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NEW YORK CITY-St. Vincent’s Hospital scored a win Tuesday in its battle with neighborhood residents and preservationists as the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission gave an initial green light to plan for a new 19-story tower on Seventh Avenue, part of a $1.63-billion venture with Rudin Management to expand its facilities.

A divided commission voted 8 to 3 to issue a “certificate of appropriateness” that will permit construction between 12th and 13th streets after tearing down the 44-year-old O’Toole outpatient medical building at 36 Seventh Ave. St. Vincent’s says it chose to demolish and build on the O’Toole site because it is the most “logical” option and doesn’t require the hospital to acquire new property.

The hospital says that renovating its current facilities, where most buildings are more than 40 years old, is not an option. Renovation would take 10 to 15 years to complete and would cost $1.6 billion, albeit slightly less than current expansion plans.

Earlier, St. Vincent’s had entered a philanthropic campaign for the current plan under the direction of board chairman Alfred E. Smith. That fundraising campaign and facility of cash will be supplemented by money gained from operations and proceeds from the sale of its current campus to the Rudin family, which plans to build a 233-foot-tall luxury condominium.

“With New Yorkers facing extremely challenging times, the Rudin family is more committed than ever to our partnership with St. Vincent’s–a partnership that will result in a dynamic new residential complex; thousands of jobs for the construction industry; and thousands of New York residents and visitors receiving the healthcare they need and deserve,” says Rudin Management president Bill Rudin in a statement.

Henry Amoroso, president/CEO at St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, which operates St. Vincent’s, says in a statement that the landmarks commission and the area’s community “deserve an enormous amount of credit for diligently working on this proposal and helping us craft a design that reduced the height of the building by more than 15% from our initial proposal while not compromising any of the programs that St. Vincent’s will provide in its new facility. The commission provided many thoughtful comments over the 15-month landmarks process, and the building design is the better for it.”

However, the approval is only the first of several the hospital must win in order to proceed with construction, and opponents of the plan say they will continue to fight. “This is not the end of the line; the debate will continue,” Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation tells GlobeSt.com. He adds that site location alternatives were not explored.

Berman says that while he and his supporters fully support St. Vincent’s need for modern facilities, the whole hospital plan is predicated on a speculative real estate development being done by Rudin. He says in the current real estate market, it remains to be seen if structured developments will ever get built, and if so, whether they’ll succeed.

“We’ve been saying it’s really the city and state’s responsibility to set up terms for finding a location for the new St. Vincent’s Hospital,” he says. “It doesn’t seem like the ‘right’ way to go about building a needed public health facility–in this case, tying it to a speculative real estate deal, a condo development.”

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