Clock Tower in danger as owner plans huge tower next door

By Bill Parry

Preservationists fear that time is running out on the Clock Tower. The future of the iconic building, which sits at the northeast corner of Queens Plaza in Long Island City, is in question now that its owner, Property Markets Group, has submitted plans to build a tower on the adjacent lot at 29-37 41st Ave.

The 70-story mixed-use high-rise would be the tallest building in Queens with 930 apartments, retail space, a parking garage with 100 spaces, a health club and swimming pool, according to the city Department of Buildings.

“It certainly has caused alarm,” author and preservationist Michael Perlman said. “It would be a preservation travesty if it’s demolished and it would resurrect sentiments like when the original Penn Station was demolished. We’re hoping the Landmarks Preservation Commission Landmarks does something before it’s lost.”

The Clock Tower was built as the Manhattan Bank Building in 1927 and it was the tallest building in Queens until the Citigroup Building opened at 1 Court Square in 1990. It has been mostly vacant for the last quarter century.

In November, Property Markets Group bought the Clock Tower for more than $31 million and the few remaining tenants received notices of lease terminations in November, effective May 31, informing them of the “landlord’s intention to demolish all or part of the building.”

After Property Markets Group’s plans for the 772-foot-building became known last week, Crain’s New York Business reported that the proposed tower is four times bigger than what the site was zoned for and the developer would need more land.

A spokesman for Property Markets Group refused to comment on the zoning issue for the planned residential high-rise and the future of the Clock Tower.

“We hope the Landmarks Preservation Commission landmarks it for history’s sake,” Perlman said. “It was responsible for a major boom in commerce and is one of the most significant architectural landmarks in the borough. I’ve been a fan since childhood growing up in Forest Hills, so you can say the preservation fight is a labor of love.”

Technically, the Clock Tower doesn’t enjoy “landmark status” because it’s still under active review by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. If the Clock Tower is granted designation as an individual landmark by the LPC, any proposed changes to the exterior of the building would be subject to the approval of the commission.

Applications that entail major changes to the building are brought to a public hearing, allowing the community to be involved in the approval process.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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