Just below 14th Street on Seventh Avenue where the streets begin to twist, sits a triangular plot of land. The slightly elevated gated tract contains a former material handling facility for St. Vincent’s hospital in the middle and a small nondescript building holding oxygen tanks at the westernmost edge. It’s the kind of quirky space that distinguishes the Village as unique. The property belonged to the now defunct St. Vincent’s Hospital and stayed in play while the Rudin Development family shuffled air rights between the various properties on the former medical campus. The latest, and perhaps last, round of the Universal Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) proceedings began in September and a good portion of open air and public space requirements are being fulfilled on the site, thus creating a new park which could serve as a green gateway to the Village.
This is not the first proposal for green space at the site; a 2009 plan that made it through ULURP opened up the garden and provided seating. The new proposal eliminates the material handling facility, adding about 6,500 square feet, bringing the total to more than 15,000 feet of park space. The utilitarian brown brick building storing oxygen will remain, though there is intense pressure to move it closer to the old O’Toole building where North Shore Long Island Jewish Medical Services (NSLIJ) is planning to set up shop. More than 150,000 feet of development rights at the site are to be eliminated. But with more square footage transferred into public space comes more debate.
The latest design by M. Paul Friedberg and Partners for Rudin includes 31 trees and nearly 5,000 square feet of plantings that incorporate rosebushes already on the site. With the removal of the handling facility and old flowerbeds, the park could be brought to grade. Street-level vistas that have been blocked for decades would open up once the garage is removed, including a view of the south face of the former O’Toole building by Albert C. Ledner.
When M. Paul Friedberg’s managing principal Rick Parisi presented the Rudin plan at a series of community board meetings during September, the community reaction was tepid. “This park is the ambassador of the West Village,” said Janet Capron. “It has to in some way characterize what we are.” Capron added that a “generic looking pocket park that could appear on the Upper East Side” didn’t fit the bill.
The plan also explored the potential for incorporating a memorial into the design through text on the pavers, thus opening up yet another debate. Parisi’s presentation mentioned three groups affiliated with St. Vincent’s that could be honored as part of a memorial, including the Sisters of Mercy, AIDS patients, and World Trade victims. Queer History Alliance was on hand at all the meetings to call for an international design competition for an AIDS memorial.
Representatives from the Rudin organization politely listened to the group’s presentation, knowing full well that the land, privately owned, was part of a much bigger ULURP package. The land usage at the park remains intertwined with that of the O’Toole building and the proposed condominium complex across the street. The ULURP process is underway and will need to be completed in seven months. The community board will vote on a resolution on October 20.