Volume 78 / Number 1 - June 4 - 10, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
St. Vincents faces emergency situation
After a year and a half of public discussion of its rebuilding project, St. Vincents Hospital finds itself in a troubling bind. Namely, its become unclear whether St. Vincents will be able to construct the new, state-of-the-art hospital necessary to meet todays and tomorrows Lower West Side healthcare needs.
By stating last month that the OToole Building, on the west side of Seventh Ave. at 12th St., has architectural merit, the Landmarks Preservation Commission put a major crimp in the hospitals plans since thats where St. Vincents wants to consolidate its Greenwich Village facilities in a new building. Further complicating the project, Landmarks has also indicated it feels four of the hospitals existing buildings on its main campus, on the east side of Seventh Ave. between 11th and 12th Sts., are of historical significance.
According to St. Vincents, OToole was not built to support the weight of a major addition on top of it and it would be virtually impossible to put four floors below it, as called for in the current plan. Alternatively, if four of the hospitals buildings are preserved on the main campus, St. Vincents also would be hard pressed to find a way to build a modern hospital on that side of Seventh Ave. In short, St. Vincents isnt being left much room to maneuver. As a result, it has applied for hardship under the Landmarks Law, and is making the case that it has just one option: to build on OToole or it will no longer be able to continue its charitable mission of providing healthcare, much of it to the needy poor including serving as one of only two Level 1 trauma centers in southern Manhattan.
The fact is St. Vincents is the nations only hospital located in a historic district the Greenwich Village Historic District and that is severely restricting its rebuilding efforts.
After its initial proposal for a 329-foot-tall hospital was poorly received by Landmarks, St. Vincents lopped off two stories from the top of the design, as well as slicing off a significantly sized tail or fin on the buildings southwestern edge on 12th St. The result is a 299-foot-tall building just shorter than 1 Fifth Ave., which, at 303 feet, is the historic districts tallest building that blocks less of the sky. The hospitals elliptical tower design was widened a bit to preserve the same number of beds per floor, but the overall effect is an improvement.
Meanwhile, the Rudin Organization has reconfigured the projects other half, the planned residential condo development on the avenues east side, by reducing the number of new townhouses and the size of the bookend building on Seventh Ave., and retrofitting the four preserved hospital buildings for residential use.
Neither the hospital nor Rudin, however, has significantly reduced the square footage of its project and each says it cannot in order for the joint plan to work. Without the $310 million provided by Rudins purchase of St. Vincents development rights, St. Vincents says it cannot build its new hospital. Without using all the 600,000-plus square feet of space from St. Vincents, Rudin says the financials wont work for them.
The community urged Rudin to include a school in its part of the project, and Rudin has already responded pledging to serve as financial guarantor for a new, 563-seat District 2 school to be located in the bottom floors of the Foundling Hospital at 17th and Sixth Ave. This is an important and welcome development.
Some have cried that St. Vincents should leave the Village Go to the Hudson Yards! Yet, the entire community-use provision in the Hudson Yards zoning is just 125,000 square feet, far under the 615,000 square feet the hospital needs.
As redesigned, both parts of the project responded to community concerns, and are better. But theres still room for improvement, for size reduction of both the hospital and the condos. Its now time for Community Board 2 and other well-intentioned neighbors to figure out how we can keep St. Vincents here and ensure it remains a top-notch medical facility. Above all, its up to Landmarks to realize that St. Vincents hardship case is real and critical for the hospitals future. Now the hard work begins.