March 2015
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Archive for March, 2015

Honorees Announced: 2015 MASterworks Awards

2015 MASterworks Awards

Annual Awards by the Municipal Art Society Recognize Excellence in Architecture and Urban Design

The Municipal Art Society of New York announced the winners of the 2015 MASterworks Awards, a competition hosted annually by MAS to recognize projects completed in the preceding year that make a significant contribution to New York’s built environment. The awards will be presented on the evening of April 16 at the Museum at Eldridge Street.

“From a transit hub that bends sunlight, to a sidewalk that fortifies tree roots, the 2015 MASterworks honorees embody the innovation and creativity that drive New York’s best architects and designers,” said Margaret Newman, FAIA, Executive Director of MAS. “We look forward to celebrating all of this year’s winners at a ceremony next month, and thank them for enhancing New York one project at a time.”

2015 honorees placed in six categories:

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Public Mural by Noted Mosaic Artist Max Spivak Uncovered, Only to be Hidden Again


A mosaic mural from the 1950’s by noted mosaic artist Max Spivak was recently uncovered in the heart of the Garment District as renovations began on 5 Bryant Park. The delightful mural, in the spirit of Juan Miro, depicts the tools of garment makers and enlivens the large façade entrance of the corporate tower.

Unfortunately, hours after a New York Times report detailed the mural’s discovery, sheeting was erected to obscure the mural from public view. According to the owner of the tower, the discovery of the mural was “unexpected” and the work would be “covered during the renovation in a way that will preserve it for the future.”

“It’s as if the owners moved ahead at high speed to beat all the positive reaction,” said Phyllis Cohen, the director of Adopt-a-Monument/Adopt-a-Mural at the Municipal Art Society. “The glass mosaic murals from the late 1940s to 1960s are treasures that need to be preserved,” she said.

Two different Max Spivak murals are preserved, thanks to the work of the Adopt-a-Mural program at MAS: a pair of WPA oil in canvas murals, 1938, at the Astoria branch of the Queens library, and a 1948 mosaic mural currently on display at a Ben and Jerry’s shop on the Upper West Side.

Excerpted and adapted from the original New York Times article by David Dunlap.

Numbers Behind 421-a & Affordable Housing Revealed

421-a Maps

$1.1 Billion/Year Tax Exemption Predominantly Benefits Manhattan Housing Construction

The Municipal Art Society released a first-ever interactive tool mapping the impact of one of New York City’s most expensive housing incentive programs. Spread across three city agencies, the data required to evaluate the affordable housing output of 421-a has never been publicly compiled until now.

In total, the city forfeited more than $1.1 billion in tax revenue in 2014 alone through the 421-a program, 60% of which (nearly $670 million) subsidized buildings in Manhattan, a borough currently undergoing a historic building boom that renders a building subsidy unnecessary. The annual exemption recurs for 10-20 years in the city’s most expensive neighborhoods.

Creating the maps required MAS to track down and merge data—some of it in PDF form—from the Department of Finance, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and the Department of City Planning. The City’s Independent Budget Office assisted MAS in this effort by compiling the data from the Department of Finance.

“It’s not the 1970s anymore. In these booming Manhattan neighborhoods, the only value of a 421-a program is to spur affordable housing, yet the data on 421-a’s affordable housing impact is largely unavailable. And what information we do have is scattered across three city agencies. It’s long past time that Albany provides a transparent public accounting of this four-decade-old, $1 billion/year program.” -Margaret Newman, MAS Executive Director

The 421-a program, created in 1971 to spur residential development, was amended in 1985 in response to the rebounding real estate market. After 1985, new development projects seeking 421-a tax exemptions in flourishing Manhattan neighborhoods—defined by the so-called Geographic Exclusionary Area (GEA)—were required to dedicate 20% of total units to affordable housing. However, in 2008 legislators expanded the boundaries of the GEA to include all of Manhattan, but also neighborhoods in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.

“Reimagining 421-a as an engine for affordable housing was a well-intentioned but doomed idea. We’ve amended it again and again over four decades, trying to mold a program that was designed during a construction drought into one that makes sense during a construction boom. The geographic exclusionary area should do just that—exclude luxury neighborhoods from cashing in on 421-a.” -Margaret Newman, MAS Executive Director

The 421-a program is up for renewal by the New York State legislature in June 2015. Based on the findings revealed in the maps, MAS urges that the program cannot be renewed as is.

Albany must:

  • Rationalize 421-a’s cost-benefit equation either by strengthening the affordability requirements or by decreasing the financial incentives;
  • Redraw the lines of the GEA to reflect actual market conditions, based on data and statistics, rather than politics; and
  • Dramatically increase the program’s public transparency and use this data to monitor the program’s successes and failures.

Select Findings

421-a mapped citywide

View the details on all properties in NYC currently receiving 421-a benefits at

535 West End Avenue

City forfeited $3.3 million in tax revenue in 2014 subsidizing 6 affordable units built in 2013; this annual exemption continues through 2023

150 East 86 Street

City forfeited $5.8 million in tax revenue in 2014 subsidizing 24 affordable units built in 2011; this annual exemption continues through 2021

505 West 37 Street

City forfeited $12.1 million in tax revenue in 2014 subsidizing 167 affordable units built in 2012; this annual exemption continues through 2032

How is your neighborhood affected? »»

MAS Responds to News of 335 Madison Avenue Re-Development

Contact: Meaghan Baron | (212) 935-3960 ex. 1229

Re: Vanderbilt corridor set for massive new tower

“MAS welcomes the news that the Vanderbilt Corridor rezoning is continuing to spur development in East Midtown—especially development that engages the City and community in a public review process. We hope that the project at 335 Madison Avenue will follow the example set at One Vanderbilt and include a transportation improvement benefit as part of its plan. We also look forward to working with the City to evaluate the best policy for air rights transfers, especially as they involve our precious landmarks. In a city as dense as New York, the best new developments are the ones that knit themselves into the existing community, its history, and its local infrastructure.”

–Margaret Newman, Executive Director of the Municipal Art Society of New York

Insights from the 2015 Annual Members Meeting

At the MAS Annual Members Meeting, MAS members were invited to a rich discussion around the future of New York City and the important role MAS serves as your partner in shaping our neighborhoods. As we look ahead to our 125th year, MAS will continue advocating for intelligent urban planning and design, ensuring that our built environment promotes a livable and resilient city.

MAS President Vin Cipolla engaged in a thought-provoking conversation with Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen about the pressing issues facing New Yorkers today and innovative solutions for moving forward — from affordability and housing, to entrepreneurship and economic development and the campaign for a new Penn Station.

MAS Members also heard about our city’s rapidly changing skyline from Justin Davidson of New York Magazine, as well as new ways of leveraging development to pay for our most important civic assets, highlighted by Brooklyn Public Library President Linda Johnson.