Residents Take Dim View of Bright Light Show on Landmark FiDi Building

111 and 115 Broadway, viewed from the northeast. Colored lights began flashing on the building in July, residents say. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib 

Dec. 04, 2018

The light show must go on.

That’s what a couple is discovering as they try to find some nighttime relief from a show of flashing lights, displayed by the 24-story building that faces them, a block away.

Robert Skula and Robin Walker say they want to bring an end to the bright, three-minute shows that invade their apartment at 71 Broadway, once or twice an hour, until 2 a.m. The lights come from a city landmark, the twin neo-Gothic commercial buildings at 111 and 115 Broadway. Only Trinity Church and its cemetery stand between Skula’s and Walker’s building and the offending lights.

“We shut the blinds and we are living as shut-ins because our windows are sixty by ninety and that’s all you see,” said Walker, 42, who moved to the apartment with Skula in April. “It’s this constant strobing.”

Much as it might seem, this is not a holiday show. Skula and Walker said they’ve been involuntarily treated to it, in variety of colors, since July. That’s when, as Walker put it, “the three-ring circus started.” (In the last few days, a tolerable white light has been more frequently flashing from the building, they said.)

Along with multiple calls to 311, the couple has lodged their complaints with Community Board 1 and the management of their building.

“We have heard a lot of complaints,” said Nicole Chu of Equity Residential, the managers of 71 Broadway. “Some of our tenants are concerned about people who have epilepsy and how they might react to the lights.”

Dawn Shillingford, property manager of 111 Broadway, which is owned by Capital Properties, did not return phone calls or an email request for comment. Councilwoman Margaret Chin’s office, which has received several other light pollution complaints recently, is seeking to find an agency to address the issue, said Rush Perez, Chin’s communications director. “We’re always pushing back on the narrative that FiDi is not residential,” Perez said. “And developers need to understand that.”

But no city agency, it appears, currently regulates light pollution. Not the Department of Environmental Protection nor the Department of Buildings. Because 111 Broadway is an individual landmark, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission does have some regulatory oversight. In August, 2017, it granted a permit for the lights, but concerned itself only with how they would physically affect the structure.

“When LPC reviewed the proposal for the installation of the lighting on the windows of the façade, they considered the fixtures themselves and whether or not their installation would affect the significant architectural features of the building,” the agency said in a statement. “LPC does not regulate use of the lights or the color or quality of the illumination.”

Over the past several years, the twin buildings have undergone extensive renovations inside and out and a plan is in the works for creating a retail and food plaza on Thames Street, which runs between the two structures. Built in two phases, in 1905 and 1906, the Trinity and United States Realty Buildings, as they were called, were designed by Francis H. Kimball, whose work includes another landmark, the nearby Corbin Building.

Writing in the New York Times about the building, Christopher Gray noted that the architect once said he preferred to avoid a white stone such as marble for his facade because it would be “almost blinding.”

That was 115 years ago. If Kimball could see his building now.