In 1905 the New York Butcher’s Dressed Meat Company opened a six story slaughterhouse at 495 Eleventh Avenue between West 39th and West 40th Street. Today the site is located directly above the Lincoln Tunnel. Back then there was a railway leading into the basement of the slaughterhouse that delivered live cattle. The building had an open air “roof garden” for the cattle to spend their final moments. The slaughterhouse was in operation until the late 1950’s. In the 1960’s and 1970’s it was used as an office building and warehouse. The building was demolished after an unsuccessful move to confer landmark status to the slaughterhouse in 1988.
The erection of a high-rise building there is a potential security issue for the tunnel’s eighteen million annual drivers and a safety issue for the thousands of residents who reside within the discussed building’s toppling distance in the event of a terrorist attack. In a post 9/11 world such vulnerability deserves a professional security and threat assessment study to be performed. Not only has that study not been performed, it is not even mentioned in the RFP.
Although the approximate 25,000 square foot site is currently zoned for manufacturing uses it is anticipated that the new developer will seek rezoning to allow residential development. There is currently no City mandated height restriction for how tall the new building can be. Manhattan Community Board 4 would like the building to be no taller than 45 stories. Although restricting the height of the building is a move in the right direction by CB4, 45 stories is still an unsafe height.
Let us not forget that in 1993 the FBI derailed Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman plots that targeted the Lincoln Tunnel. Who knows how many other plots involving the Lincoln Tunnel have been foiled that we do not know about due to national security concerns.
To blindly proceed forward with a high-rise building is myopic, irresponsible and putting profit over people’s safety. Our elected officials’ primary duty is to ensure the safety of its citizens first. In this instance there may be practical alternatives that would allow the City to have its cake and eat it too in the form of realizing a handsome profit from selling the site’s air rights while transferring affordable housing units elsewhere within CB4 where they are more needed.
Since the land is owned by the City, and not privately, the City has advantageous flexibility and powers enabling it to achieve a safe and practical solution that a private owner would not have at their disposal. What possible excuse could exist to avoid adopting a win-win solution? The next installment in this series of articles will address that question and many more.
This site was the site of bloodshed for decades. With creative planning and intelligent foresight we can guarantee that it will never be a slaughterhouse again.