Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Reaching Skyward

It wasn't long after the 9/11 attacks that pundits and prognosticators thought that the era of skyscrapers in the US was over. They essentially wrote the obituary on skyscrapers - in fact any that would challenge the then tallest buildings in the US, the Sears (now Willis) Tower and the Empire State Building within the US.

What a big difference a few years and a whole lot of perspective have brought.

Now, we're going supertall for residential buildings all over New York City, including the Beekman in Lower Manhattan. At the same time, the Empire State Building's owners are hoping to block construction of a whole new class of proposed skyscrapers because it might alter views both of and from the Empire State Building.

The building boom around New York City has resulted in some pretty spectacular skyscrapers, and more are on the way.

The City's skyline has constantly changed and grown steadily taller. It's the function of being on an island with limited real estate. So, places that were previously seen as more difficult to build tall such as around 34th Street and the West Side are now being developed with new skyscrapers. The skyline is organic - and sometimes the change is good and sometimes not. But trying to keep a lid on nearby buildings stands in the way of modernizing the city's infrastructure, office space, and residential areas around Manhattan.

With that in mind, the Empire State Building owners (the Malkins) are battling a project by Vornado to build on the former Hotel Pennsylvania site with a tower that would rival the height of the Empire State Building two blocks away. The Malkins want an exclusion zone preventing towers rivaling it in height and are prepared with tons of renderings to try and sway public opinion (Vornado has its own rival renderings).

It would be a shame if the Empire State Building's owners cut down rival skyscraper projects nearby. But that's the way the real estate business in New York City is done. The Malkins are in the midst of a multimillion dollar upgrade to the Empire State Building in a bid to boost rental prices and occupancies among higher profile tenants. A rival tower would detract from that bid.

It's the same reason that some real estate ventures, including Forest City Ratner opposed rebuilding all the office space at Ground Zero because it would lessen demand for their rival office space at the New York Times headquarters in Midtown or in new towers built in Downtown Brooklyn.

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