Volume 17 • Issue 19 | October 01 - 07, 2004

De Niro hotel changes receive cool reviews

By Ronda Kaysen

The Landmarks Preservation Commi-ssion’s recent refusal to grant actor Robert De Niro approval for a two-story addition to his Tribeca hotel project has caused some grumbling among Community Board 1 members who feel excluded from the decision-making process.

De Niro and partners Ira Drukier and Richard Born have plans to transform the lot at 377–383 Greenwich St. on the corner of North Moore St. into an upscale Tribeca hotel, outfitted with large rooms for long-term guests in the entertainment business. Partially funded with an infusion of $38.9 million in tax-free Liberty Bonds, the original plans for the $43 million, David Rockwell-designed building won enthusiastic endorsements last year from Community Board 1 and the L.P.C. Outfitted with 83 rooms, a ground floor and deeply recessed windows with operable wooden shutters, C.B.1 and the L.P.C. embraced the original design. Gov. George Pataki has also hailed the project as being part of the rejuvenation of Lower Manhattan.

But when De Niro presented what his team, Downtown Hotels L.L.C., called “minor changes” to the commission, his request — to tack two stories onto the six-story, boutique hotel — the commissioners balked.

“You can’t dictate what’s appropriate for a neighborhood, in terms of architecture and preservation, by what a project needs,” L.P.C. commissioner Meredith Kane told Downtown Express in a telephone interview. The new, taller hotel used less expensive materials, according to Kane, a move away from its original proposal with elaborate, high-quality materials.

The community board had been told by Downtown Hotels that the requested changes were minor and received an ammendment application from the L.P.C. They did not receive a proposal from De Niro’s group before the L.P.C. ruling, nor did they have the opportunity to offer their own input. “I don’t know in whose world two stories is minor,” said Judy Duffy, assistant district manager for C.B.1.

Executives with Downtown Hotels did not return calls for comment.

Although not a formally written rule, it is customary — and the general policy — that all L.P.C. applications be first presented to the respective community board for approval. Calling the move “inappropriate,” Bruce Ehrmann, chairperson of the board’s landmarks committee expressed disappointment that the community did not have the opportunity to offer its input. “It baffles me and it baffles the community board why it wasn’t sent before us first,” he said. “It should have been subject to community review.”

Downtown Hotel cancelled a scheduled C.B. 1 landmark committee meeting, said Ehrmann. The board passed a resolution requesting that the L.P.C. send all future applications regarding the Tribeca hotel to C.B. 1 for approval. “How this occurred, I’d like to know, but I don’t have the strength to beat this to death.”

Coincidentally, Madelyn Wils is chairperson of C.B.1 and C.E.O. of the Tribeca Film Institute, a De Niro operation. Wils recused herself from voting on the issue and declined to comment for this story.

C.B.1 had been informed of the amendment, said Diane Jackier, a spokesperson for L.P.C. “The landmarks commission had sent the application to the board on Aug. 24 and they didn’t have a meeting before our public hearing,” she said. The application, according to Jackier, includes information so the board can contact the applicant.
De Niro’s request would have resulted in two tall buildings on the same block — an unprecedented situation for the low-lying, historic Tribeca neighborhood, said Kane. The other eight-story building on the block, 375 Greenwich St. — also owned by De Niro — is home to the actor’s famed Tribeca Grill and the headquarters of his Tribeca Film Center. The hotel would abut 375 Greenwich St.

The changes, both in height and material quality, may have been extremely lucrative for Downtown Hotels, said Duffy. “A minor addition can be a lot of money,” she said. “At $1,000 a square foot, that’s like $3 or $4 million on a project.”

Some suspect that Downtown Hotel skirted community board input in attempt to avoid conflict. “You can only imagine it was because they expected they would not get [community] support,” said Kane.


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