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Developer Promises Not to Put Big-Box Store in Glassy SoHo Building

By Danielle Tcholakian | October 15, 2014 12:41pm
 The building at 19 E. Houston St. will be made of translucent glass bricks.
The building at 19 E. Houston St. will be made of translucent glass bricks.
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Perkins Eastman

SOHO — A new Houston Street building that neighbors had feared would become a big-box store will now feature a smaller retail space instead, following a year of negotiations with the community, the developer said.

Madison Capital had planned to put at least four stories of retail in its glassy new development at 19 E. Houston St., which would have required a special permit for stores bigger than 10,000 square feet.

But after discussions with Community Board 2, SoHo residents, the Manhattan Borough President's office and City Councilwoman Margaret Chin, Madison Capital agreed to limit retail to the cellar, ground floor and second floor, totaling less than 10,000 square feet, according to a letter the developer sent Chin recently.

"It's certainly a victory and we very much appreciate it," said Tobi Bergman, chair of the Community Board 2 Land Use Committee. "The biggest concern was the massiveness...and the character of the retail. Neighbors are becoming increasingly concerned about the character of the retail [in SoHo]."

Madison Capital also agreed to widen the sidewalk in front of the new office and retail building, near Broadway, based on residents' concerns about congestion on the block, according to Madison Capital director Jonathan Ratner's Sept. 29 letter to Chin.

The Department of Transportation supports the plan to widen the sidewalk and will move an existing bus stop to make extra space, according to a letter DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione wrote over the summer.

The concessions came ahead of next week's City Council vote on the project, which is expected to be approved.

Ratner's letter also addressed the community's concern about the design of the six-story building, which neighbors had panned as "a glowing glass box."

“We believe in being a good neighbor and responsible landlord,” Ratner wrote to Chin. “If a concern arises in the future related to illumination we will work [with] the Community Board, the Council Member, tenants and other stakeholders to try to resolve it.”

Ratner and Madison Capital did not respond to requests for comment.

Bergman said it's important to limit the size of stores in SoHo so that the neighborhood isn't taken over by chain stores.

"It will be a big loss to SoHo if it loses its character and loses its flavor and becomes just an uninteresting retail mall," Bergman said. "Broadway is less and less interesting. Obviously it's very popular and very successful as a retail place, but long-term success in New York doesn’t just come from being a neighborhood for one use, it comes from being a 24-7 neighborhood, being a place you can’t find in other cities."