Some neighbors say tower is stacked against Tribeca


The teetering stack of condo cubes that will soon rise at 56 Leonard St. almost looks poised for a giant hand to descend from the sky and, carefully, slide one of the cubes out of place.

Like a game of JENGA, the 57-story tower will soar 830 feet above Leonard and Church Sts., with views stretching from Tribeca’s historic districts to the Atlantic Ocean. The building is architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron’s first residential high-rise, and the design of staggered condos gives all 145 residences a unique floor plan and private outdoor space.

Developer Alexico Group unveiled the renderings of the tower this week. The designs also feature a bean-shaped stainless steel sculpture at the base of the building by Anish Kapoor. The reflective sculpture looks dented by the weight of the upper floors.

Construction on the tower has begun, and residents will start moving in at the end of 2010. Sales so far are in the double digits, the developer said.

In promotional materials, the architects say that their design “establish[es] a dialogue” with Tribeca’s lower-rise townhouses and manufacturing buildings, but one community leader took issue with that explanation.

“I don’t really see how asymmetrical stacked glass boxes reflect the architecture you tend to see in Tribeca,” said Julie Menin, chairperson of Community Board 1. “This building is absolutely non-contextual with the rest of Tribeca.”

The board could not weigh in on the designs or the height because the building is “as of right,” meaning it’s within the zoning limits. Much of southern Tribeca was rezoned in the mid-’90s with a height limit of 120 feet, but 56 Leonard St., which previously belonged to New York Law School, was left out. The school sold the parcel to Alexico for a reported $140 million in 2006.

“This didn’t have to happen,” said Menin, who joined the board after Tribeca South was rezoned. “The rezoning should have included every single site in Tribeca.”

The design has mostly been panned on curbed.com. “My 5-year-old could design something better than this with his wooden building block set,” wrote one poster on the real estate blog.

Izak Senbahar, principal at the Alexico Group, said 56 Leonard St. succeeds in being respectful to the city and contributing to its skyline. The lower portion meshes with existing buildings in Tribeca, while “the design for the upper half of the tower relates in thoughtful ways to the history of tall buildings in New York,” Senbahar said in an e-mail to Downtown Express.

The tower will house two-bedrooms to five-bedrooms and 10 penthouses. The condos range in size from 1,430 to 6,380 square feet and go for $3.5 million to $33 million. Along with the prices come the expected amenities, plus a few unexpected ones: floor-to-ceiling fireplaces, an indoor-outdoor 75-foot infinity edge pool and a screening room.

This week’s Wall St. downturn did nothing to squelch Senbahar’s certainty that the units will continue to sell.

“Our goal is to create a building of extraordinary quality, something that’s singular in terms of both the residences inside and the larger issue of a relationship to the city,” Senbahar said in an e-mail to Downtown Express. “If you have an extraordinary product, the market doesn’t matter. The building will have its own market.”  

— Julie Shapiro