In Greenwich Village, Hospital Will Replace Modern Building
By Stephanie Smith | Online Only | Nov. 20, 2008
One of New York City's most evocative modern buildings has moved one step closer to demolition.
Last month, the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 6-4 to grant St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers a hardship exemption to the law that would prohibit them from demolishing the 1964 O'Toole Building.
The nonprofit organization filed for the exemption after the commission rejected its plans to demolish the O'Toole building and put a 299-foot-tall tower on the site. Designed as the headquarters for the National Maritime Union by Albert Ledner, the structure is part of the Greenwich Village historic district and is eligible for designation on the state and National Registers.
St Vincent's says that the new building is needed to replace its current eight-building complex to provide state-of-the-art medical care. According to Lisi de Bourbon, commission spokeswoman, alternatives to demolition were discussed at the public hearings, but the hospital persuaded the commission that none of them were feasible.
"The hardship provision of the landmarks law affords the Landmarks Commission the opportunity to explore ways to alleviate the hardship and present those ideas to the applicant, who may reject them," de Bourbon says.
Though hardship cases are rare, the decision to grant the charity medical organization an exemption has sparked controversy. Opponents of the plan worry about the precedent the decision might set for other hardship cases, saying that it disconnects the organization's problem from the condition of the protected building.
"The usefulness of the landmark building would not have anything to do with whether or not they could demolish it," says Delia Guazzo, a member of Protect the Village Historic District (PVHD), a group that formed in January to oppose the hospital's plan. The group is planning on filing a lawsuit against the commission to have the decision overturned.
A spokesperson for the hospital says that there is no concern about the condition of the O'Toole building, which is currently used for out-patient care. The organization requested the exemption because it says there are no alternative sites for the new hospital. Regulations require that the hospital be located within four blocks of St. Vincent's cancer treatment center, and they cannot re-use their current site because they sold the land to a private developer in order to fund the project.
"Charities, by their very nature, are always in need of funding," says Tom Molner, chair of PVHD. "It raises great concern that any charity which owns a protected property will be able to, in essence. reap financial benefit from using the hardship provision to evade preservation laws."
St. Vincent's still needs a certificate of appropriateness to build in the historic district, and is waiting for a public hearing on the revised plans that it has submitted to the commission. The plans must also clear the city planning commission and the city council before any work can begin. De Bourbon says that the commission will not approve any demolition until the hospital demonstrates that the project is fully funded.
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