Hotel Pennsylvania, 15 Penn Plaza

Testimony before
New York City Department of City Planning Scoping
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
I am Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried. I represent the 75th Assembly District in Manhattan, which includes Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, Murray Hill, and parts of the Upper West Side and Midtown, including the area of the proposed project site. I regret that the legislative session in Albany prevents me from testifying in person.

A project that proposes to demolish the Hotel Pennsylvania violates New Yorker’s appreciation for architecturally significant buildings. The Hotel Pennsylvania is an important building, designed by the firm of McKim Mead & White as one of three landmark-worthy buildings, together with the old Pennsylvania Station and the Farley Post Office. It is also an element of a significant group of masonry buildings on Seventh Avenue – the Affinia Hotel, (built as the Hotel Governor Clinton) on 32nd Street, across from the Pennsylvania Hotel; Macy’s; and the Nelson Tower on 34th Street.

The proposals to demolish the Hotel Pennsylvania and build a 62-story mixed-use building should not be approved at all, but certainly not without the most rigorous environmental impact review. It is also not clear that there is a sufficiently definite proposal to allow appropriate analysis and review.

It is wrong to tear down buildings just because they may be in the way of a development scheme, especially at a time when the City is becoming more “green.” Preserving functioning buildings is one of the most important steps we can make in this area.

Vornado executives in the past have discussed renovating the building and have told community members and officials that they have not made any final decisions to demolish it. Therefore, the environmental review should evaluate an additional “build” scenario, which is to keep the current façade of Hotel Pennsylvania, and develop a building within and possibly rising above the facade of the Hotel.

There are excellent examples of development projects that incorporate existing façades, including John Jay College on Tenth Avenue, the Villard House on Madison Avenue, and of course, the proposed redevelopment of the Farley Post Office.

The study should address how New York City zoning would accommodate such an option and should provide a thorough analysis of the feasibility of this option, including whether the Hotel’s shell is structurally sound enough for this option.

The environmental review should also include an analysis of the subway station and rail facility improvements, particularly in terms of disability accessibility of these improvements. I encourage a study of the feasibility of more ramps as part of the improvements. Incorporating ramps into the transit improvements will improve the quality of life for people with disabilities and also make the transit system easier to navigate for people with strollers and wheeled luggage.

Because the Hotel Pennsylvania has 90,000 square feet of meeting and adjacent exhibit space, the environmental impact review should include an analysis of what the impact will be of losing this space.

I appreciate the opportunity to submit these comments and look forward to working with the City Planning Commission, Vornado Realty Trust, the MTA, and the community to improve the project.