived in the buildings can be found below.
Andrew Berman, Executive Director of Village Preservation said “This outrageous plan is a slap in the face to our neighborhood, to our city’s history, and to tenants and affordable housing advocates. To demolish a landmarked 170-year-old building that housed countless historic figures over the years and contained many units of needed affordable housing to make way for a high-rise pied-a-terre that will be grossly out-of-scale but actually contain less housing — and none of it affordable – is appalling. We urge the City and the Landmarks Preservation Commission to say no and to reject this application
Borough President Gale A. Brewer said “We cannot tear down the history of New York City and destroy affordable housing to make way for more luxury apartments. This practice is a direct threat to historic preservation and our rent-stabilized housing stock. I am opposed to this development, and I will fight to ensure these buildings remain intact for future generations.”
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said “The Greenwich Village Historic District is known throughout the world for its beauty and an unmistakable sense of place. It is our responsibility to ensure that this district is maintained and protected for future generations and to ensure than any new development is a complement to – not a subtraction from – the neighborhood’s historic fabric.”
State Senator Brad Hoylman said “It shouldn’t be a surprise that one of New York’s worst landlords, Madison Realty Capital, is attempting to subvert the Greenwich Village Historic District by seeking a permit to build a luxury condo tower in our neighborhood. Madison Realty Capital has been a bad actor for years by pushing out rent-stabilized tenants to make quick profits for their investors, and our community is not going to roll out the welcome mat for their blatant greed. Just as Robert Moses found out when Jane Jacobs led the effort to defeat his plan that would destroy Washington Square Park steps away from where Madison Realty Capital is planning its new tower, Villagers will fight tooth and nail to ensure our Historic District remains intact.”
Assemblymember Deborah Glick said “While an application has been filed for a luxury tower on Fifth Avenue in the Greenwich Village Historic District, it remains to be seen how far this plan can advance. Historic Districts have been established to preserve neighborhood character—not to erode the sense of community—but to ensure that out-of-context intrusions like this proposal do not happen. This would be an unwelcome and thoroughly inappropriate development and entirely out of scale for this location. Eliminating twenty units of affordable housing to make way for eighteen units of super-luxury housing is precisely what undermines our communities in New York. ”
Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director of the Historic Districts Council, a citywide preservation organization, said: “This proposal is damaging not only to the Greenwich Village Historic District but to the entire notion of landmark designation in New York City.”
Sally Young of Tenants Taking Control, a coalition of tenants in buildings owned by Madison Realty Capital, said: “Tenants Taking Control has been dealing with Madison Realty Capital for over four years, since they helped finance the purchase of the 23 buildings in which we live. Madison’s vision for this part of Manhattan seems to be a preposterous and neighborhood-destroying ‘Midtown South’ for wealthy people. The Attorney General has stated that Madison entered into a loan-to-own scheme with Raphael Toledano, in which TTC’s rent-regulated tenants were to be removed from our homes in the East Village. That didn’t work out for Toledano and it should not work out for Madison here in Greenwich Village. We say ‘NO MORE!’”
Katharine Wolpe of Village Independent Democrats, Greenwich Village and the East Village’s largest Democratic Club, said “Village Independent Democrats oppose the demolition of this historic building for a 21-story building putting additional pressure on City infrastructure. Landmark districts like this retain historic buildings to keep the character of historic neighborhoods. This destruction of our history and our housing is exactly the opposite of what this neighborhood needs.”