Council Approves New Skyscraper Near Empire State Building

The New York City skyline will never be the same. But City Council Speaker Christine Quinn says that's a good thing.

By an overwhleming vote of 47-1, the City Council voted to allow a skyscraper to be built within four blocks of the Empire State Building in Midtown. Fifteen Penn Plaza will rise to a height just 34 feet shy of the observation deck of the iconic building, and will be visible from Brooklyn, Queens, New Jersey -- and approaching airplanes landing at LaGuardia.

WNYC's Matthew Schuerman was present at the vote. He answers some questions about the development.

Matthew, the owners of the Empire State Building began attacking the proposed skyscraper publicly about a week ago, saying it would mar the city's skyline. How did the council react to that?

Some council members saw a change in the skyline actually as a good thing, not as a negative thing. It shows the city's vibrancy. "Our skyline is always changing and growing," said Council Speaker Christine Quinn. "New York City is not a stagnant city. It is never a place that will be frozen in time."  

This will provide about 6,000 construction jobs, temporary, and eventually house about 7,000 jobs. However, there isn't any timetable, so exactly when this economic vibrancy will show up on the skyline, we're not quite sure.   

This whole debate seemed to come out of nowhere, in a way. Fifteen Penn Plaza has been in the works for months and already got approvals from the City Planning Commission and Borough President Scott Stringer. Why was it so quiet?

I guess there was no really organized opposition, until about a week ago, when the Malkin family, the owners of the Empire State Building, decided they had to go public because this thing wasn't going to stop otherwise. They ended up not stopping it. Part of it is the Malkins were trying back channels, and trying to get fellow real-estate people in New York City to play along, and that didn't work. Part of it is that this isn't in a residential neighborhood, this is a commercial neighborhood, so there were no neighborhood groups that were advocating against it.

The vote doesn't seem like it was close at all -- 47 to 1. Who voted against it and why?

Charles Barron, a councilman from Brooklyn. "New York City is not about buildings," he said. "New York City is about people."  Now, he went on to explain that only 15 percent of the contracts that were going to go into building this building were going to go to minority and women-owned businesses, and saw that as a very low percentage when compared to Atlantic Yards and others, which are around 35 percent or so. But his dissent, in and of itself, was not unusual. He often dissents from all sorts of things, but that was his point of view.  


View of the Manhattan skyline with proposed skyscraper by Pelli Clarke Pelli. (Photo courtesy of Pelli Clarke Pelli)


View of the Manhattan skyline with proposed skyscraper by Pelli Clarke Pelli, by the detractors of the project. (Photo courtesy of Friends of NYC Skyline)