Volume 18 • Issue 26 | November 11 - 17, 2005

Calatrava tower construction on hold, seeking buyers

By Daniel Wallace

The Manhattan developer Frank J. Sciame has adopted an inverted parody of the Field of Dreams motto for the construction of the proposed Calatrava residential tower on 80 South Street: if they come, build it.

The 835-foot tower, which would be the sixth-tallest building in Manhattan, was designed in 2003 by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, who is known for his innovative Turning Torso tower in Sweden and his PATH terminal under construction at the World Trade Center site, amidst a buzz of frenzied excitement and approbation. But two years later, it is still uncertain whether the tower will actually be built.

“We’re in the marketing phase of the project right now,” said John Evans, vice president of real estate for Sciame Development Inc., at a recent Community Board 1 meeting. “We have to reach a certain level of sales to demonstrate to our lenders that there is a market for it.”

Evans said that Sciame approved a general offering plan in September and, since then, marketing has been going well. They hope to start construction in April 2006.

“But there’s a chance you won’t achieve the necessary sales, and the tower won’t be built?” asked a community board member.

“The short answer is, yes,” Evans said. “But marketing is going well, and it doesn’t look like that will happen.”

The Calatrava tower would replace the red-brick building at South and Fletcher Sts. that currently serves as the headquarters of Sciame Development and would rise over the East River near the South Street Seaport and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Some members of the community board had more praise for Sciame’s new construction and recent restoration of South Street Seaport Historic District buildings than the Calatrava tower, which they felt would look too futuristic next to the historic district.

In a staggered pattern, the tower consists of 12 four-story cubes that would be cantilevered from a concrete core containing three elevators (two passenger, one freight) and emergency stairways. Each cube would have its own elevator. And each cube would have a terrace on the roof of the unit below. Alongside the cubes two slender, stabilizing steel spines would rise as out-riggers.

The top 10 cubes are townhouses that cost between $29 million and $55 million a unit. The bottom two cubes are zoned for non-residential use. And for the base structure, Sciame is seeking a cultural tenant, perhaps a museum.

In response to a question, Evans said retail could be considered at ground level.

“That’s an option,” Evans said. “But we really want to find a cultural use for it. We view the base more as a good neighbor for the residents above.”

The residential entrance in the base building would be off Fletcher St. and the non-residential entrance off South St. Evans said Sciame is exploring the possibility of creating a 12-parking-space garage in the tower’s basement, which could be reached through a conveyor belt.

Although New York’s architectural community is highly accepting of the plan, some Downtown residents are leery. One resident of 85 South St., which touches the Sciame headquarters that will be torn down, expressed concern at the Community Board 1 meeting about the noise of construction, vibration, falling debris and the potential of road-closures.

“We’ll have a landmark safety program to deal with things like vibration,” Evans said. “We’re not going to harm adjacent buildings. And most likely, only Fletcher St. will be closed down.”

Evans said that the tower is an as-of-right building, which means that it complies with all relevant zoning laws and is not subject to public review, but that Sciame will gladly present a construction logistics plan once one is in place.

Some residents were concerned about the structural safely of the tower, the narrowness of it, questioning if it would sustain a hit from a small plane. But Evans noted that Calatrava is an engineer as well as an architect and a sculptor. His work is undergirded by a strong structural logic.

Evans said that construction will most likely take 30 months.


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