Volume 76, Number 25 | November 8 - 14, 2006

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

An excavating machine starts breaking ground for the Trump Soho condo-hotel on Monday.

Trump Hotel on hold for now, but Trump Hole coming soon

By Lincoln Anderson

The Trump Hotel on the western edge of Soho isn’t being built yet — but the Trump Hole is.

To be more precise, last Wednesday, hard hats started installing construction fencing around the former parking lot at Varick and Spring Sts. where Trump and a team of developers plan to build a 42-story condo-hotel.

A young man at the site wearing a suit and holding an attaché case identified himself as the construction project manager, from Bovis Lend Lease, LMB Inc. He said they would start ripping up the asphalt and digging soon.

“We’ll break ground in about a week,” he said, asking that his name not be printed.

The embattled project has met fierce resistance from community groups and local elected officials. Yet, he said, it has all the required permits to build.

He said the project’s rooms will be hotel rooms, and that it will likely operate as a “time share,” giving the example of summerhouses in the Hamptons. For instance, someone might want to rent a unit in the condo-hotel the same time each year, such as one month in the summer, while someone else will actually own the unit, he explained.

The main development partners are Bayrock and Sapir, with Trump in a lesser role, he said.

A construction worker at the site, who was putting up plywood fencing with two other workers, added that he and his men were there to build the foundation, which he said would be 15 feet deep.

“That’s deep enough for a basement,” he said. Nearby, another worker was jackhammering holes into the sidewalk for posts for the fencing.

Villager photo by Lincoln Anderson

The project manager walking out of the construction site last Wednesday, the day workers started fencing in the site.

Asked if there would be pile driving as part of the foundation work, the project manager said there would be. Asked how many piles would be pounded into the ground, he said, “It’s a large site. There’s a lot of them — couple hundred. Yeah, it’s going to be noisy, no doubt about it.”

A couple of days later, a large excavating machine could be seen demolishing a cinderblock structure — formerly a small diner — that had stood on the edge of the parking lot, and toppling two large wooden poles.

This Monday, construction machines started ripping up the asphalt — officially breaking ground.

Jennifer Givner, a Department of Buildings spokesperson, said that the project was issued an excavation permit on Sept. 21 and a foundation permit on Sept. 25, so they can dig down and then construct the foundation. But, she said, the building permit allowing construction of the condo-hotel is still in a state of disapproval; D.O.B. denied the permit months ago on grounds of “noncompliance with zoning and the building code,” she said.

“This is in their hands,” said Givner. “They have to comply — it’s still in disapproval status.”

At issue is the fact that the area, known as Hudson Square, is zoned for manufacturing, which doesn’t allow residential use. Although hotels are allowed, opponents charge the Spring St. condo-hotel is a “Trojan horse,” in that it will effectively be used residentially. If the city approves this project, it will open the floodgates to these sort of luxury residential projects posing as condo-hotels in manufacturing districts throughout the city, the opponents say.

The Soho Alliance community group is fighting the project tooth and nail.

“Yes, they have a permit to dig a hole — and at the end of the day, they might have to fill the hole with dirt and put back the parking lot,” said Sean Sweeney, the alliance’s director. “It’s like an anagram,” he said. “He needs a ‘T’ for a hotel, but it’s just a hole.”

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation has been leading the charge against the project. Condo-hotels do exist in commercially zoned districts. But, this condo-hotel’s approval, they warn, would threaten the character of various manufacturing-zoned neighborhoods, such as western Chelsea, Clinton, north Tribeca and the Meatpacking District, whether by blocking opportunities for new affordable housing or displacing art galleries.

“Right now, all he can do is dig a hole in the ground,” said Andrew Berman, G.V.S.H.P.’s director. “We’re pushing against this with everything we have.”

Buildings has taken six months, yet still not decided on the Spring St. condo-hotel permit. Word is, however, a decision is now expected within the week.

“I think they were being strongly pulled by us and other advocates and more or less common sense, and on the other hand, the powerful forces of real estate that have been salivating to slip this kind of development into manufacturing zones for years,” Berman said of Buildings’ drawn-out decision. “It’s a battle royal.”

If built to its full height, the condo-hotel would be the largest building between Midtown and the Financial District, according to Berman.

As for why the project is digging the hole without a permit for a condo-hotel, Sweeney said, “Maybe they know something that we don’t.”

This Tuesday, a man wearing a hard hat was penciling a red mark on the sidewalk on the south side of Dominick St. Asked what it was for, he said it was for something involving the massing of the new condo-hotel building. But the new building doesn’t even have a permit allowing it to be built, he was told.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” he said with a puzzled grin.

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