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Big Plans for Stalled Construction Site Near UN

By Mary Johnson | December 9, 2011 8:05am
The developer is now calling the site 50 United Nations Plaza. He is planning to build a 44-story residential tower there within the next two years.
The developer is now calling the site 50 United Nations Plaza. He is planning to build a 44-story residential tower there within the next two years.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

TURTLE BAY — The future is looking up for a stalled construction site across the street from the United Nations.

Zeckendorf Development is planning to build a 44-story residential tower on First Avenue between East 46th and East 47th streets and fill it with diplomats.

“There’s a great need for dedicated diplomatic housing,” said Will Zeckendorf, of Zeckendorf Development, who presented the plan at a meeting of the Community Board 6 land use committee this week.

The developer was asking the committee to approve a special permit that would create additional parking spaces within the on-site parking garage he’s planning, but he and his team took the opportunity to showcase the overall project, which they estimated could break ground at the end of next year.

Zeckendorf Development reportedly paid about $160 million in 2007 to acquire the chunk of property, which the firm now refers to as 50 United Nations Plaza.

The two-story building located on that site was demolished. Before a new tower could be constructed in its place, the recession hit and left a giant hole in the ground at that address.

That was about four years ago. Since then, several different proposals have been reported, but nothing has taken off.  

For this plan, Zeckendorf has hired Foster & Partners, an international, award-winning architectural firm, to design what will be a 240,000-square-foot condominium tower.

The intent, explained Foster & Partners architect Brandon Haw, is to create fewer apartments with more space.

The site, located next door to the popular protest and rally site Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, could accommodate a building with as many as 300 units, Haw noted. Instead, the developer would like to construct a tower with just 87 condos.

Each would be an average of 2,500 square feet, with 12 to 16 foot high ceilings. The sheer size of the units is intended to appeal to the diplomatic community, Zeckendorf explained, as representatives from foreign countries often need more space to allow for entertaining and small gatherings, he noted.

Haw, the architect, agreed.

“New York plays a role in the international community as a host to these nations, and it’s a very important role,” he said.

On the ground floor of the building will be 5,000 square feet of retail space. The target client, Haw added, will be a high-end restaurant.

In designing the property, Haw has also included a driveway at the back of the building that will provide an entrance to the private, on-site parking garage and can be used for picking up and dropping off.

The plans have already progressed to the landscaping stage, and Haw outlined how the design was influenced largely by the plant life in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza and the Katharine Hepburn Garden, which is located inside the plaza.

Silver birch trees and box hedges have been selected for the design, Haw said, and four new London plain trees and one new honey locust tree will be planted on the site.

Nearby architecture also played a role in conceptualizing the new building. Haw said he was influenced by the bay windows of nearby buildings, as well as such architectural treasures as the Chrysler building, and he remarked about “this wonderful sort of juxtaposition that we find in this neighborhood of the modern and the old.”

The community board ultimately approved the request for an increase in the number of parking spaces, which Zeckendorf said was a make-or-break aspect of the deal. If he couldn’t build a project that would provide one parking space per condo, he would have to go back to the drawing board on the plan, he told the board.

Terrence O’Neal, chair of the committee, said he supported the project as a whole.

“This is a stalled construction site,” O’Neal said at the meeting. “It’s been there for four years, and this would get the process started again.”

Sherrill Kazan, president of the Friends of Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, also stood up for the plan.

“To have a responsible neighbor is worth everything,” Kazan said at the meeting. “So I welcome you in advance.”

A spokeswoman for 50 United Nations Plaza said that the team has not yet decided on pricing for the individual units, and the earliest the developer could break ground would be the end of next year, with a possible completion date in 2014.

“It would be nice to provide construction jobs for the city and to get another project built,” Haw said.