BY EILEEN STUKANE | The proposed Culture Shed of Hudson Yards, which would be close to West 30th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, was the center of attention at the April 3 Full Board Meeting of Community Board 4 (CB4). Conference Room B, on the second floor of Roosevelt Hospital (1000 Tenth Avenue), was packed. After this meeting, CB4 would be responding to an application received from the Department of City Planning (DCP) to amend the Special Hudson Yards District of the NYC Zoning Resolution, for the purpose of developing the Culture Shed.
The meeting began at 6:30pm, with Elise Wagner (an attorney with Kramer Levin) and Laurie Beckelman (of Beckelman + Capalino, consultant to the Culture Shed) presenting a slide show created by Culture Shed, Inc. — the city’s nonprofit organization formed in 2012 to manage the planned exhibition and event space. The DCP is the force driving the construction of the Culture Shed, which must be built simultaneously with other Hudson Yards development structures: Tower D, a 70-story residential tower to which it will be connected, and the platform over the West Side rail yards. The project is designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, with the Rockwell Group.
“There’s nothing like this in the entire world,” said Beckelman, as slides revealed the Culture Shed’s approximately 180,000 gross square feet of space for four floors of galleries for expositions and festivals (for the visual and performing arts, fashion, design, technology and more), an open air fourth floor café with a retractable roof and a transparent 125-foot shell that would be nested around the building and retracted (but, with the push of a button, could roll out along tracks to cover about 20,000 square feet of plaza adjacent to the High Line). CB4’s letter to the City Planning Commission describes a “Movable Shed” as “a deployable 20,000-square-foot building extension.” Although she said it was not written in the by-laws, Beckelman assured that the Culture Shed wanted to “work closely with the community” in relation to the use of the galleries for community arts. A question to the presenters from Council member Christine Berthet about the illumination of signage in the area received the response that signage would not be illuminated.
Later in the evening, after the Public Session, CB4 would spend time reviewing the details of the Culture Shed and its impact on the community. More immediately following the slide presentation, representatives of various cultural groups in the city stepped up to the microphone in the main aisle to offer their opinions of the Culture Shed.
CULTURAL GROUPS SUPPORT THE CULTURE SHED
Enthusiasm for the possibility of more space for the arts was voiced by four cultural groups.
Laura Raicovich, director of global initiatives, Creative Time (a 40-year-old arts organization that commissions and exhibits public art) spoke of Creative Time’s recent large-scale exhibition in Grand Central, and their occasional need for a sizable, flexible venue (which the Culture Shed could offer). She also referred to the annual Creative Time Summit, currently held at NYU’s Skirball Center, which needed more space for classroom workshops.
Mark Russell, artistic director of the Public Theater’s Under The Radar Festival, said he was excited about the opportunities the Culture Shed will give the city. “So many national and international events miss New York because of lack of space or proper producing organization for large scale performing and visual arts…My team and I at Under The Radar already dream of ways we could use the space,” he said.
Katy Clark, president and executive director of The Orchestra of St. Luke’s, said “We are critically aware of just how important space is to artists in the city…Orchestras don’t take any less space now than when the music was written. We are always in need of bigger spaces.”
Peter Mullan, vice president for planning and design of the High Line, said the High Line believed that the Culture Shed would make “an enormously positive contribution to the High Line and to the Hudson Yards and to the neighborhood….The Culture Shed will become a northern terminus along the High Line that mirrors the new Whitney Museum…It will be an unimpeded connection between the High Line and the public space that connects it to the north.” The architects working on the design of the Culture Shed are the same architects who worked on the design of the High Line.
Before closing this portion of the meeting, audience member Jim Fouratt, asked about a sliding scale for ticket prices and whether that was mentioned in the mission statement of the Culture Shed. The response from presenters, who noted the matter was currently being studied, was that they were going to make sure there was a lot of public activity and that there will be a sliding scale.
REPORTS FROM ELECTED OFFICIALS AND REPS
Assemblymember Richard Gottfried announced that a reintroduced medical marijuana bill was going to be on the Assembly’s Health Committee agenda, following the two-week recess. On April 16, in Albany, the bill was reported from committee by 21-4 (including three of the committee’s seven Republicans voting in favor).
Gottfried also confirmed that the strong community opposition to residential development on Pier 40 of the Hudson River Park had taken that possibility off the table. In addition to retail and other commercial uses, residential development was proposed to give the park, which Gottfried said had “anywhere between $100 and $200 million in capital maintenance needs,” a firmer financial foundation. The tabling of residential development “will hopefully make it possible to focus on working out the couple of dozen other pieces of legislation that are proposed for the Hudson River Park, and we will be able to get some of those enacted,” said Gottfried.
Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal reported that her bill pressing the NYC Department of Education to require the city to remove and replace PCB lighting ballasts in schools within two years is being resisted by the administration. Rosenthal was involved in supporting parents as well as the United Federation of Teachers, regarding the leakage of PCBs at PS87 — when parents were not notified for three months, in spite of the fact that the law requires notification within seven days. She is continuing to press for the legislation.
