City Council Approves Penn Plaza Skyscraper Near the Empire State Building

By DNAinfo Staff on August 25, 2010 1:02pm  | Updated on August 26, 2010 6:36am

A rendering of 15 Penn by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects.
A rendering of 15 Penn by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects.
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Courtesy of Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

CITY HALL — The Empire State Building is about to get some competition.

The City Council gave the green light Wednesday to a plan to build a massive new skyscraper in Midtown that will create more than two million new square feet of office space, despite pleas from the owners of the nearby Empire State Building to stop it.

The plans for the 1,200-plus square foot glass tower at 15 Penn Plaza were overwhelmingly approved by the council in a vote of 47-1. The decision came after a series of votes earlier in the day, first by the subcommittee on zoning and franchises and then by the full land use committee.

The proposed skyscraper is slated to be built by Vornado Realty Trust at the current site of the Hotel Pennsylvania, at 32nd Street and Seventh Avenue, just two blocks from the Empire State Building.

The Empire State Building's owner, Anthony Malkin, had pleaded with the committee at a hearing Monday to alter the plans to make the building smaller, claiming it will tarnish the city's skyline and block its view. He also proposed building a "safe zone" around the landmark to prevent future development.

But the Council sided with Vornado, hailing the tower as a symbol of economic recovery that will create an estimated 7,000 new jobs and bring billions in economic activity to the area, including more than $100 million in transit improvements to Penn Station.

"Let there be no confusion — this speaker and this Council stand for creating jobs, jobs, jobs," City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said in a statement. "We want the new Rockefeller Centers and the new Chrysler Buildings to keep this town thriving."

Earlier in the day, zoning and franchises subcommittee chair Mark Weprin dismissed Malkin's fears, saying that the Empire State Building "would not be in any way significantly affected" by the new tower.

"We love the Empire State Building and we know its iconic meaning here in New York City and would do nothing in our minds that would hurt such a terrific site," Weprin said.

The Land Use Committee approved the variances needed to build 15 Penn Plaza 19-1.
The Land Use Committee approved the variances needed to build 15 Penn Plaza 19-1.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

After the vote, Malkin maintained his position that 15 Penn is too close to his building. Nonetheless, he took a conciliatory tone, praising council members for going "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," he said in a statement.

As they cast their votes throughout the day, council members in fact made little mention of the Empire State Building's woes.

Instead, they raised concerns about Vornado's commitment to women and minority hires, which many questioned.

Councilman Charles Barron, the only member to vote against the project, said not a single black or Latino business would be able to afford office or commercial space in the tower.

"This project represents the continuing vision of the mayor to continue to develop this city for the rich, and particular white, wealthy developers," he said.

In a statement issued after the vote, Vornado acknowledged the concerns over its hiring.

"We look forward to working with the Council to implement strong minority and women participation in the development and construction of 15 Penn Plaza," a spokesman wrote.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg voiced his enthusiastic support for the project Tuesday.

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