New York Times
October 25, 2013
Where St. Vincent’s Once Stood
By C. J. HUGHES
The developers of a 200-unit condominium complex on the site of the former St. Vincent’s Hospital campus, which to its opponents was a symbol of the overdevelopment of New York during the Bloomberg era, hope to leave its contentious past behind.
Intended to have the feel of a neighborhood within a neighborhood, the Greenwich Lane, a project developed by the Rudin Management Company and Global Holdings, will take up half the block between West 11th and West 12th Streets, Seventh Avenue and Avenue of the Americas. Sales for the project — which will be made up of five adjoining apartment buildings of varying heights, styles and sizes, with shared open space in their backyards — are expected to begin this week.
Many of the units will be large enough to accommodate growing families, but there is no mistaking that this will be a luxury development. Prices at the $1 billion project will average $3,500 a square foot — among the highest for new condos downtown and well above average for developments in the city. Move-ins are expected in the summer of 2015.
“It’s an exhilarating new chapter, because the speculation about what it is, is over,” said James Lansill, a senior managing director of the Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group, which is handling sales.
“It feels terrific to show it off to the marketplace,” he added, “because simultaneous to any controversy that was happening, there’s been a tremendous buildup of interest in the project.”
Like many of the four-story row houses in the area, the Greenwich Lane will contain at least some red brick in all of its facades, using some preserved hospital walls as well as new construction that plays off the past.
Despite these efforts to blend in, the complex does contain sections that will tower over most apartments on surrounding blocks. But as the development team is quick to point out, the project will have less square footage than the hospital did, and some heights, like those on West 11th, will be lower than before.
But for the neighborhood advocates who protested long and hard against the project, time doesn’t seem to have healed all wounds.
“I don’t even go past the site because it hurts my heart too much,” said Eileen Dunn, a former St. Vincent’s nurse and a founder of the Coalition for a New Village Hospital, which took part in protests against the development.
Made up mostly of two-bedroom units, the Greenwich Lane is also offering five town houses, which will have their own addresses as well as elevators, terraces and wood-fired pizza ovens.
“There are many different, unique opportunities here,” Bill Rudin, chief executive of the company, said on a recent afternoon inside the project’s sales office on the Avenue of the Americas.
By him stood his two children, Michael and Samantha, who are among several Rudins who worked on the Greenwich Lane. One of New York’s most established real estate families, the Rudins oversee an expansive portfolio of residential and commercial space. But this project will be their first new-construction apartment complex since the 1970s. “There is really something for everyone,” Samantha Rudin, a vice president of the firm, said of the apartment mix. Still, only a select few may be able to walk away with a home. Even the most affordable unit won’t come cheap: a one-bedroom at 155 West 11th Street, the largest of the Greenwich Lane’s 5 main buildings, with 83 units, will be listed at $2.05 million.
Rising 17 stories along Seventh Avenue, No. 155 will also very likely be the most prominent. Stores will ring its base, while its second and third stories could be leased for medical offices, according to Corcoran Sunshine.
Eager to give each unit a distinctive imprint, the development team is offering 130 floor plans. Also, the designer Thomas O’Brien of Aero Studios, in his first ground-up project, has taken something of a mix-and-match approach with interiors.
For instance, kitchen cabinets will be painted white in some units and stained in others; and on bathroom floors, nine varieties of stone will be installed, some as slabs, others mosaics. The project will also employ more than 100 different styles of light fixture, all of which Mr. O’Brien designed.
At the heart of the project will be a long garden, lined with birch trees and bluestone benches. A 25-meter-long swimming pool, a golf simulator and an 89-space residents-only parking garage, which can be reached from the basements of several buildings, are also to be included.
“There is a lot of value here,” Mr. Lansill said. “No one could replicate this.”
In a sense, though, many developers might not want to.
For one thing, many in the neighborhood were left seething by the closing of the hospital in 2010, and they continue to worry about the fact that there is now no hospital at all on the West Side from the tip of Manhattan to Midtown.
But some doctors will be coming back. Next June, across Seventh Avenue from the Greenwich Lane, a medical center will open in a former St. Vincent’s property known as the O’Toole Building, whose 1963 white facade was recently restored.
Likely to be called the Lenox Hill Center for Comprehensive Care, it will offer a round-the-clock emergency room and provide 90 percent of the services that St. Vincent’s offered, Mr. Rudin said, though it will not accommodate inpatients.
Although some neighbors have blamed the Rudins for the loss of their hospital, Mr. Rudin pointed out that back in 2007, he provided $55 million to help bail it out, in a loan secured with a St. Vincent’s building at 130 West 12th. After St. Vincent’s went bankrupt three years later, the Rudins took control of No. 130 and converted it to a 42-unit condo. In 2011 they bought the hospital complex in bankruptcy court for $260 million.
“Nobody fought harder than we did for a full-scale hospital,” Mr. Rudin said.
Besides, Mr. Rudin said in his defense, his firm donated the O’Toole Building and the land it sits on — a $50 million gift, he said, based on current values — while chipping in $10 million of the $125 million to create a medical center there.
Mr. Rudin also said his project would benefit the area in other ways. A triangular park that St. Vincent’s owned on Seventh Avenue will be deeded to the city; he said he had also helped orchestrate the city’s purchase of a site for a new public elementary school on Avenue of the Americas at 17th Street.
In addition, the Rudin firm has contributed $1 million for a local arts program and another $1 million to a nonprofit group that advocates for affordable housing, though the Greenwich Lane itself will have no below-market-rate units.
“There are so many things you can do,” Mr. Rudin said, “and these are very, very substantial.”
Even so, some opponents are not ready to forgive and forget just yet. Some parents are worried that the complex will strain already-crowded schools in the area, like Public School 41, on West 11th.
Ann Kjellberg, whose daughter attended that school, said luxury development had already changed life for the worse in her area, pointing to a longtime nursing home on West 12th that recently went condo.
“I don’t so much blame the developers,” Ms. Kjellberg said, “but the municipal environment that allows them unfettered access to the city, with so little support for anyone else.”
At first the project also came under fire for its size and look. The Landmarks Preservation Commission and other city agencies ultimately scaled it down from the 450 units originally planned, and forced Rudin to retain the facades of some historic red-brick hospital buildings. Those narrow facades now stand like stage sets around the construction site, though they will eventually be incorporated into the project.
Those moves may have been important, said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, an advocacy group that for years led a fight against the Greenwich Lane, but the Village’s character will still be hurt.
“This project will make the neighborhood more wealthy, more homogeneous,” he said. “In terms of the positive results for the community, it’s really hard to see what they are.”