‘Jenga’ building doesn’t fly with local residents

BY JESS SCANLON  |  The notion of a new high-rise residential building in Tribeca is not sitting well among neighborhood residents.

Nicknamed “Jenga” after the popular puzzle game for its unusual design, the Leonard Street development is poised to become the highest building in Tribeca, standing 800 feet tall at more than 57 stories. Unlike most buildings in the area, the Jenga building is designed as a post-modern structure with a glass-and-steel facade.

But despite the lack of enthusiasm about the building, construction of the city-approved project at 56 Leonard St. has already begun.

Members of Community Board 1’s Tribeca Committee, which saw renderings of the development at its Oct. 10 meeting, reacted negatively to the idea of having such a tall building among the area’s numerous low-rise structures. Committee member Noel Jefferson asserted that the building does not belong in the neighborhood. “We need to make people understand we’re not 57th Street, we’re Tribeca,” she said.

The building’s location at 56 Leonard St. is adjacent to New York Law School, which previously owned the land. A corporation set up for the property called 56 Leonard L.L.C. now owns the building. Real estate company Alexico Group lists the Tribeca property as a new development. Records from the City Register Office’s database show that the Alexico Group received extra financing from the New York branch of Hypothekenbank Frankfurt AG, a German real estate bank.

C.B. 1 documents show that the property is sandwiched between the Tribeca East and Tribeca West historic districts. Since the lot sits just outside of Tribeca’s historic districts, its zoning allows for a high-rise building.

Lynn Ellsworth — founder of the Tribeca Trust, a new, local organization that seeks to preserve the neighborhood’s historic and architectural character — is equally displeased with the proposed high-rise development. Despite the fact that 56 Leonard St. is outside of the historic districts, Ellsworth believes it is too close to those areas. Tribeca, she said, is supposed to be a “livable historic district,” and such a property doesn’t belong in the neighborhood.

“Look at Paris,” she said. “They can’t build anything bigger than the Eiffel Tower.”

The project was designed by the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron. The company has put together a website devoted to the future building, which contains several positive reviews of the design, digital models and details about the makeup of the future building. Despite its moniker, the Jenga building will not be made out of wood; it will be constructed of glass, steel and concrete.

The building, whose construction is already underway, is scheduled for completion in spring 2016, according to representatives from the construction company Lend Lease who attended the Tribeca Committee meeting.

Tony DelGreco, the project’s senior manager and site supervisor, spoke of the more technical aspects of the project and about the general process of constructing the building. His team would be pumping concrete through a pipe hundreds of feet above the ground to create 56 Leonard St.’s elaborate floors.

Community relations liaison Sharon Stern, representing Lend Lease, distributed a hotline number in case neighborhood residents had any concerns during the project’s construction. She told the committee that calls would be returned within 24 to 48 hours and that her company would be completely transparent with C.B. 1.

Ehrmann responded to Stern’s claims of transparency by reminding her that Lend Lease had not been so transparent in the past. Regardless of the name change, the company is the same one that was partially responsible for the demolition of 130 Liberty St., where two firefighters died in an August 2007 fire. The company, which also has a history of illegal overbilling, is still viewed by some local residents and others as untrustworthy.

Committee member Jeff Ehrlich, who also voiced skepticism about Lend Lease’s reliability, later referred to the hotline as “an answering machine.”

“They should set up a hotline,” he said.

Ellsworth sees the development as a new opportunity for Tribeca to realize the type of neighborhood it wants to be.

“This could be a wake-up call for Tribeca to expand and better protect our historic districts,” she said.

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4 Responses to ‘Jenga’ building doesn’t fly with local residents

  1. Tribeca residents need to prevent future zoning disasters like this. As resident of a landmarked ares we are unable to change anything with with our own buildings without going throuhg landmarks, yet a developer who knows "inside baseball" is able to build a post-modern monster. Needless to say our school crowding situation will only get worse. I'd bet dollars to donuts that nobody at the Board of Ed knows about it.

  2. This NIMBY stuff has to stop. New York is a dynamic city that will continue to grow and change long after we are all gone. The way the neighborhood WAS is over. We are in a new century with new ideas, and this is a beautiful one. Learn to embrace change, be flexible and let go of the past, man. You will be all the happier for it!

  3. This article is frankly silly.

    First, why do you assume that people don't support this tower? Obviously if you ask the NIMBY "community activists", they will be against any and all development. Most people I know support this development, as it will be a future landmark and is designed by one of the most respected architectural teams on earth.

    Second, all the given arguments for why this tower should be built somewhere else are totally nonsensical. The building is not in any landmark district, therefore landmark rules are irrelevent. Paris does have plenty of highrise towers, especially in recent years, so Paris would be a very poor argument against the tower. Finally, the accusations against Lend Lease are absurd, given that they are active in almost every country on earth, and probably the biggest construction managers on earth. I'm pretty sure they know what they're doing. And it was Jon Gault, a totally unrelated firm, that was responsible for the Deutsche Bank debacle.

  4. Sweetie, there are tons of high rises in Paris and New York and Paris are completely different. New York is and has always been a city of high rises.

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