Volume 16 • Issue 37 | February 13 - 19, 2004

Development boom near the river

By Lincoln Anderson

Downtown Express photo by Lincoln Anderson

Two new projects on Greenwich St. between Spring and Canal Sts.: 505 Greenwich St., left, next to a Winda Dubbledam-designed building at 491 Greenwich St.

Touting it as the new “Condo Coast,” developers continue to chip away at the old industrial Hudson River waterfront area to replace it with a new “edifice complex” — a string of new designer buildings for an upscale market.

Even as residents and preservationists are rushing to try to landmark the waterfront and Far West Village, news came last week that Related Companies has reached an agreement to purchase the Superior Ink building on a 33,000-sq.-ft. lot at West St. between Bethune and W. 12th Sts., just north of the Westbeth artists housing complex.

In Hudson Sq., Rip Hayman, owner of the Ear Inn building on Spring St., finds all the changes to the west side bewildering, yet is taking things in stride. Around the corner on Greenwich St. two stylish, new, glass-sheathed residential buildings are being completed, the Greenwich St. Project by architect Winka Dubbledam, and the 14-story 505 Greenwich St.

Hayman said local developer Nino Vendome plans to demolish his two-story warehouse building next to the Ear Inn next month to do ground tests for his planned Philip-Johnson-designed apartment tower. Hayman said preliminary tests show bedrock is far down — 95 ft. below the surface — so extensive pile driving will be needed.

Hayman moved into the Ear Inn building in 1973 as a college student. Jokingly calling 505 Greenwich St. “Co-op City South,” he said, “It’s like New York City finally moved into Woho — West Houston.

“Literally, no building has been built around here since 1946,” he said, referring to the U.P.S. building across Houston St.

Hayman finds it hard to see the attraction of the area, wondering, “Why anybody would pay $1 million to live here when you have to walk 10 blocks to get a cup of coffee.”

Up north a little ways, the former Pathfinder socialist press building recently was demolished by developers Izak Senbahar and Simon Elias for a third Richard Meier-designed apartment tower — to complement the two just-completed ones by Meier at Perry St.

Four blocks to the south, the Olsen twins and other celebrity types are getting ready to move into Morton Sq., a sprawling condo complex on West St. built on a former truck lot.

The Superior Ink building deal was first reported by New York magazine.

David Wine, Related’s vice president of residential development, said in a telephone interview, “We’ve contracted to purchase the site. We plan to build a signature residential building. The West Village has been an incredibly vibrant and attractive residential community for a long time. This is obviously one of the last opportunities on the waterfront. It follows in the footsteps of very successful developments in the neighborhood.”

Wine said he couldn’t comment on the project’s design yet or whether it will be 100 percent market-rate rental apartments or condominiums.

“We don’t know anything about the specifics of the building at this point,” he said. “We plan to meet with people in the community as part of the process of developing the property. This has all happened very quickly — this is all very current.”

He declined to reveal the purchase price.

The site has an M-1 manufacturing zoning, which prohibits residential use. Wine said Related would try to get the property rezoned for residential use, though conceding rezoning is a lengthy process. The Superior Ink building, where ink for lithographers and printers is still produced, would not be incorporated into the project but demolished, he said.

While Wine said the new Hudson River Park, the Village segment of which opened over the summer, has helped add to the neighborhood’s allure, he downplayed its effect a bit.

“I think Hudson River Park has contributed to the appeal of the neighborhood,” he said. “I would say Hudson River Park really transformed some of the parts farther to the south. But Westbeth as an anchor — and the side streets — this part of the West Village has always been great.”

Told that residents living behind the Superior Ink building are angry their river views will be blocked and that many Villagers are opposed to high-rise development along the waterfront, Wine said, “I’m sure we’ll be listening to their concerns,” adding, “I’m sure we’re going to hear the concerns of the city.” He declined to say what the concerns of the city regarding the Greenwich Village waterfront might be.

Superior Ink said only their chief financial officer, Harold Rubin, could comment but that he was not available as of press time.

A resident of 380 W. 12th St., a 50-unit, converted former cold-storage building that is eight stories tall — after having two stories added on — said they started hearing talk a few months ago that someone was trying to buy the ink factory. They checked building records, tried to talk to Superior Ink’s owners, but couldn’t find out anything.

Superior Ink’s building is four and a half stories tall; Related’s will surely be taller.

“I’m on the fifth floor and I have a complete view of the river,” said the woman. “And it’s more than that: There’s light and air. Five apartment lines are going to be affected, and the apartments in the middle don’t have windows on the side streets.”

Aubrey Lees, former chairperson of Community Board 2 and current chairperson of the board’s Landmarks Task Force, said saving the waterfront from development will be the Task Force’s top priority when on Feb. 26 they have their first meeting with new Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairperson Robert Tierney.

“We’re trying to impress on Mr. Tierney the importance of preserving the Far West Village and waterfront,” Lees said. “The development is increasing even as we speak. It’s got to be a priority. Everybody’s been talking about it for a while, but now we’ve got to focus on it. I’m sure Mr. Tierney will be receptive about this — he lives in the Village,” she noted.

Tierney, in a statement, said: “Over the past few years, the commission has been working with community groups and local officials in the Village to address preservation interests, such as the Gansevoort Market Historic District, which was designated a few months ago. We are aware of the concerns for the waterfront area and will listen to the task force’s proposal at our next meeting.”

Also, a town hall community forum is planned, titled “Save the Far West Village From Overdevelopment,” on March 10 at 75 Morton St. at 7 p.m. Co-sponsors of the town hall are Board 2, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, Greenwich Village Community Task Force and the Federation to Preserve the Greenwich Village Waterfront and Great Port.

Zack Winestine, co-chairperson of the Task Force, said it’s crunch time for waterfront.

“I think there’s a feeling among all the activists and all the groups in the Village that this is make or break now,” Winestine said. “We’ve been worrying about the future for a long time — and the future is here.”

Winestine said the Superior Ink building, while not beautiful, is “pleasing” to the eye with its old smokestack, and he feared it will be replaced by “another nondescript tall building.” By the same token, praising the area’s existing income mix, he feared it will be replaced by a homogenous population of wealthy celebrities.

Winestine said they will focus on landmarking the waterfront and Far West Village from 14th St. to Barrow St., where people have recently noticed interior renovations are being done on the old abandoned Keller Hotel owned by the Gottlieb real estate company. However, city records don’t show the Keller as having been sold.

Andrew Berman, G.V.S.H.P.’s director, said they had been keeping an eye on the Superior Ink site, always fearing it could become a development site.

He said the new designer waterfront buildings are simply in the wrong location, if not downright ugly.

Of Morton Sq., he said, “It’s hideous. Morton Sq. is kind of your worst nightmare of what new development would look like.” Of the Meier Perry St. towers, he said, “Even those who call it elegant architecture would have to admit it looks woefully out of context in the Far West Village — towering over two- and three-story brick houses.”



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