Volume 16 • Issue 53 | May 28 - June 3, 2004

City grills consultants to Tribeca telecom building

By Elizabeth O’Brien

City officials grilled consultants for 60 Hudson St. as they heard plans on May 25 to increase the potential for more generators in the landmark Tribeca building that serves as a telecommunications hub.

At a Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing on Tuesday, consultants presented details of the master plan for the former Western Union building at 60 Hudson St. One aspect of the plan involves the addition of more louvers, or metal ventilation slats, on three sides of the building’s facade. These louvers are needed to release exhaust from the air-conditioners that cool the building’s many backup generators.

“It’s the wrong approach and the wrong way to go,” Commissioner Meredith Kane said of granting permission for more louvers.

Kane, a Tribeca resident, said she recently walked past 60 Hudson St. with some friends and was pointing out its Art Deco details of the design by Ralph Walker when the group was greeted with a blast of black smoke from a street-level louver. She pressed the presenters in particular for details on how their plan would affect the ground-floor facade.

Metal slats have already replaced windows along much of the block-long building, giving the brick facade a dark, shuttered look. Part of the master plan involves replacing the dark slats with new gold louvers, designed by the architect George Boyle, that are more in keeping with the building’s historic nature, a move that a commissioner praised as a step in the right direction.

But neighbors still fear the possibility of losing more windows.

“Windows are the soul of the building,” said Tim Lannan, a member of Neighbors Against N.O.I.S.E., a community group that formed in opposition to the building’s noise and emissions.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission must approve any changes to the building’s facade, based on whether modifications would damage its architectural legacy. These structural considerations underlie what neighbors call the building’s safety concerns.

After diesel fuel was linked to the collapse of 7 World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Tribeca residents became worried about the fuel stored in 60 Hudson. The city’s buildings dept. says the diesel fuel stored in 60 Hudson is over the legal limit and has been negotiating with the owners about granting them a variance. There is enough diesel for backup generators to enable the building’s 35 tenants to continue transmitting e-mail and phone communications during power disruptions.

Community residents say that adding more ventilation slats to the building’s facade means management intends to add more equipment, bringing increased noise and pollution to their neighborhood. Brian Maddox, a spokesperson for the building’s owners, said they had not announced plans to increase the number of generators.

Community Board 1 drafted a resolution urging the Landmarks Preservation Commission to hold over the building’s application to change its facade to allow further analysis. The commission took no action at its May 24 meeting.

“I think what we’ve heard today ought to be a signal that this will require deep rethinking,” said Bob Tierney, chairperson of the Landmarks Commission.

“I was pleased by the comments I heard from the commissioners,” said Bruce Ehrmann, a member of Neighbors Against N.O.I.S.E., who attended the meeting. “It’s an extraordinary set of problems on all fronts with this building.”


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