With subtle changes, Cosmo Hotel wins over Landmarks Commission


By Julie Shapiro

New designs for the Cosmopolitan Hotel expansion won landmarks approval last week, paving the way for a new building in the Tribeca South Historic District.

The city Landmarks Preservation Commission disliked the first designs they saw for the project in June, calling the proposal “bland” and “generic.” But commissioners liked the new plans they saw Sept. 15, which are very similar to the original designs but have additional historic details.

“This has come a long way in the right way,” chairperson Bob Tierney said at the hearing. “I find every aspect of it appropriate.”

The owners of the historic Cosmopolitan Hotel at Chambers St. and W. Broadway plan to refurbish the exterior and build a six-story brick addition on an adjacent lot, demolishing the short stucco building that sits there now. Originally, architect Matthew Gottsegen wanted to connect the new building and the existing hotel by including similar modern features on both. But based on the commissioners’ feedback, he decided to restore historic elements to the original Cosmopolitan building, making the old more distinct from the new.

“This is a greatly improved project,” landmarks commissioner Margery Perlmutter said upon seeing the new designs. “Now the two buildings speak to each other without blending into each other.”

Gottsegen also made changes to the new building’s design, including the addition of more pronounced columns to the glassy ground floor and the expansion of bricks onto the top floor.

Work could begin as soon as this spring on the Cosmopolitan and the new building, which will add 25 rooms and a roof deck to the 125-room budget hotel, Gottsegen said. Gerald Barad, who owns the building with Jay Wartski, said earlier this year that they had full financing in place. The owners did not comment this week.

The Cosmopolitan has been a neighborhood fixture since it opened in 1844 as the Girard House. Over the course of many expansions and design changes, the hotel took on different names, including the Cosmopolitan and later the Bond Hotel. When the current owners took over in the 1980s, they did major renovations and resurrected the Cosmopolitan name. The hotel is now known for its no-frills rooms starting at less than $200 a night.

Before construction of the hotel’s addition can begin, the owners have to demolish the existing two-story yellow stucco building at Reade St. and W. Broadway, which houses Mary Ann’s Mexican restaurant. The building has little historic fabric, so the L.P.C. did not object to replacing it. Mary Ann’s, a small chain that started in Chelsea, is now on a month-to-month lease. The restaurant owners did not respond to a request for comment.

At first glance, the new designs the L.P.C. approved last week look similar to the ones that drew censure just a few months ago. The new six-story building is still a red-orange brick structure with a glassy storefront and a different window pattern on the top floor.

The differences are in the details. Commissioners initially complained that the new building looked like it was floating above an unsupported ground floor, so Gottsegen added columns of dark painted steel to give the base more weight. The commissioners also disliked the original plan for the top floor, which was supposed to reflect the idea of an attic with alternating bands of windows and aluminum. Gottsegen took their recommendation and extended the brick up to the top floor, which makes the building look more cohesive.

On the existing Cosmopolitan building, Gottsegen looked to the past for inspiration and decided to remove the green awnings that now wrap the ground floor of the building. The new designs restore a metal cornice over the ground floor and add cast-stone cladding around the openings, along with a wood-panel bulkhead. Signs for the stores will be painted onto the windows.

“We took our cues from the original design, to create a design that’s in the spirit of the historic district,” Gottsegen said. “I think it works very well.”

One of the biggest changes he made was to the design for the new hotel entrance on W. Broadway, which Community Board 1 members said looked far too utilitarian, like an entrance to a hospital. Now, the entrance includes a marquee similar to the one that was on Chambers St. in the 1930s, and Gottsegen will use stone to frame the entrance rather than the more modern metal panels he originally contemplated.

The new W. Broadway entrance will displace the Cosmopolitan Cafe, which opened in 2007 and has quickly become a hangout for both Tribecans and hotel guests. Craig Bero, who owns the cafe, said Wartski reassured him that the cafe would be relocated within the Cosmopolitan building, but Bero has not gotten any details or a timeline.

The recent changes to the Cosmopolitan’s design won the informal approval of the Historic Districts Council, which opposed the original application.

“For a new building in a historic district they’ve done a pretty nice job,” Nadezhda Williams, preservation associate at H.D.C., said in an e-mail. “They made some subtle, but important changes from their initial application,” she added, listing stone lintels and the expansion of brick up to the top floor of the addition.

However, Roger Byrom, chairperson of C.B. 1’s Landmarks Committee, said his concerns about the design remained. In May, the community board recommended that the L.P.C. reject the changes to the hotel and the addition, calling the new building “blandly contextual.” Byrom’s committee requested that the owners return to the community board with suggested changes, but the owners decided to go directly to the city L.P.C., which has the final say.

Bruce Ehrmann, co-chairperson of the C.B. 1 committee, said in an e-mail that the new design was not much better.

“It’s gone from being dreadful to being a bore,” he said.