Volume 22, Number 04 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | June 5 - 11, 2009

Landmarks commissioners said this design to expand the Cosmopolitan Hotel is not bold enough.

Don’t be subtle, make a statement, city tells Cosmo architects

By Julie Shapiro

Using the words “bland” and “generic,” city commissioners sharply criticized a proposal to enlarge the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Tribeca this week.

The design for an addition adjacent to the historic hotel will need major changes before the city Landmarks Preservation Commission will approve it, the commissioners said Tuesday during a public hearing.

Architect Matthew Gottsegen defended his six-story brick design for the addition, calling it “subtle,” but the commissioners replied that subtlety wasn’t necessarily a good thing for a new building in the Tribeca South Historic District.

“It is very subtle,” agreed Pablo E. Vengoechea, vice chairperson of the L.P.C. “Perhaps it is too subtle in its relationship to the existing details of the district.”

“Design subtlety works when the detailing is spectacular and when the materials are spectacular,” added commissioner Margery Perlmutter. “I don’t know that that is the case here.”

The six-story addition would expand the 165-year-old Cosmopolitan Hotel building onto the adjacent site at the corner of Reade St. and W. Broadway. The addition would replace the two-story stucco building on that corner that now houses Mary Ann’s Mexican restaurant.

Gerald Barad, one of the Cosmopolitan’s owners, said the Mary Ann’s lease is up this month, and the restaurant would not have remained in the space long-term, even if the hotel wasn’t looking to expand. Mary Ann’s will now go to a month-to-month lease, Barad said. The restaurant’s owners have not responded to requests for comment.

The L.P.C. did not object to demolishing the Mary Ann’s building because it has undergone so many changes that little historic fabric remains. Commissioner Frederick Bland went as far as to say it was “laudable” to tear down the squat stucco building and replace it.

Still, all the commissioners objected to at least some aspects of the design for the new building.

After the meeting, Frederick Becker, a lawyer representing the hotel’s owners, said the team would redesign the building based on the commissioners’ comments. There is no timeline for when the team will return to the L.P.C.

The Cosmopolitan is among the oldest no-frills hotels in the city. It was first known as the Girard House when it opened in 1853, then as the Cosmopolitan and later as the Bond Hotel. The hotel is falsely believed by some to have housed Abraham Lincoln the night he gave his famed 1860 Cooper Union speech, but Lincoln in fact stayed at the Astor House further Downtown at Broadway and Vesey Sts., according to the L.P.C.

After undergoing major renovations in the 1980s, the hotel is now most popular among budget travelers looking for a bargain and willing to settle for small rooms with few amenities.

The rooms in the adjacent addition will not be much bigger or pricier than the rooms in the existing hotel, said Barad, who owns the Cosmopolitan with Jay Wartski. The hotel does appear to be looking for an upgrade, though, as plans include a new roof deck for guests.

Despite the economic downturn, Barad said he had full financing in place to build the project, which also includes a new entrance to the existing hotel on W. Broadway.

But the project cannot move forward without the blessing of the L.P.C., and on Tuesday it looked like Barad and Wartski still have a ways to go on that front.

Several Landmarks commissioners acknowledged the challenge Gottsegen, the architect, faces in designing the addition on a highly visible corner facing the Bogardus Triangle garden. The new building must relate to both the well-preserved historic structures on Reade St. and to the Cosmopolitan, the commissioners said.

One of the commissioners’ chief concerns was the all-glass storefront of the new building, which contrasts strongly with the solid brick on the stories above. Commissioner Stephen Byrns struggled for words as he tried to express that the transparent storefront left the building looking unsupported.

“What’s the opposite of decapitated?” he asked.

“De-footed,” another commissioner replied, and Byrns agreed.

Several commissioners suggested raising the storefront to match the storefront heights of the historic buildings on Reade St. The shorter storefront on the new building leaves it looking “squished,” commissioner Perlmutter said.

The commissioners also criticized the top floor of the building, which features alternating bands of windows and painted aluminum. The top floor is supposed to be a nod to the attics in the neighborhood’s older buildings, but commissioners said it looked more like a modern, non-contextual rooftop addition.

Commissioner Joan Gerner suggested dispensing with the attic idea altogether and just extending the red-orange brick facade up another floor, and several commissioners agreed.

The commissioners also encouraged the architect to design a more pronounced corner for the building, drawing on historic precedents. Additionally, they disliked the hotel’s new W. Broadway entrance, which they said was too modern.

The commissioners questioned the architect’s choice of materials, particularly the painted aluminum that will wrap the top floor of the addition, which may not weather well. Several times, commissioners noted that it looked like the owners were trying to save money, and the commissioners worried that the results would be noticeable.

The commissioners’ comments on Tuesday echoed some of the concerns expressed by Community Board 1, City Councilmember Alan Gerson and the Historic Districts Council, who all urged the L.P.C. to reject the application.





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