St. Vincent's Hail Mary

St. Vincent's Hail Mary

“If O’Toole had to go, this is a much better option,” Gil Horowitz said. The former member of Community Board 2 and Greenwich Village resident of more than 50 years was referring to St. Vincent’s Hospital’s revised plans to build a new 21-story hospital tower at the western corner of 7th Avenue and 12th Street, demolishing the distinctive, saw-toothed landmark O’Toole Building in the process.

St. Vincent’s, along with its development partner the Rudin family, presented the new plans to a board committee last night, where many community members and preservationists seemed to agree with Horowitz. “They really listened to us and took our suggestions and criticisms, as well as those of Landmarks, to heart,” Horowitz said.

It was a stark turnaround from two weeks earlier, when the Landmarks Preservation Commission said that it could not support the plans as designed, and the development team insisted there were no alternatives.

In addition to the hospital, those plans involved the sale and demolition of eight buildings on the eastern side of the hospital campus, to be replaced by the Rudins with a condo tower and townhouses designed by FXFowle. The $310 million sale would pay debt service on the campus and help finance the $835 million hospital, which is designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners.

The new plans call for restoring and adaptively reusing four of the easterly buildings for residential use. (The commission recommended retaining five of the eight buildings,  which, along with the O’Toole Building, lie within the Greenwich Village Historic District.) The condo tower will shrink in height by 30 feet and in width by 60 feet, and the number of townhouses will be reduced. “This really locks back into the architecture of the neighborhood,” FXFowle partner Dan Kaplan said.

The hospital will lose two stories, falling from 329 to 299 feet, as well as a 53-foot prow that was proposed for its southwestern corner. “This should really open up the sky on the west side,” Ian Bader, the project architect for Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, said. The bulk will remain the same, however, by raising the five-story podium base to six and expanding the elliptical tower by four feet on each side.

Some in the audience were vexed by the hospital’s quick trip back to the drawing board, though they were generally happy with the results. “You should be congratulated for coming up with a plan so quickly after you told us last time you couldn’t reuse any of the buildings,” said Carol Greitzer, a member of the board’s Omnibus St. Vincent’s Hospital Committee, which was expressly created to oversee the hospital’s expansion for the board. “But there is no doubt the result is a better contribution to the streetscape.”

While they shared the optimism of the community, preservationists remained cautious. “It’s amazing how much better it looks with the buildings still present,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “But there may still be some major concerns.”

“I’m not yet sure what to think,” added Nadezhda Williams, a preservation associate at the Historic Districts Council. “There’s a lot to digest.” Meanwhile, roughly a dozen hospital workers and unionists showed up, waving signs that declared, “Lives Not Buildings.”

The plans now return to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for a new round of public review on June 3. Though the appropriateness of the designs will be vetted as usual, the focus will likely be St. Vincent’s hardship application.

Last invoked in 1993, this provision of the city’s landmarks law allows landlords hamstrung by the commission’s findings—in this case, the determination of historical importance for the O’Toole Building, one of Albert Ledner’s four 1960s buildings for the Maritime Union in the city—to argue that they cannot maintain the landmark and either turn a profit or, in the case of a nonprofit like Saint Vincent’s, serve its charitable purpose.

“At the end of the day, the O’Toole building is the only site St. Vincent’s can move into,” Shelly Friedman, counsel to the hospital, said. In the end, that will likely be the case: Only three of 15 hardship applications have been denied.

Matt Chaban