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MoMA Monster Downsized: City Council Committee Approves 200-Foot Height Reduction

Michael Sillerman, attorney for the planned MoMA/Hines tower

The NY City Council’s Land Use Committee today approved by a 12-2 vote the City Planning Commission’s reduction of the height of the MoMA/Hines tower from 1,250 to 1,050 feet. The developer, Hines, acceded to this reduction during negotiations with Council members after the hearing held Tuesday by the Council Land Use Committee’s Subcommittee for Zoning and Franchises.

As luck would have it, Michael Sillerman, attorney for the project, sat down next to me in the meeting room. So I asked him after the vote if the project would go forward under the conditions approved today by the Committee (which still have to go back to the CPC, and then back again to City Hall for a vote by the full Council).

His answer was, “Yes.”

It appears, therefore, that Tuesday’s lament by David Penick, managing partner for developer Hines on this project, about the loss of financial viability if the building height was reduced was just a step in the negotiation dance.

The Council members and the developer hammered out a plan for the Jean Nouvel-designed tower to have less than 100,000 square feet of hotel space. This would mean that the tower would not be legally required to have a loading dock with curb cut—a concession to neighborhood opponents who are concerned about increased activity on their street. The Museum of Modern Art’s space on the new building’s lower floors would remain the same—about 52,000 square feet, connected seamlessly to the existing galleries.

Melinda Katz
, chair of the Land Use Committee, said before the vote that residential space in the tower would total 495,000 square feet. This would make the maximum square footage almost 647,000 square feet. But Sillerman told me afterwards that the actual agreement is for a maximum of 658,000 square feet—the SAME AMOUNT that was to have been encompassed by the proposed (now shortened) 1,250-foot-high building.

Since this could mean squashing the same floor area into a shorter building, I asked Sillerman if the slender structure would grow fatter, or whether ceiling height would be reduced. He could only say that a significant redesign would now ensue, and he didn’t yet know what exactly that would entail or what the actual square footage total would turn out to be. He assured me that architect Jean Nouvel is on the case.

While we await further developments, here’s one bit of good news: MoMA has committed to improving the visibility of the sculpture garden from the street and “enhancing the pedestrian experience on W. 54th Street”—an amelioration of what I had previously dubbed (scroll to #7) “the 54th Street Prison Wall.”

an ArtsJournal blog