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/ November 18, 2010
NYU Drops 400-Foot Pinwheel Tower Application, Now Plans To Build On Morton Williams Site

Earlier this afternoon, NYU announced that it will be withdrawing its application to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to build a fourth tower in University Village, near the existing landmarked I.M. Pei-designed towers. The tower, which was planned to be 400 feet tall and would have included a hotel, was long a flash-point for criticism from community members.

Ultimately, though, that criticism was not why NYU backed out of its plans, NYU Spokesman John Beckman confirmed. It was Pei himself, whom NYU had contacted years ago about the proposed tower, who balked at the idea of the new construction and drove NYU to drop its application.

“From the beginning, we  sought a design for the Silver Towers block that was most respectful of Mr. Pei’s vision. Some people disagreed with our proposed approach; others agreed.  We believed that among those who agreed was Mr. Pei himself, who expressed no opposition to the concept of a tower on the landmarked site when we spoke with him directly in 2008,” Lynne Brown, NYU’s Senior Vice President, said in a statement. “Mr. Pei has now had a change of heart. The clarity Mr. Pei has now provided –that the Morton Williams site is ‘preferable’ — is helpful to us in understanding how to proceed with our [Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP)] proposal.”

Pei, through a surrogate, sent a biting letter to the LPC (excerpted below):

NYU, out of respect for Pei and likely fearing that the LPC would deny its application, will now change its proposal to include construction on the Morton Williams site in the northwest corner of University Village. The university bought the unlandmarked property in 2001 and initially planned to build there, before deciding a new Pinwheel tower would be preferable.

Many Villagers hate the proposal, as it would block views from the existing Pei towers and, they argue, would be out-of-context for the area.

“We expect to build a building of similar overall size on the Morton Williams site,” writes Beckman. “The fourth tower was [planned to be] about 225,000 sq ft.  [However], the footprint is larger, so…it would not be as tall.  More specifics will emerge as we do further work on the ULURP application.” The Villager reports that NYU officials said the tower would be “about 17 -20 stories and 200 ft. tall.”

The university also intends to include a hotel, originally planned to be in the Pinwheel tower, in its 2031 construction, but no building has yet been selected.

UPDATE: City Editor Kenny points out that Pei’s objection to the new tower was always NYU’s big concern. In this week’s New York feature on the 2031 plans, an NYU source said, “We wanted to make sure Andrew Berman, [executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation and frequent NYU critic], couldn’t call [Pei] up and get a quote from him saying his site is sacred. One word from Pei could have killed the whole thing.” So they set up a meeting themselves to present their designs, hoping to gain his consent. It didn’t work.

Berman also put out a statement today blasting NYU:

I am deeply gratified that in the face of overwhelming opposition, including from architect I.M. Pei, NYU has chosen to withdraw its plans for landmarks approval for a 400 ft. tall tower in the Silver Towers complex. However, NYU’s insistence on moving ahead with seeking public approvals for its alternative plans for a development on the adjacent non-landmarked supermarket site, as well as the remainder of its massive NYU 2031 expansion plan to add 2 million square feet of space around Washington Square Park, shows that the university still does not get it. NYU should be looking to places like the Financial District to absorb its massive planned growth — where it would be contextual and welcomed by leaders of that community. We will continue to strongly oppose NYU’s massive overdevelopment plans in our neighborhood.

Previously on NYU Local:

Critics of NYU 2031 Plans Now Defend Once-Maligned NYU Buildings

How NYU Plans To Expand In The Village & Why Residents Are So Mad