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Public Urges Aesthetics, Access on 42nd StreetPublic Urges Aesthetics, Access On 42nd Street

Builders of the proposed $1.8 billion 42nd Street Development Project should concentrate on visual aesthetics and providing proper subway access for the thousands of workers and customers traveling through the area everyday. Speakers emphasized those two issues at a public hearing held Mon., May 6 on two major redevelopment proposals.

Held at the beautifully renovated New Victory Theater on 42nd Street, the hearing involved:

--The Durst Organization's $350 million office-retail tower covering 1.4 million sq. ft. at Broadway and 42nd Street;

--Forest-City Ratner Companies' $84 million entertainment-retail complex sited for 335,000 sq. ft. on the south side of 42nd Street. The project will house the 25-screen American Multi Cinemas theatres and Madame Tussaud's wax museum in the former Harris, Liberty, and Empire Theatres.

Shared Goals

Speakers addressed representatives of the Empire State Development Corporation and 42nd Street Development Project, which oversee the major redevelopment. Jo Ann Macy, chair of the city's Community Board No. 4, applauded the revitalization efforts, saying, "We share with you your goals to:

--eliminate blight and physical decay together with their accompanying crime and frightening street life on 42nd Street;

--preserve 42nd Street's theatre heritage and legitimate entertainment;

--develop its commercial and retail potential (and resulting healthy street ambience);

--upgrade the Times Square-Port Authority subway nodes."

Macy added that her board was also pleased to see Durst's plans to reduce its office tower from 58 to 47 stories and to provide a continuous retail base.

But she cautioned the developers that she and her board were "beginning to sense a visual overload" in plans for facades and signage. She listed, as just one instance, plans for 21,000 sq. ft. of signage in the Durst development. "We all want an eclectic yet synthesis of design," Macy said. "What you call glitz, however, may well end up being a hodgepodge of facades!"

Macy noted that Forest-City Ratner planned for "uncoordinated" facade and sign designs "superimposed above the 'protected' theatre facades. These are, at the very minimum, overwhelming," she said. "The cumulative effect of the 'overbuildings' and signage will create the appearance of one large, gaudily lighted-up building fronted by unrelated fragments of old facades, rather than a real New York streetscape made up of a mixture of new and historic individual buildings."

Durst Comments

Douglas Durst, of the Durst Organization, spoke briefly, reading from a one-page statement concentrating on aesthetics. He said that Four Times Square, the proposed Durst site, "occupies a pivotal site the unfettered commercialism of Times Square, the urbanity of Bryant Park, and the composure of the midtown business district."

Durst said his firm's new office tower would provide "two distinct and significant orientations." A glass facade on the west and north would "assume the character and liveliness of Times Square," while the facade along 42nd Street and the east would consist of "a textured and scaled masonry treatment" with a "more composed personality." The tower's top would be "highly energized" and pierce the skyline, "creating a distinct/high-tech icon." He wasn't specific about what the "icon" would consist of. The hearing allowed for statements only, with no questions and answers following them.

Subway Access

Two speakers urged the developers to commit to providing plenty of access to subways. Stephen F. Wilder, a member of the New York City Transit Riders Council and Community Board No. 5 who said he was speaking "on my own behalf," noted admiration for past Durst projects he had seen. He urged the new Durst construction plans to "incorporate underground passages to subways which the thousands of employees can use." He said there are city Transit Authority easements under the proposed Durst site. He added that Rockefeller Center's passages "are a major plus," indicating that Durst might use that development as an example to follow. Joseph Clift, a member of Community Board No. 5, also emphasized that subway access was a "dominant concern," and said his board planned to discuss the matter fully with the development representatives when they meet later this month.

Rebecca Robertson, president of the 42nd Street Development Project, said that written public statements on the two projects will be accepted until June 4. That's the scheduled date for a public hearing on the third major development proposal: Tishman Urban Development Corporation's $300 million "E Walk," an 871,000 sq. ft. entertainment-retail-hotel complex at Eighth Avenue and 42nd Street. That hearing also will be held at the New Victory Theater at a time to be announced.

Regarding Tishman, "The Hollywood Reporter" reported May 3 that Sony Theatres plans to build a multiplex of 12 to 14 screens as well as an IMAX 3D auditorium in the E Walk project. The multiplex would be across 42nd Street from the Forest-City Ratner project, which will include a planned 26-screen multiplex built by AMC Entertainment. Reporter Monica Roman's bylined article added that the Walt Disney Co. has an option to build a virtual reality entertainment center in the Tishm

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