Rosenthal also noted that she is involved in holding the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) accountable for its push to lease public housing on the Upper West Side to private developers. Tenants were not being provided proper information. She has worked to correct this, and has received assurance from Chairman John Rhea that a point person will work with the Citywide Council of Presidents to help with the dispersal of funds to tenant organizations. Rosenthal was successful in passing a bill, Tenant Acts for Radiator Covers, which requires a landlord to install radiator covers within 90 days at which point a tenant can install them and take them off the rent. This bill was motivated by the death of child who fell off a bed onto a hot radiator and died.
Council Member Gail Brewer, after four years of advocacy, spoke of how pleased she was to see the NYC Paid Sick Time Act signed into legislation. The bill states that businesses with 20 or more employees must provide five paid sick days starting April 1, 2014. This will extend to businesses with 15 or more employees on October 1, 2015. She also reported on improvements to Recreation Center 59 (on West 59th Street), which is getting new windows and will have an opening in June. More good news followed, as it was announced that $2.5 million was given to Riverside Park for improvements to the West 59th Street lower portion of the park, thanks to Speaker Quinn and Extell Development.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer representative David Czyzyk said that after reviewing 38 applicants for CB4, “We chose eight people with the help of Speaker Quinn.” The new CB4 Council members are Rev. Keith Fennessy, Tanya Odum, George Santana, Brad Pascarella, Amber Nicosia, Michael Noble, David Solnick and Eric Latzky. Warm applause greeted the names.
Czyzyk then spoke of Stringer’s “Growing Gotham: A Survey of New York City’s Minority and Women Business Enterprises and a Roadmap for Economic Growth,” which has led him to recommend appointing a Chief Diversity Officer to report to the Mayor’s Office to monitor M/WBE compliance and launch a mentoring program. Stringer is also involved in the East River Blue Way Plan to revitalize the East River waterfront.
Support for retaining the Old Chelsea Post Office was announced by Cyzyk on behalf of Stringer, by Ellen Louis for State Senator Brad Holyman and by Harriet Sedgwick for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. The possibility of leasing out space in the post office is being suggested by Stringer. Louis also urged meningitis vaccination for men who have sex with men. According to the Health Department, four new cases of meningitis among men who have sex with men have been reported since January alone, making 17 cases since 2012. Sedgwick announced that Speaker Quinn was thrilled to have passed the sick leave legislation.
District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s representative invited everyone to attend the 28th Annual New York Crime Victims Candlelight Vigil on Sunday, April 21, from 2-4pm at West End Collegiate Church (368 West End Avenue). Also noted was the District Attorney’s summer internship program for high school juniors about to enter their senior years. The deadline for applying is April 26. For information, visit manhattanda.org/high-school-internship.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney representative Christina Perici reported on the legislation coming out of the Congresswoman’s office, such as the Violence Against Women Act and the Firearm Risk Protection Act (to require liability insurance of gun buyers nationwide). The Congresswoman is also participating in the annual Congressional Arts Competition for high school students in her district. Students should contact their teachers for details. “The winner will have his or her artwork hung in the halls of the Capitol for a year,” she said.
PUBLIC COMMENT SESSION
Representing Working Harbor Committee, John Doswell announced that starting May 21, summer tours of New York Harbor on the motor yacht Zephyr will take place every Tuesday evening, at 6:30pm (leaving from Pier 16 at the South Street Seaport). This year, the focus of the tours is “Beyond Sandy.” Experts, including those from Stevens Institute of Technology, will be on board to discuss sea gates, dunes, oyster beds and more.
Jim Fouratt spoke in support of bike lanes on West 15th and 16th Streets, particularly for the safety of seniors.
Hell’s Kitchen Roof Garden (410 West 40th Street, on the rooftop of Metro Baptist Church) announced its Spring Kickoff, which occurred on April 13th, and invited participation in the garden. For information, visit hellskitchenfarmprojet.org.
Everyone was reminded that the Fashion Institute of Technology’s “Fashion and Technology” exhibit is on view until May 8. This exhibition investigates the impact of technology on fashion design over the past 250 years. For information on this and other free activities at FIT, visit fitnyc.edu.
Raoul Larios spoke of the CB4 Job Opportunities page (nyc.gov/mcb4/jobs), which will be listing more jobs due to a luxury hotel coming to Chelsea. “Friends of the High Line was first to sign on,” he said, and now Clinton Housing Development Company has also signed up to offer jobs through the site.
Eva LeClair, mother of three children at Holy Cross School (at 342 West 43rd Street), spoke of the fight to save the school — and the devastating word from the archdiocese that, in spite of the successful efforts of the school and neighborhood communities to raise money, the school is scheduled to be closed this June. LeClair thanked CB4 for all that it has done in the past to insure the safety of the school children crossing West 45th Street to a playground. She spoke of the fact that the school has been a vital part of the community since 1886, adding, “Before there were community boards and group organizations, there were places like Holy Cross fighting for quality of life in the city.”
