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City Will Vote July 14 on Plan to Raze Hotel Pennsylvania

By DNAinfo Staff on June 16, 2010 6:16pm

The historic Hotel Pennsylvania could soon become an office tower.
The historic Hotel Pennsylvania could soon become an office tower.
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Photo by Jordan White, courtesy Save Hotel Penn

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MIDTOWN WEST — The Hotel Pennsylvania, one of the most storied hotels in the city, where the Glenn Miller Orchestra and Duke Ellington once played, could soon be closing its doors to make way for office floors and trading space.

Despite fierce opposition to the plan by Community Board 5 and area residents, the City Planning Commission is set to make a decision on whether the project will move forward on July 14.

Under the plan, the 22-story, 1,700-room hotel, which stands around the corner from Madison Square Garden and Penn Station, would be razed to make way for a 67-story office tower.

The project, known as 15 Penn Plaza, would also include moving several subway entrances and re-opening an underground passageway under the south side of 33rd Street that would connect the Sixth and Seventh Ave. subway lines and the PATH trains.

The project is slated to be completed by 2014, according to an environmental impact statement filed with the planning commission.

Midtown resident Gregory Jones, who has spent more than three years fighting Vornado Realty Trust's plans, says that losing the hotel would be a huge blow to New York's history.

"I look around New York City and all I see is new buildings going up. What I don't see is New York of old, the old history, the old buildings," said Jones, who leads the Save The Hotel Pennsylvania Foundation.

"They don't care about our history," he said of Vornado, which acquired full rights to the hotel in 1999 and refused to comment on the project — its second attempt to develop the site.

When the hotel opened its doors in 1919, it was rumored to be the largest in the world. It boasted the world’s first “high rise” elevators and drew top entertainers, according to a Community Board 5 Landmarks Committee review.

In April, the board sent a letter to the Chair of the Department of City Planning urging the committee to vote against the project, citing concerns over overcrowding, traffic and noise.

They also maintained it would "set a troubling precedent and a tipping point for future development in the area."

But Borough President Scott Stringer overruled the Board, announcing his "conditional approval" of the project in May.

The site is "an excellent location for high density commercial growth," he maintained.

In 2007, the board's Landmarks Committee tried to landmark the building, but its petition was denied by the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission in February the next year, the New York Observer reported at the time.

As of now, the building's fate is up in the air.

If the plan is approved by the City Planning Commission, it will then have to be reviewed by the City Council, Wally Rubin, district manager of Community Board 5, said.

But Jones is expecting the worst. "The outlook looks really bleak," he said. "This is a done deal, I think."