Testimony of NYS Senator Thomas K. Duane Regarding the Proposed MTA New York City Transit Emergency Ventilation Facility at Mulry Square

June 14, 2011

My name is Thomas K. Duane and I represent New York State's 29th Senate District, which includes the Greenwich Village Historic District and specifically 61 Greenwich Avenue ("Mulry Square"), where MTA New York City Transit ("NYCT") plans to construct an emergency ventilation facility ("fan plant"). I want to thank the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission ("LPC") for making time on its very busy calendar for this advisory review.

I greatly appreciate LPC's deep commitment to the Greenwich Village Historic District, about which the Commission stated in its 1969 designation report: "Of the Historic Districts in New York City which have been designated or will be designated, Greenwich Village outranks all others. This supremacy comes from the quality of its architecture, the nature of the artistic life within its boundaries, and the feeling that permeates its streets." I share LPC's dedication to preserving the special character of this preeminent historic district and I appreciate this opportunity to present testimony today.

I also wish to express my gratitude to NYCT for honoring local elected officials' and Manhattan Community Board Two's ("CB2") request that it present this fan plan design to LPC for its advisory report. I recognize that as a State agency, NYCT is neither obligated to seek LPC's approval nor to heed its opinion. Nonetheless, it is my sincere hope that NYCT will accept the expert advice of LPC's commissioners and make changes that will ensure a contextually appropriate design that befits this exceptional historic neighborhood.

In fact, it had long been the hope of CB2 and other stakeholders that NYCT would relinquish its lot at Mulry Square for the establishment of a small, public open space, thus making it consistent with other distinctive, triangular "squares" within the Greenwich Village Historic District, including Jackson Square, Abingdon Square and Sheridan Square. Certainly, none of us wants to see a fan plant at this major intersection in the heart of that district; however, NYCT has established that it is needed for public safety reasons and that housing it in an above-ground structure at 61 Greenwich Avenue is NYCT's most practical and cost-effective option.

I recognize that over the past two years, NYCT has made efforts to include community stakeholders in the fan plant's design process and has made some concessions to accommodate our concerns. In particular, I appreciate that NYCT has agreed to accommodate a rotating exhibit of the 9/11 memorial tiles and to create a public open space with greenery and furnishings on the lot, provided that an entity, such as the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, commits to its maintenance. I look forward to working with NYCT and the community to design this open space and to secure a partner to maintain it. However, the final design being considered today remains out of context with adjacent buildings and the wider historic district.

Mulry Square is predominantly surrounded by low-rise, brick row houses with ground floor storefronts and uniformly spaced, double-hung sash windows. NYCT has proposed a partially wrapped concrete structure, with a short exposed base level embedded with a horizontal band for the display of 9/11 memorial tiles, topped by a two-story brick façade with two rows of clear glass windows revealing the concrete below. The entire building has an uncovered concrete setback, and a stair tower rising on the southern side of the building that is similarly exposed.

In order to evoke the area's architectural heritage, the structure's façade should rise to three stories above the ground floor and completely conceal the concrete core. The ground floor itself is particularly important, and should resemble the small storefronts in adjacent buildings. This appearance could be achieved by raising the cornice and creating window-like cut-outs, separated by vertical dividers, for the 9/11 memorial tiles. In addition, the ground floor treatment and the brick façade above it should clearly wrap around the building's entire streetfront, as the proposed concrete stair tower is unflattering to the eye, has no relation to the adjacent buildings or neighborhood and disrupts any sense of cohesion. Finally, the windows should be tinted to obscure the concrete beneath, aligned with those on neighboring row houses and spaced to more closely resemble the brick-to-window ratio typical of the area.

I believe that such design changes could be accomplished at relatively low additional cost to NYCT and with no adverse impact on the fan plant's functionality. Indeed, if NYTC does not modify the design to better integrate this facility with its historic residential and commercial neighbors it would be an affront to all who have worked so hard to create and preserve the Greenwich Village Historic District.

Once again, I am grateful to LPC for convening today's hearing, for its consideration of my comments, and its admirable commitment to preserving New York City's architectural, historical and cultural heritage.

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