Originally the school was not slated to be closed. But in January 2011, it was told that it was going to merge with a school that had been closed. With help from CB4, Holy Cross representatives were able to meet with the Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Dr. Timothy McNiff, who told them that they would be allowed to remain open, pending progress with enhancement of programming, fundraising to make up for the budgetary deficit and a marketing program that increased enrollment by 25 percent, all of which they accomplished. “We raised $280,000 in pledges, and last week a store owner offered the principal $50,000 but none of this can be used for the school,” says LeClair. The archdiocese still says the school must be closed, and according to LeClair, no specific reason is given. On the evening’s agenda is a letter to the Archdiocese of New York describing the timeline of events and requesting a meeting to find a way for the school remain a presence in the community.
Elka Hofmann, standing with her client Alex Raij (owner of the restaurant El Quinto Pino, at 401 West 24th Street), expressed surprise that the neighborhood was expressing opposition to the expansion of the restaurant. The owner had only recently learned of the opposition. CB4 Chair Corey Johnson said that he had received an email from the president of the London Terrace Tenants Association saying that they had received no outreach about the expansion. It was determined that there was confusion over the fact that there is a London Terrace Coop and a London Terrace Tenants Association. The owner wants to reach out to everyone, and was at this meeting to rectify her situation. Board members were willing to listen and understand what had happened.
The public session was brought to a close by Christine Berthet. Johnson then opened with a vote to approve the meeting’s agenda, and approve the adoption of the March minutes. A district manager’s report was given by Robert Benfatto. He informed members that Hudson Yards had proposed a Business Improvement District, and two public hearings on this matter were taking place this month: April 23, 6:30-8:30pm, at Orion Condominium (31st floor, 350 West 42nd Street) — and also on April 25, 8:30-10:30am, at Covenant House (460 West 41st Street, Lounge A).
CLARIFYNG CB4’S CULTURE SHED LETTER
CB4 member Betty Mackintosh, as part of the committee who drafted the CB4 response to the DCP, went through the revised 10-page letter. Important issues that the letter addresses brought about lively discussion. Here, a rundown of the most significant of these issues, with their voted upon recommendations:
CB4 will recommend denial of the proposed text amendments “unless the City of New York provides 20,000 square feet of unencumbered publicly-accessible park space in another location in Manhattan Community District 4” to compensate for the loss of unencumbered, publicly accessible open space on the Eastern Rail Yards (ERY) that was agreed upon as part of the 2005 Hudson Yards rezoning. The Culture Shed can deploy its canopy to block the sky and take over 20,000 square feet of plaza. CB4 members agreed that the city’s agreement to give CB4 20,000 unencumbered square feet of park space had to be in place before anything else in the letter could be considered between CB4 and the DCP. The CB4 letter also requests that the city revise its proposal to ensure that the Culture Shed uses “do not encroach on the ERY public plaza and new streets to the north of the Culture Shed and Culture Facility Plaza.”
CB4 also addressed the function of the Culture Shed — which was described in its text amendment as a facility that would be used for “changing, non-permanent exhibits, events, expositions, presentations, festivals and fairs” related to, among others, the various arts, broadcasting, technology, fashion and design “or any similar activity.” That four-word phrase was a red flag to CB4, making it seem as if the Culture Shed could be another Javits Center, presenting boat and car shows. The CB4 resolution letter recommends that the catchall “or any similar activity” be deleted from the definition.
The longest discussion of the evening centered on the number of days the Culture Shed Plaza would be closed to the public. The city had asked for a total of 40 days when private events, such as Fashion Week, would take over for two 14-day periods. The Culture Shed Plaza could also be closed up to 12 days each year for its own events. CB4 felt that closing the public space for 40 days out of the year was excessive. CB4 recommends no more than 34 days of closure, primarily in the winter and spread out over time.
Another important issue was that CB4 be given a seat and a vote on any decision-making board(s) for Culture Shed programming. Lights on signs would be turned off at 1am. CB4 recommended that a minimum of 80 percent of events be open to the public for free or at nominal cost.
The Culture Shed discussion was brought to a close. Comments would eventually be incorporated into a final 10-page letter to Amanda Burden, Chair of the City Planning Commission, dated April 5, 2013, with 17 recommendations from CB4. Analyzing the Culture Shed of Hudson Yards is complicated, and Chair Johnson thanked the four-person committee which had met a number of times to create and revise the letter of recommendations.
Items from the Transportation Planning Committee, Business License and Permits Committee, New Business Committee were easily voted upon. It was suggested, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, from the floor that the Quality of Life Committee letter to the Archdiocese of New York regarding the closure of Holy Cross School be sent to the Vatican. That letter suggests that the Archdiocese, parents and local elected officials enter into serious discussion with CB4 to find a way for Holy Cross to maintain its presence on West 43rd Street for another 150 years.
The meeting was called to a close at 10pm.