Operating a hospital and emergency department in downtown Manhattan takes far more than you might think. Yet the need in the Village and its surrounding areas is so great.
On March 6, 2009, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted to approve the design for a replacement hospital for St. Vincent’s Hospital, at 20-40 Seventh Avenue in the West Village. This momentous event unfolded after years of arduous planning by the architects Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, and Ballinger, wherein multiple schemes and revisions were presented to assuage the criticism of commissioners and others. The decision also confirmed that the hospital had the right as a hardship case to demolish the circa 1964 O’Toole Medical Building which had previously been landmarked, to make room for the new hospital.
In the architects’ report to the LPC, from the design of January 2008 to the June 2008 revised design, the hospital changed to include a slimmer profile and lower height, while still maintaining roughly 366 acute care beds and 614,000 sq ft of floor area. It showed about 30 beds per floor with floors dedicated to ICU, OB/NICU, OR, RAD/ONC, Clinical support, Diagnostic, Mechanical, and Emergency Departments.
The Emergency Department was designed for more than 60,000 patients a year. It seems the Commission also requested the hospital’s architects to try to further reduce the design height by creating a rectangular box. However, although the design was shorter, it was also bulkier, as presented in December 2008.
Thus, for the stated 614,000 sq ft and 366 beds, at a budget of $830 million, it equates to approximately $1352 per sq ft or $2,267,760 per bed!
A New York Times article on the LPC meeting, by reporter Glenn Collins, states, “In a victory for St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan after a yearlong battle with preservationists.…The commissioners voted 8 to 3 to issue a certificate of appropriateness that would permit the hospital to build a 19-story, 286-foot-tall medical building in the Greenwich Village Historic District. St. Vincent’s had originally proposed a 329-foot tower, and then put forth a 299-foot-tall redesign.”
Collins also reported, “But some preservationists at the hearing said that the recession should make it possible for St. Vincent’s to find a better site for the tower. ‘I’m surprised and disappointed there wasn’t more meaningful consideration of alternative sites, given the way in which the real-estate landscape has changed,’ said Andrew Berman, Executive Director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. The legal filing (against the hospital) claimed that the commission members failed to follow the hardship standard established by the United States Supreme Court during two previous preservation battles that saved Grand Central Terminal and that prevented St. Bartholomew’s Church from demolishing its community house to build a 59-story office tower so it could finance church programs.”
Even after final acceptance by the LPC, the project still needed Planning Commission and the City Council’s approvals. Yet as we know, that never came to pass, as the hospital declared insolvency in 2010 and the Rudin development firm took over the hospital properties.
Downtown Manhattan critically needs a full service hospital. Can a hospital facility similar to the Pei Cobb Freed design be resurrected at a new location? Why not? Let’s work together to make it happen!