Volume 77 / Number 43 | March 26 - April 1, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

A rendering provided by St. Vincent’s, showing the planned design for its new hospital (A) and for the Rudin Organization’s residential development (B), centered around 11th and 12th Sts. and Seventh Ave.

St. Vincent’s does triage, but C.B. 2 reso. passes

By Lincoln Anderson

Saying a resolution by Community Board 2 on St. Vincent’s Hospital’s rebuilding plans amounted to “putting buildings over lives,” hospital officials and supporters were in full triage mode last Thursday evening, urging the board to soften its tough position. However, the board passed a rigorous resolution with very little wiggle room to accommodate St. Vincent’s modernization project.

Henry Amoroso, St. Vincent’s president and C.E.O., branded “subjective” the resolution’s call for preserving five hospital buildings that St. Vincent’s feels must be demolished, along with four other of its buildings, to clear the way for its rebuilding plan.

“The reality is this neighborhood grew up around St. Vincent’s,” Amoroso said, “when property values were not high and people just wanted a place to live.”

He said the resolution — by C.B. 2’s St. Vincent’s Omnibus Committee — “makes no sense, it is inappropriate and it is counterintuitive.”

In short, while the board’s resolution supports St. Vincent’s “becoming a state-of-the-art facility to adopt modern healthcare delivery practices,” it would force St. Vincent’s to drastically modify its current plans.

St. Vincent’s hopes to build a new, 300-foot-tall hospital on the site of its current O’Toole Building, between 12th and 13th Sts. on the west side of Seventh Ave. However, O’Toole is one of the buildings to which the C.B. 2 resolution says L.P.C. should give “careful consideration” regarding landmarking.

“It is impossible to do the work that we want to do with the resolution submitted by your committee,” Amoroso said.

The St. Vincent’s C.E.O. scoffed at the fact that the resolution also supported landmarking the very building in which the meeting was being held, the Cronin Building. Considered by many to be one of the Village’s more unsightly edifices, Cronin is just 30 years old. But the board’s resolution states approvingly of Cronin: “It includes a well-articulated ground level. … The fenestration of the upper floors gives the building a vertical flow consistent with its neighbors, as opposed to a horizontal flow so typical of other buildings of the ’60s.”

The construction cost of St. Vincent’s new hospital would be heavily funded from the sale of the property on the hospital’s current main campus on the east side of Seventh Ave. between 11th and 12th Sts. These buildings would be demolished and replaced by a new residential development by the Rudin Organization, including a 265-foot-tall “bookend” apartment tower on the avenue and new townhouses along 11th and 12th Sts. However, the C.B. 2 resolution calls for L.P.C. to consider preserving four of the buildings on the avenue’s east side.

Following Amoroso, Shelly Friedman, the attorney for the St. Vincent’s/Rudin project, in turn, also blasted the resolution. He said St. Vincent’s serves a wider community than just C.B. 2. (C.B. 2 covers Greenwich Village, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Hudson Square and part of Chinatown.)

“When I say ‘this community,’ I have to extend it to [Community Boards] 1, 2, 4 and part of 5,” Friedman said, referring to, besides C.B. 2, the boards covering Lower Manhattan, Chelsea/Hell’s Kitchen and the swath of the middle of Manhattan extending from Union Square to Central Park South.

Pointing to the urgent need for a new St. Vincent’s Hospital, Friedman also noted that Cabrini Hospital on E. 19th St. the previous Friday, March 14, “could not meet its payroll and has been effectively shuttered.”

Friedman called St. Vincent’s “a vital part of the safety net” in Manhattan; he noted that the borough has three city-operated Health and Hospitals Corporation facilities, two on the East River and one in Harlem. St. Vincent’s essentially is, thus, counted on to cover the West Side from Battery Park to Hell’s Kitchen, he said.

Of the board’s resolution, he said, “It’s a well-meaning but flawed document that wants to have its cake and eat it, too.” Friedman said the board seemed to be pandering to the views “of a few” who are not representative of the general public. These few influential opponents, he said, “would be the superdelegates deciding this issue.”

O’Toole must come down, Friedman stressed, warning, “or no new hospital.”

