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Real Estate Firm Drops High Line Mural After Failing to Get City Approval

 Domingo Zapata designed this mural for a building overlooking the High Line at the behest of the building's owner, Town Real Estate.
Domingo Zapata designed this mural for a building overlooking the High Line at the behest of the building's owner, Town Real Estate.
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Courtesy of Domingo Zapata

MEATPACKING DISTRICT — A Spanish-American painter who has shown his work around the world was supposed to install a colorful mural overlooking the High Line at the beginning of May — but the company that sponsored the project never got approval from the city and this week canceled the mural without telling the artist.

Domingo Zapata, 39, who had his first solo exhibit at the Venice Biennale last year, designed a bright swirling mural called "Flowers" for the side of Town Real Estate's office at 446 W. 14th St. and was set to start painting it on May 1.

But Town Real Estate never received approval from the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission to put up the mural on its building, which falls within a historic district. The project cannot go forward until that happens, LPC officials said.

After DNAinfo New York asked the real estate company about the approvals issue, representatives said they planned to drop the project altogether.

"Town is not proceeding with this project at this time, but we plan to revisit it in the near-term," a representative wrote in an email.

That came as a shock to Zapata, who had planned to begin painting soon.

"It's disappointing," said the artist, who lives in Gramercy and is also working on a piece for the lobby of One World Trade Center. "Anyways, what can I do? Not much, just concentrating on other projects, that's it."

Town Real Estate first presented Zapata's designs to the landmarks commission last October, but the commissioners were concerned that it looked too much like an advertisement, because it contained language similar to "We Love Our Town," an apparent reference to the company, an LPC spokeswoman said. The LPC asked the firm to return with new designs.

However, Town Real Estate told Zapata the project had been approved and never returned to the commission with the new designs, Zapata and the LPC said.

Town Real Estate only submitted updated plans on Tuesday, officials said, the same day that DNAinfo New York asked the company whether the project had the necessary city approvals.

"We did not receive a revised proposal until today, six months after the hearing," the LPC said in a statement emailed to DNAinfo on Tuesday.

"We will review it and if it responds to the Commissioner’s comments, we will put it on the next available public meeting agenda."

A Town Real Estate employee said the company could move forward with getting LPC approval but decided not to do so. The company did not give a reason.

Community Board 2's Landmarks Committee reviewed the plans for the mural last September and had similar concerns to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, worried that it would wind up being an ad for Town Real Estate. 

"We thought that it really was just a Trojan horse, honestly," said committee chairman Sean Sweeney. "Art for art's sake from a real estate developer, that's very rare."

Community Board 2 approved the mural unanimously, but the approval was conditional on a request that the LPC "prevent it from morphing into an advertising or commercial sign at a later date."

This is the second New York project of Zapata's that has faced bureaucratic roadblocks. A mural for Bowery Mission previously fell through when an insurance company refused to cover him, he said.

But Zapata remains good-natured.

"Maybe I just need to stop trying to do it this way, and be like Banksy instead," he said with a laugh.