Wrong Plan in the Wrong Place

Save Gansevoort is a coalition of community members opposed to plans by Aurora Capital and William Gottlieb Real Estate for a massive development on the south side of Gansevoort Street between Washington and Greenwich Streets (the “Gansevoort Block”), in the Gansevoort Market Historic District.
 
The Gansevoort Block is defined by its history of market use and by the unique character of its architecture which was  the result of that market history.  Quite simply, the proposed development would obliterate this history and character.

Here are the reasons we believe that the Landmarks Preservation Commission must reject this plan:

1. This block must be viewed as an integral unit; it is the only remaining intact block consisting entirely of one- and two-story market buildings in the Historic District.  In this case, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. If one of the buildings is significantly altered, it will destroy the visual cohesion and the character of this unique streetscape as a whole.
 
The Landmark Preservation Commission’s designation report for the Gansevoort Market Historic District twice states that Gansevoort Street has a “distinctive character of low-rise market buildings.” (pp. 5 and 17, emphasis added)  The existing intact block of market buildings exactly fits this description.  When people think of the Meat Market, they think of precisely the kind of architecture typified by this block.
 
2. The Gansevoort Block is unique in the District and needs to treated with particular care.  It serves as a gateway not only to the Gansevoort Market but also to two key area institutions – the Whitney Museum and the High Line.  A huge number of people now come down this block everyday, and it is their introduction to the Gansevoort Market District.  The block in its current form now serves this function perfectly. 
 
3. The 120′ and 98′ tall structures proposed by the developer would be grossly out-of-scale and out-of-character with this block and the surrounding market buildings.  The proposed new structures do not relate in any way to the market history of this block. They have the monumental scale and mass of warehouse buildings, not market buildings.
 
4. The designation report states that the District is defined by “a strong and integral sense of place as a market district, due to its distinctive streetscapes, metal canopies, notable buildings, both purpose-built and those adapted over the years for market use.” (p.5, emphasis added) The existing buildings fit this description perfectly; the proposed new structures bear no relation to it.  They will destroy the light and air, the openness, the unique feel so characteristic of market structures in general and of this block in particular.
 
5. The district’s market history and character are absolutely central to its identity – they are a far more significant characteristic than “change.”  There’s a reason that the district was called the Gansevoort MARKET Historic District!  As Commissioner Sherida Paulson stated when she voted for the District’s designation in 2003:

The importance of the markets, and the importance of the development of New York related to the market districts, as centers for their neighborhoods, I don’t think can be overstated… And we don’t have the physical remains of any of these other market areas other than Tribeca (which is a very different kind of an animal).

Commissioner Roberta Gratz agreed, emphasizing in her statement before the designation vote

[the] importance of markets, which of course is an element of our city history that we don’t have the same kind of remnants that other cities have of existing markets from that era, and yet our market district was probably one of the most significant nationwide.

Another Commissioner (it’s not possible to identify the speaker from the available audio file) stated that the character of the district “hangs together because of the market, because of the way it has been used and transformed and adaptively reused for the last hundred and some years.”
 
6. One of our central concerns is the size of the proposed new construction – we are concerned that LPC will focus on minutia of materials and detailing, while making only minor reductions in size.  We ask that LPC not focus on design details to the exclusion of basic questions about appropriateness of the project’s size.
 
7. It is misleading for the developer to refer to a proposed “8-story” building and “4-story addition.”  Because the floor-to-ceiling heights of the proposed structures are huge (between 14′ and 15′ high), the total height the “8-story” building will be closer to that of a normal 12 story building, while the “4-story” addition will have the height typical of a 6-story addition.
 
8. The developer is arguing that since 60-68 Gansevoort Street was originally built as several 5-story tenements which were then reduced in height and converted to market buildings in 1939-1940,  he is justified in building a four story, 56′ high addition (plus another 15′ of mechanicals) on top of the existing two story building.
 
We believe that the relevant history is the past 75 years, when the buildings existed in their current 2-story form as exemplars of market-style architecture.  The designation report states that “one of the district’s unique qualities is that earlier buildings were retained and altered to market uses” (p. 300, emphasis added).  The designation report further states that in the 1930’s, “The unusually wide Gansevoort Street assumed its distinctive character of low-rise market buildings with metal canopies at this time, largely through such newly-adapted structures… [as] the neo-Grec style No. 60-68 (five 1880-81 tenements), reduced to a two-story market building in 1940” (p. 17, emphasis added).
 
Thus, the historical record in fact provides strong reason NOT to allow an addition at 60-68 Gansevoort.  The current building exemplifies what the designation report calls a “major phase” in the market’s history, when, following the construction of Holland Tunnel, Westside Highway, and Highline new low-rise market buildings were built and many older buildings were reduced in height to transform them into market structures (p. 4).
 
9. 74 Gansevoort is designated “no style,” but it is a perfect example of market architecture and it serves to anchor, and set the tone, for the entire block.  If it is demolished (and we don’t believe it should be), it needs to be replaced by a market-style structure which respects the market history, market character, and scale of this very special location.
 
10. 50 Gansevoort, also slated for demolition, is listed in the designation report as the western section of 46-50 Gansevoort.  This structure is described in the designation report as a building with two sections; the style is described as: “Moderne (eastern section); western section currently clad with no-style covering.”  However, in the history it provides of this building the report indicates that the ENTIRE structure contributes to the district: “This Moderne style market building, with two sections of different heights, contributes to the historically-mixed architectural character and varied uses – including market-related functions – of the Gansevoort Market Historic District” (p. 128, emphasis added).  In other words, both sections, including 50 Gansevoort, contribute.  Furthermore, significant material from the original facade still exists behind the current modern cladding.
 
11. In the mid 1980’s, the City acknowledged the importance of the market functions of this block by creating a restrictive declaration mandating that this specific block be reserved primarily for market use.  This restrictive declaration is one reason that the block is so visually intact and such a unique example of the District’s market history.
 
12. It should be noted that the property owner has already received a massive economic windfall from this site.  Because of a restrictive declaration, he purchased the entire block in 1986 for a mere $2.5 million. First, the value of the property exploded as the district became hot in large part as a result of the landmark designation.  Subsequently, he received a second windfall when the restrictive declaration was amended to allow for retail and restaurant use.  Therefore, there should be no presumption that he’s entitled to expand his property so as to generate even greater profits.
 
For all of these reasons, we believe that Aurora Capital’s proposed development is not appropriate to the character of the Gansevoort Market Historic District, and should be rejected by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

For an analysis by Gregory Dietrich Preservation Consulting of the negative impacts which this plan would have on the Gansevoort Market Historic District, please see Analysis of Impacts of Proposed Development.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission designation report for the Gansevoort Market Historic District can be found here:  Part 1 and Part 2.

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