Volume 17 • Issue 27 | Dec. 03 - Dec. 09, 2004

De Niro hotel clears one more city hurdle

By Ronda Kaysen

Robert De Niro’s Tribeca hotel project inched one step closer to fruition last week when the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the design. The approval marks the third time the tony hotel has appeared before the commission.

“It [the design] was better than any submission we had ever made [to the commission] and that was very clear to everybody,” said developer and hotelier Ira Drukier, De Niro’s partner in the $43 million project. Drukier’s business partner, Richard Born, is the third partner in the development team dubbed Downtown Hotels, L.L.C.

The hotel, currently a vacant lot at 377–383 Greenwich St. on the corner of North Moore St., has undergone several incarnations in its journey to become an upscale Tribeca inn catering to long-term guests in the entertainment business. Partially funded with $39 million in tax-free Liberty Bonds, the first design enjoyed lavish praise from Community Board 1 and L.P.C. when it was approved in May 2003. But a year later, when Downtown Hotels and their architect, David Rockwell, presented L.P.C. with an alternate design that was two stories taller and employed less expensive materials, the commission balked. They sent the team back to the drawing board.

“When we got to take a good hard look at what had been originally designed we felt that we could do better,” said Drukier. “Something didn’t sit right with us as to what the original building looked like.”

The latest revision, now 96 feet tall — 12 feet taller than the 2003 design, but not as tall as the rejected design — boasts skylights, simple, bold brickwork and multi-pane metal and angled windows. “It’s a sensitive response to some concerns that had been expressed at an earlier time by the commission,” Robert Tierney, the commission’s chairperson, said in a telephone interview. “Some of [our concerns] had to do with the size and the scale [of the building.] It was brought down by a floor and some of the materials were changed to make it more appropriate in the Tribeca way.”

Tierney was particularly pleased with the incorporation of manhole covers along the cornice of the building. “It’s a nice touch,” he said. “It’s incredibly interesting.”

Community Board 1 was less generous in its praise of the new design, although it too felt that the latest version was the strongest — it never saw the second version, which was rejected by L.P.C. before the board had the opportunity to weigh in with their opinions. The board’s main concerns about the third design, articulated in a resolution passed last month, focused on the skylights facing the neighboring building and the height. In their resolution, the board agreed to support the new design contingent upon the commission resolving their concerns.

“There is a concern about the size of the building,” said district manager Paul Goldstein. “The building is not in compliance with the zoning. The board is troubled with anybody trying to violate the zoning.”

The added height does not comply with the current zoning regulations for the historic district. Because of the height differential, De Niro and his team will need to apply for a zoning variance with the Board of Standards and Appeals. The B.S.A. variance application, after it is filed, will be reviewed by the community board’s Tribeca Committee. “The size of the building seems to have some members of the Tribeca Committee not pleased,” said Goldstein. “I suspect [Downtown Hotels] is going to run into trouble with the board.”

Height, in and of itself, is not the domain of the L.P.C., which deals with aesthetics. According to Tierney, neither the added height nor the additional skylights were aesthetically problematic. “We found it [the design] appropriate, the size and scale and the skylights as well,” he said.

De Niro’s continued high-profile involvement in the Tribeca community, added Tierney, is invaluable to the vibrancy of the neighborhood, bringing not only interesting new architecture to the district, but also a certain cache.

“He’s made such a commitment to that historic neighborhood over the past decades. It’s nice to see it reaffirmed again,” said Tierney. “He was personally involved in this and did everything he could to make sure that our concerns were addressed and that he approved a first class design.”

A former Tribeca resident, De Niro still owns several Tribeca properties, including his apartment, the Screening Room on Canal St. and the Tribeca Film Institute, which houses the actor’s Tribeca Film Festival headquarters and his upscale restaurant, Tribeca Grill. The institute and restaurant — an eight-story building — abuts the hotel lot and also exceeded the zoning regulations for the district, requiring a B.S.A. variance at the time it was built. It is the tallest building on the low-rise block.

If B.S.A. agrees with Landmarks’ assessment of the design, Drukier expects construction will begin in the next three to four months.


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