About 20 Chinatown residents, holding signs saying, “We deserve a world-class hospital,” attended the meeting. St. Vincent’s has long had a health clinic in Chinatown for pediatric and general family medicine, and also has a Chinese-language floor at its main hospital. At one point, an opponent of the plan dismissed the Asian-Americans as having been “bused in.” Amoroso angrily addressed this comment later, calling it an uncalled-for and insensitive slap at a minority community, eliciting an outburst of cheers from the Chinatowners.

However, despite the protestations of the St. Vincent’s officials, as well as of some neighbors — one of whom said the buildings the hospital wants to demolish are undistinguished — Board 2 Chairperson Brad Hoylman said the board’s resolution had to be based on several factors. First of all, he said, C.B. 2, when it considers “community,” should focus on its own district. Second, he said, with the L.P.C. hearing on the St. Vincent’s/Rudin plan coming up on April 1, it was incumbent on the board to weigh in on landmarks issues above all else. Thus, the “putting buildings over lives” charge was not apt, he said. Hoylman said the board will have ample time later on to opine on other aspects of the plan, but that the matter before the board last Thursday night was landmarking. Hoylman added that he felt the St. Vincent’s Omnibus Committee — of which he is also chairperson — and the full board had a responsibility to pass “the strongest resolution” possible, given that the community board’s recommendations are only advisory.

“I think we need to come in with a strong, solid resolution that, I think, will give our elected officials a firm base to negotiate from,” he said. He added that the board’s role is to “build consensus,” and that through two major public hearings, tours of St. Vincent’s and meetings with all the various parties, the board had effectively done so.

However, Maria Passannante Derr, the board’s former chairperson, said she had problems with the strongly worded resolution. She noted that another former maritime union hall with a nautical architectural theme — similar to the O’Toole Building — exists on W. 17th St. and is now the Maritime Hotel, thus negating the need to preserve O’Toole.

“As written, this resolution misses the opportunity for the board to speak out,” Derr said. “St. Vincent’s is the most important institution in our community.” She derided the resolution for focusing on “grids, lintels and windowpanes.”

But David Gruber, a fellow C.B. 2 member, said those are precisely the sort of things L.P.C. considers. Gruber said St. Vincent’s itself was to blame for the unyielding resolution.

“They have treated this resolution as a sort of guns-and-butter argument,” he said. “I challenge St. Vincent’s to come up with an alternative plan. St. Vincent’s hasn’t done any give and take.” Slamming attorney Friedman’s “O’Toole or no new hospital” statement, Gruber said, “This is just arrogance. That kind of arrogance has threaded through our entire discussion with St. Vincent’s, and I resent it.”

Hoylman concurred, saying a middle ground had not been reached, with there being dialogue from both sides, yet the result being merely “talking past each other.” And he agreed on the “grids and lintels” emphasis, noting the committee had “focused like a laser on landmarks issues.” Hoylman also predicted that there “would be lawsuits” if St. Vincent’s doesn’t make some compromises, and that the board’s efforts could help avoid that outcome.

David Reck, chairperson of the board’s Zoning and Housing Committee, called O’Toole “the right site — but these guys are asking for significant upzonings.”

The board will subsequently weigh in on the zoning aspect of the plan, as well as other issues, like whether the Rudin project should include affordable housing or a school.

Several C.B. 2 members, in their remarks before the board’s vote on the resolution, recalled the treatments they had received at St. Vincent’s. Rosemary McGrath said a Dr. Pisani at the hospital had saved her own life and that of her unborn baby. Ed Gold noted he’d had three significant operations there, including a quintuple bypass. Yet, he too, knocked the hospital.

“They haven’t given us one inch on the program — not one inch,” Gold declared.

Arthur Schwartz, another board member, noted the community wasn’t just saying no to St. Vincent’s, but is offering an alternative plan, and that that’s “what this community does — offer an alternative plan.”

In the end, the board voted 26 in favor of the committee’s resolution and eight against and the tough resolution was approved to St. Vincent’s chagrin.

However, Hoylman predicated “that the way these things work out,” there probably would be some changes on St. Vincent’s part before all is said and done.

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