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Historic Central Park Building Shouldn't Be Used as Horse Stable: Critics

By Emily Frost | January 27, 2016 4:59pm
 The 86th Street Shops building is a proposed site for conversion into a horse carriage stable, but residents and preservations don't like the plan of taking a public building and converting it for private use.
The 86th Street Shops building is a proposed site for conversion into a horse carriage stable, but residents and preservations don't like the plan of taking a public building and converting it for private use.
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Preservationists, residents and local leaders are furious about a plan by Mayor Bill de Blasio to convert an historic building into a horse stable in a move to ban horse carriages outside of Central Park. 

The mayor's plan, which has already come under fire from pedicab owners, carriage owners and city councilmembers who argue it would eliminate jobs, has now earned the ire of Upper West Siders who say it would destroy a 143-year-old landmarked building.

Under the plan, which could be voted on by the City Council as early as next week, 75 horses and 68 carriages would move to a building along the West 86th Street transverse in Central Park that's known as the 86th Street Shops.

Currently the building, which was designed by Calvert Vaux, one of the original architects behind the creation of Central Park, houses a metal and carpentry workshop for Parks Department employees.

It sits wedged between the Great Lawn and the Reservoir, just west of the police precinct and along the 86th Street transverse. 

The administration characterized the building as the "front-runner candidate," but said its use is not a done deal. 

Locals are rejecting the plan not just because of what it would do to the historic building and the displacement of the tradespeople currently working there, but because of the appropriation of a public space for private use, they said. 

"The idea of taking a building in Central Park to turn it into a permanent facility for a private industry, it’s an extremely troublesome premise," said Community Board 7's Parks Committee Chair Klari Neuwelt at a meeting this week.

"We should not be using scarce park resources and an historic building for a private industry," she said, calling the idea "a non-starter."

LANDMARK WEST!, the local preservation advocacy group, believes that in order to house the 75 horses and 68 carriages the bill calls for, the building would need to be substantially altered. 

"We've calculated that the historic building would need to be at least doubled in size to accommodate the horses, carriages and other equipment," said LANDMARK WEST! President Kate Wood in an email. 

The administration is presuming this kind of work — costing an estimated $25 million — will receive approval by the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Public Design Commission as "a foregone conclusion," which is "an invasion of agency jurisdiction," she said.

CB 7 member Meisha Hunter called the move "a bald-faced land grab that is being driven by the mayor for the benefit of private real estate interests," because it frees up stable space in Hell's Kitchen for development.

It also would use public money to interfere with an historic building, she said. 

Placing horses so close to the road and to the Great Lawn, where countless concerts and events are held, is a "recipe for disaster," said board member Page Cowley.

In addition to the impossible logistics of bringing in hay and loading and unloading horses in a narrow area, horses are messy, she said. 

"If you don’t like the smell of horse manure you’re going to hate having this near playgrounds," said Cowley.

The Parks Committee voted unanimously to take a stand on the proposal and disapprove the plan Monday night. 

The Central Park Conservancy has also invested in exploring alternate uses for the building on its own. 

The Conservancy hired the architecture firm Jan Hird Pokorny Associates (JHPA) to evaluate re-purposing the 86th Street Shops for use as its own offices, according to the firm's website.

"The Conservancy has proposed to convert the building into offices to serve as its new headquarters, consolidating departments that are currently spread among four different locations," the firm writes on its website. 

The Conservancy is currently evaluating the JHPA's drawings and fundraising for the project, the firm states on its site. 

Neither the Conservancy nor JHPA immediately returned request for comment regarding plans for the building in light of the newly proposed legislation.

The City Council is expected to vote on the horse carriage legislation at its next stated meeting on Feb. 4. 

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