By Gary A. Tomei
How high will it really be? Is it really necessary, and what will be its impact on our lives? Those are three of a number of questions that come to mind when contemplating St. Vincent’s anticipated new hospital facility on the site presently occupied by the O’Toole building on Seventh Ave.
St. Vincent’s Hospital plans to raze the O’Toole building, which is used by its physicians for their private practice, and which is located on the west side of Seventh Ave. between 12th and 13th Sts., to make way for a new 450-bed inpatient hospital. The hospital presently anticipates that the new building will be 17 or 18 stories high; however, I have reason to believe it will be higher. Moreover, the present St. Vincent’s hospital facility will be sold to a developer to build upscale condos.
The fact is that the very character of the Village, with its relatively low density, is being challenged on all sides, and each encroachment eats away, not only at our architectural environment, but also impacts our sense of proportion and the harmony felt with the structures that surround us. I believe that most of us in the Village prize not only the sense of community that exists here, but also the light and air missing in other areas of Manhattan that are overcrowded with people, and have buildings that are overwhelming in height and density.
No doubt, the shadow this new hospital facility will cast will fall across the West Village, including Bank, Jane, W. 12th and W. 13th Sts. This would have a terrible effect on the entire neighborhood, and could even be exacerbated if the proposed M.T.A. five-story facility on Mulry Square is approved.
It also troubles me that the entire neighborhood will be faced with an invasion of rats that will require the reincarnation of the Pied Piper to stem. We on W. 13th St. will also have all the dirt, noise and disruption that we encountered when the M.T.A. took five years to put in a subway exhaust fan on the corner of Sixth Ave. and 13 St. We also face the prospect of dump trucks rumbling down our block with the potential of causing structural damage to our buildings.
Moreover, St. Vincent’s has partnered in this venture with Rudin Development, which has an eye toward creating condos on the old St Vincent’s site. This would permit St. Vincent’s to obtain a windfall of approximately $116 million. However, it leaves unanswered the question of what the height and density of these new residential buildings will be and what the impact of having thousands more people in our neighborhood will be. No environmental study, as far as I know, has been done on any of these crucial issues.
It seems to me, that both as a matter of historical significance, as well as for practical reasons, the Village’s integrity must be preserved. We owe it to posterity to save this unique neighborhood from being turned into a bland, nondescript, concrete wasteland.
As a practical matter, this area is known throughout the world as having been the home of renowned poets, writers, performers, intellectuals and artists. Our city reaps millions of dollars from tourists visiting here to find some vestige of that great patrimony. Will they continue to come just to see concrete-and-glass high rises?
While the spokespersons for St. Vincent’s say they have in mind “what is best for the hospital and the community,” I have grave doubts about that. What has been planned is in the best interest of St. Vincent’s and the developer, while at the same time pacifying the Village residents by “involving us in the process.”
I believe that an alternative solution to St. Vincent’s problems could have been found, rather than having the full burden of this restructuring fall upon our immediate community. If, as we have been told, St. Vincent’s is serving the entire West Side of Manhattan from the Battery to Roosevelt Hospital on 58th St., doesn’t that greater community have some obligation to assume the burden in providing health and hospital care to its residents?
It seems to me that we Village residents, as well as community representatives from the Battery to 58th St., should have been engaged in this entire planning process at an earlier stage. Furthermore, given the obligation St Vincent’s has to providing health and hospital care to the larger community, the Bloomberg administration should have been intensely involved in providing guidance and funds in order to insure that what will be done is truly “in the best interest of St. Vincent’s, the Village and the entire West Side community.”
Tomei is president, W. 13th St. 100 Block Association