EXCLUSIVE: Lenox Hill maneuvers


The Park Avenue side of Lenox Hill Hospital on 77th Street in a recent photo. A portion of the super-expensive parcel is being eyed for possible sale and redevelopment. Photo: Douglas Feiden
It’s eastward ho as the hospital redevelops an entire blockfront on Third Avenue, mulls a big sale on Park Avenue — and ruffles community feathers amid demands for greater transparency
BY DOUGLAS FEIDEN

It was 1868 when the institution that would eventually became Lenox Hill Hospital first put down stakes on Park Avenue at East 77th Street.

Now, 150 years later, the Upper East Side fixture is weighing whether it should monetize some of the pricey property at its ancestral home.

The hospital is in the preliminary stages of exploring a potential sale of a parcel it owns on Park Avenue between 76th and 77th Streets, Straus News has learned.

A real estate play would be a game-changer for Lenox Hill, which is under the umbrella of Northwell Health and has been evaluating the option as a means of financing an ambitious expansion paired with a rehabilitation of both its legacy holdings and other East Side properties.

The hospital’s main campus, between Park and Lexington Avenues, sits on some of the most valuable land in Manhattan — a full city block running 204 feet along the avenues and 405 feet down the side streets.

It is a portion of its western frontage at 855 Park Ave. — a tourniquet’s throw from the Carlyle Hotel and the Met Breuer — which the hospital is now eyeing for a possible sale and redevelopment, according to sources familiar with its plans.

There are three hospital buildings on the site, but it wasn’t immediately clear if one or more than one could be up for bids. It also was not yet known if Lenox Hill, should it decide to proceed, would partner with a private developer in a joint venture or sell the land outright.

If the hospital moves ahead, the plot could be repositioned as an ultra-high-end residential property. It would likely require a change of zoning — the current land use is for public medical facilities and institutions — before it could take its place among Park Avenue’s exclusive co-ops and condos.

Asked what was contemplated for the western perimeter of Lenox Hill and what the potential development timetable would be, Northwell spokesperson Barbara Osborn responded with a statement:

“There are no set plans for our primary campus,” she said. “We are continuously looking to deepen and strengthen our network by investing in our Manhattan campus locations in order to continue to deliver the highest quality care.

“We will update the community, patients, physicians and staff with more information as it becomes available,”

Meanwhile, as it expands its East Side footprint, Lenox Hill is also developing plans for a full block it controls on the east side of Third Avenue between 76th and 77th, just one block east of the Lexington Avenue side of its campus.

It teamed up last August with the University Financing Foundation, a nonprofit developer that paid $232 million for six separate, three- and four-story mixed-use buildings that housed such beloved local retailers as the Atlantic Grill and McCabe’s Wines & Spirits.

The buildings are all vacant after some tenants relocated, while others were forced to leave as their leases ran out. Lenox Hill will be leasing the site from the nonprofit, which assists health care institutions with financing at below-market rates, and may have an option to purchase.

What exactly will rise on the former low-rise site of a fish house, a liquor store, a thrift shop and a clothing boutique? And how tall will it soar? That’s been a huge flashpoint in the community, and answers have been slow in coming,

Osborn said the site will be a home for ambulatory surgery, imaging, physician offices and other clinical services. “It will not be a receiving point for ambulances and emergency vehicles,” she said.

It won’t require special zoning variances and will be built as-of-right, occupying roughly 250,000 square feet, she added.

“This project reflects our commitment to the Upper East Side, all of New York City, and to providing the highest quality clinical care to the community,” she said.

But Valerie Mason, president of the East 72nd Street Neighborhood Association, and Elaine Walsh, the co-chair of Community Board 8’s Zoning and Development Committee, both said Lenox Hill hadn’t been forthcoming — or provided such basic details as the height and number of stories of the project.

More than five months after the sale, no renderings have been released, they pointed out.

“Why aren’t they sharing their plans with us?” Walsh asked. “Why can’t they engage the community? What’s the big secret?”

Mason also asked a series of questions: “Is it going to be 20 stories? How tall? How will it impact traffic patterns? Parking? What kind of lighting will it have? How bright will it be? It’s a real mystery.”

East Side Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright shares that frustration:

“It is long past time for our community to be made fully aware of the specific plans Lenox Hill has for their Third Avenue site,” she said.

“Every week we hear from interested neighbors who say they miss the Atlantic Grill and are rightly concerned about what will be built in its place,” she added.

Seawright said she called for “more transparency and openness” with the public when she first met with hospital executives back in early November. She’s still waiting for the details.

“I am calling for a full presentation by Northwell of the programs and services they intend to provide so we can clear the air on how this major space or spaces will be used,” Seawright said.

The hospital hasn’t released any more details about the Third Avenue project since early August because it is still in the planning stage, Osborn said.

“We remain committed to open communication throughout the planning process and will provide updates as our plans mature and evolve,” she added.

invreporter@strausnews.com