Pace U. Has Plans for 34-Story Dorm Across From Gehry Tower

Left: Rendering of the proposed 34-story dorm and adjacent public plaza. Right: The site today, a vacant parking lot across from the Spruce Street School.

Pace University, already in the midst of building a new 24-story dormitory at 180 Broadway, is seeking permission to erect a 34-story dorm on a vacant lot at 33 Beekman St., across from the Gehry-designed residential tower and the Spruce Street School.

The building would replace a 500-bed leased dorm space at 55 John St. and would add an additional 260 beds to meet growing demand for residential housing.

“Just over 10 years ago we had about 500 residential students Downtown and now we have 2,000,” said William McGrath, a senior vice president at Pace. “Students want a residential experience [and] we provide good campus life type activities.”

Because Pace envisions a building that is six stories taller than the 28 stories that zoning allows, it is seeking a variance from the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA). Community Board 1 is expected to weigh in on the request in January, in what may be a contentious issue for some board members and residents who are weary of construction in the area.

“How many more towers do we want to build down here? It's just ridiculous,” CB1 Seaport Committee Chair John Fratta said. “We are getting too many.”

The building is being developed by SL Green, which is also constructing the Pace dorms at 180 Broadway. That project came under fire from neighbors for what they said was excessively loud construction noise, early morning deliveries and late night work.

According to McGrath, the noisiest part of the construction process at 180 Broadway was demolition work, which won’t be a factor at 33 Beekman. And, he said, SL Green was quick to respond to neighbors’ complaints.

“We certainly were sensitive to what was happening down there and I think everyone was happy once the external work was completed,” McGrath said. “I know that SL Green is committed to being responsive to the community at the 33 Beekman building as well.”

The university expects construction on the project to start next spring, with students taking occupancy in 2015, McGrath said.

Located directly across the street from the Gehry tower and the Spruce Street School, the L shaped former parking lot, at the corner of Beekman and William streets, has long sat vacant.

“The Project would replace an unused surface parking lot with an attractive 34-story dormitory building and Public Plaza,” noted a letter from the project’s lawyer to the Board of Standards and Appeals. Although design decisions are not final, the letter said, the proposed building is expected to be “clad primarily with brick, aluminum window wall and metal panels.”

Hotel developer Sam Chang previously owned the site, and had once hoped to build a 36-story hotel on the lot. According to The Real Deal, Chang sold the lot for $15.7 million in 2011. Gene Kaufman, who designs many of Chang's buildings, including the hotel originally planned for the site, will be the architect.

To get a variance, the university is required to show a hardship. In its letter to the city, it says that the site is challenging—and more expensive—to build on because of an irregular underground subway easement that affects construction.

Pace has six buildings near the Beekman lot, including its main campus building at One Pace Plaza, and the landmark former New York Times building at 41 Park Row. In its letter to the city, the school said the larger dorm building “would be especially beneficial as it is very close to the buildings at 1 Pace Plaza and 163 William Street and would help create a campus atmosphere.”

The first three floors of the dorm building would have administrative offices and student recreation facilities, as well as a small ground floor retail space.

As part of the project, the university would also construct a 3,012-square-foot public plaza with benches, swivel seating and seven tables on the corner of Beekman and William.

But the community board may ask for more than that in exchange for its blessing. The Seaport Committee has long been seeking space for a community center, and local school advocates are continuing to push for additional elementary schools Downtown.

For some community board members, news of the proposal brought to mind a larger struggle playing out between other universities and neighborhoods across the city.

“Columbia is taking over West Harlem, NYU took over the Village … Pace is trying to keep up with all of this,” board member Michael Kramer said.  “And in every case the community boards were very strongly against the universities putting more density in their neighborhoods.”


I support the Pace University Dorm

This corner lot has been an eyesore for years. The Pace University dormitory will bring life back to that corner. In addition they are including a public plaza. We should be encouraging investments in this community. It will also be good for local businesses.