<< Back

Land Use, Housing & Zoning

590 Madison Avenue LLC – Application for Modification of Special Permit

At the regularly scheduled monthly Community Board Five meeting on Thursday, September 10, 2020, the following resolution passed with a vote of 39 in favor; 0 opposed; 1 abstaining; 1 present not entitled to vote:

WHEREAS, The applicant, 590 Madison Avenue LLC, is the owner of 590 Madison Avenue, an office tower located between 56th and 57th Streets and commonly known as the “IBM Building”; and

WHEREAS, The building opened to the public in 1983 and includes one of the most notable and successful examples of privately-owned public spaces in the city; and

WHEREAS, The privately-owned public space includes a multi-story glass enclosure, plantings, a sculpture garden, moveable tables and chairs, and a food kiosk; and

WHEREAS, A special permit was granted in 1977 as part of the original construction of the building to facilitate the creation of the privately-owned public space, providing a floor area bonus to the building owner in exchange for improvements; and

WHEREAS, To date, the applicant has received approval for three minor modifications to that special permit, including in 1984 and 1985 to establish hours of operation for the pedestrian space and arcade, add revolving doors, and reconfigure the sculpture pool, and in 1995 to create an indoor sculpture garden, redesign the seating plan, move the food kiosk, and allow for occasional closures for private and community events, and this third minor modification resulted in a restrictive declaration recorded alongside the deed; and

WHEREAS, The applicant now seeks a fourth minor modification to the special permit that would establish an area separated by acrylic barriers with additional tables and chairs that would be reserved for patrons of the existing food kiosk, while maintaining the approved amount of public seating and amenities and retaining the public sculpture garden; and

WHEREAS, The indoor public space at this property includes three components, a 4,669 square feet through-block arcade connecting East 56th and East 57th Streets that generated a floor area bonus of 28,014 square feet, an as-of-right covered pedestrian space of 8,261 square feet that generated a floor area bonus of 103,263 square feet, and a non-bonused seating and retail area along the East 56th Street frontage that totals approximately 3,500 square feet in area that did not generate any floor area bonus for the building; and

WHEREAS, Obicà Mozzarella Bar is the current operator of the food kiosk within the non-bonused seating and retail area and has created a seating area with tables and chairs reserved for patrons of the kiosk with a perimeter of landscaped planters along the edge of the seating area; and

WHEREAS, The New York City Department of Buildings issued a violation to the applicant because the current seating plan for the food kiosk is not explicitly consistent with the 1995 restrictive declaration due to a unique situation in which the declaration is written broadly to cover the entire indoor public space despite the fact that part of the indoor public space includes the seating and retail area that did not generate any floor area bonus for the building; and

WHEREAS, The applicant seeks to cure this violation and register an approved seating plan for the food kiosk area in the non-bonused component of the indoor public space, and that requires a minor modification to the special permit as requested here; and

WHEREAS, Furthermore the Applicant is proposing these changes to enhance the ability of the food kiosk to expand its menu, attract a broader clientele, and therefore further activate the public space; and

WHEREAS, The applicant proposes to change the design of the perimeter of the café from the current landscaped planters to lower, free-standing acrylic barriers that will visually integrate the café seating area with the larger public space; and

WHEREAS, The applicant proposes to install three umbrellas in the café seating area since this part of the atrium is in direct sunlight during much of the day and it can become uncomfortable for patrons at tables that are not shaded by either the trees or the umbrellas, and furthermore, the atrium is home to a flock of birds, and the umbrellas provide essential protection from bird droppings; and

WHEREAS, The applicant believes that the color and texture of the umbrellas are a positive design element in the otherwise austere glass room; and

WHEREAS, The applicant proposes to upgrade public space signage at the entries to the indoor public space consistent with the latest POPS signage regulations; and

WHEREAS, The applicant proposes to relocate a number of the public tables and chairs to the public access area adjacent to the western edge of the café; and

WHEREAS, Manhattan Community Board Five recognizes that the circumstances of this application are unique and specific, with the food kiosk operating in the one portion of the indoor public space that did not generate a floor area bonus for the building, that the planned uses for that non-bonus space were always private in nature including a proposed newsstand and flower market in the original approved drawings, and the 1995 restrictive declaration was written broadly in a way that did not accommodate appropriate uses such as this proposed seating plan; and

WHEREAS, This proposed plan would further enhance continued activation of an iconic privately-owned public space, and would allow the café operator to maximize its ability to operate in the long term in a time when restaurants face existential crises about their survival; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, Manhattan Community Board Five recommends approval of the application by the owner of 590 Madison Avenue to receive fourth minor modification to 1977 special permit that will permit the changes noted above.

Sign Up For Our Newsletter