Just before Bon Jovi opened up Saturday night’s All-Star Concert in Central Park, a Major League Baseball rep encouraged the crowd to “tune in” to the new MLB Network once it launches in 2009. Late last week, though, a report surfaced that Vornado, which will develop the $435 million, 21-story Swanke Hayden Connell-designed LEED Silver Harlem Tower at the corner of 125th Street and Park Avenue that’s meant to house the new network, is planning on cutting the building’s size by close to a third due to its inability to secure financing for the project.
Vornado has also had difficulty securing any tenants in addition to MLB; the developer had been negotiating with Midtown-based Inner City Broadcasting, the country’s second-largest radio company that targets African-American listeners, but has yet to officially secure a lease with the broadcaster, while a rumored retail lease with Macy’s never materialized either. The New York Times reported that Vornado and MLB are renegotiating the terms of MLB’s lease, and that Vornado will likely reduce the size of the tower from 21 stories to 14.
Neighborhood groups had decried the project’s size; Harlem Assemblyman Keith L. T. Wright observed rather wryly that “[w]hat the political forces couldn’t do, economic reality has forced upon them. Nobody wanted towering office buildings on 125th Street. We wanted it to reflect Harlem architecture.”A number of city watchdogs had also questioned the amount of tax breaks and funding that Vornado was receiving for the project; the developer had planned to invest $127.5 million of its own money and borrow the rest, in addition to $17 million in mortgage-recording and sales tax breaks, as well as $5 million in sales tax exemptions.
Still, MLB needs to increase its presence in the African-American community and Swanke’s design for the tower could still turn into an extremely important piece of architecture. Accordingly , I think it’s important that Vornado build the project, provided that the concerns of both residents and community leaders are adequately addressed.