July 20, 2015
The Future of the FAO Schwarz Site in NoMad
For years, a highly noticeable empty space on the north side of 23rd Street has caught everyone’s attention. It seems out of place on such a well-developed street, bustling with commerce. As we covered in our post “FAO Schwarz, the Greatest Toy Store in the World, was Once in NoMad,” at the beginning of the 20th Century this lot held a six-story building that offered the rich families living in NoMad and the city the very finest toys from around the world.
Although the original building is long gone, it appears that this historic lot will finally come back to life. As is true of all development in New York City, the quest has not been easy.
Back in 2005, Horizon Global proposed a tower designed by Carlos Zapata, who’s Bitexco Financial Tower in Ho Chi Minh City was named as one of the 50 most influential buildings in the world by the Council of Tall Buildings and one of the 50 most iconic skyscrapers by CNN. Closer to home, the firm was part of the team that designed the sleek Soldier Field in Chicago. Zapata designed a poetic structure, which seemed to sail above 23rd Street; it was dubbed the “Pope Hat design.” But after years of inaction, Horizon sold the site to Anbau Enterprises in 2010 for $18.5 million. Anbau resurrected the “Pope Hat design,” but the plan was rejected by the Landmarks Preservation Committee. Anbau turned to Cookfox for a new design. Cookfox’s most famous portfolio piece is the Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park, and while they are at the forefront of designing healthy workplaces, it is fair to say their buildings are workman-like rather than examples of visionary architecture.
The new design by Cookfox may be more in keeping with the neighborhood, but it is painfully dull by comparison to the Zapata design. Nevertheless, the 22-story, 38-unit building has been approved by both the LPC and Community Board 5.
Yet, even this design proposal is far from shovel-ready; it still has additional approval hurdles to jump. The fact that the building will be residential and have 50 parking spaces has caused blowback. Locals are concerned that the building will put increased pressure on existing schools and that an additional load of cars will further impinge on the tranquility provided by Madison Square Park.
The 50 parking places will require a special zoning permit, and objectors claim that spot zoning, such as this parking lot exception, is getting out of hand with no master plan in place to guide such exceptions. As for the NoMad neighborhood, which evidences the most even work-live relationship in the city, there is some concern, as more and more buildings are converted from commercial office space into residences, that this fortuitous balance might be upended.