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Land Use, Housing & Zoning

Application for modification of the special permit (C841023ZSM) to allow an adjustment to the schedule of operation of the SONY WONDER TECHNOLOGY LAB, 550 Madison Avenue

WHEREAS, In 1978 a 36-story commercial office building, originally known as the AT&T Building, was constructed at 550 Madison Avenue, between East 55th and 56th Streets; it included a covered, arcaded pedestrian space and a 4-story annex; and

WHEREAS, The building, pedestrian space, and annex were originally constructed pursuant to a Special Permit under Sections 74-72 and 74-87 of the Zoning Resolution for height and setback modifications and a floor area bonus for providing a covered pedestrian space.  A second Special Permit was approved in 1984 that modified the covered pedestrian space and arcade regulations and as part of this agreement, the former owner of the building, AT&T, entered into a Declaration which among other things required the owner to operate, or cause to operate, a 3-level "science and/or communications exhibit space" on a portion of the top three levels of the Annex which they did, naming it AT&T Infoquest; and

WHEREAS, In 1991 Sony Corporation became the tenant of 550 Madison Avenue with options to purchase the property, which they did in 2001.  After becoming the long-term lessee, in 1992 Sony applied for and received approvals to enclose the pedestrian space, add 6,050 square feet of retail space with continuous frontage along Madison Avenue, and replace the AT&T Infoquest with Sony Wonder Technology Lab; and

WHEREAS, the Sony Wonder Technology Lab is an educational museum fully funded by Sony Corporation of America; and 

WHEREAS, the Restrictive Declaration specifies the hours of operation for Sony Wonder as Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and on Sundays, 12 noon to 5:00 pm for a total of 40 hours, and further, it requires that Sony have at least 100,000 visitors per year; and

WHEREAS, Sony Corporation has applied to alter the Declaration to change the operating hours of Sony Wonder so to close completely on Sundays and extend the hours on Tuesday through Saturday to be 9:30 am to 5:30 pm, keeping the total hours still at 40 hours per week.  Sony Wonder states that this change will enable them to better serve the school and tour audiences while also giving the museum staff an additional day per week to repair and maintain the facility and its exhibits; and

WHEREAS, Sony Wonder management has said that changing the hours of operation will not result in layoffs or other changes in headcount and in terms of economic impact will be cost neutral; and

WHEREAS, In the years that Sony has owned and operated Sony Wonder it has made numerous improvements to the facility and its programming, including adding ADA- compliant restrooms, American Sign Language tours, new interactive exhibits, a high definition theatre, new signage, and new digital technologies and displays, and most recently, a $12 million upgrade in 2008; and

WHEREAS, In 2009 184,776 visitors came to Sony Wonder and although this included visitors of all ages, the museum primarily targets families and school children.  As such, Sony Wonder has developed a close and effective working relationship with the NYC Board of Education and does outreach with other educational entities which has resulted in a notable rise in group tours by children both during the school day and in after school programs; and

WHEREAS, Sony Wonder also markets to tourists and local residents using advertising and public relations and outreach to area hotel concierges.  On weekends the visitors to the museum are both local residents and foreign tourists, including families and adults and while the average number of visitors per hour is as much as 30% less on Sundays than during the week, there are no school or camp tours on Sundays which skews the traffic statistics; and

WHEREAS, It is believed that a different segment of the community, including families that cannot attend the museum on weekdays or Saturdays for religious or job reasons, only have Sunday as an option for attendance; and

WHEREAS, Sony Wonder is a highly popular and successful public amenity and with its free admittance, a particularly appealing option for community families, thus serving as ongoing compensation for the significant height and setback modifications, floor area bonuses, 6,060 square feet of retail space on prime Madison Avenue, and restrictions on the use of the pedestrian plaza, from which Sony Corporation continues to benefit; and

WHEREAS, While Community Board Five endorses the success Sony Wonder has had in becoming a popular and engaging amenity and teaching tool for New York City schoolchildren, it believes it should continue to do so without short-changing other segments of the community who want to benefit from the museum and can only do so on Sundays; therefore be it

RESOLVED, That Community Board Five recommends denial of the application of Sony Corporation of America to change the schedule of operation of the SONY Wonder Technology Lab, located at 550 Madison Avenue.

The above resolution passed by a vote of 30 in favor, 4 opposed, 1 abstaining; and 2 Present but Not Entitled to Vote.


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