61 West 62nd Street
David Rubenstein Atrium
This covered plaza, a two-story skylit atrium, furnishes a required amenity unique among the City’s privately owned public spaces: a “climbing wall,” near the entrance at the west side of Broadway between West 62nd and West 63 rd Streets. Dotted with variously shaped stone foot- and hand-holds, the wall accommodates several climbers at a time, under the supervision of a climbing club whose office is several feet away. An audience of onlookers customarily gathers at green plastic café tables and chairs to enjoy the action and refreshments available from a coffee bar/food service counter. At a recent site visit, the required food service was not operating, and no record of City approval for such a lapse has been found. Completing the entertainment should be a one-hour weekly musical or similar performance. A sign of the times prohibits smoking, sleeping, shopping carts, excessively large packages or bundles, and sitting on the floors or heating vents.
The new liveliness of the space is the product of a design makeover negotiated between the City and the owner in the mid-1990s. A previous incarnation sported a pop art motif, including a serpentine seating apparatus, garish colors, and rakish painted letters, that was dated the moment it was installed. Operation was a problem, and the space was cited by the City for violations related to lighting, access, tree planting, and improper use. In 1986, 1992, and 1995, the City and owner agreed to modifications, and the latest design is an enormous improvement over the old. One part of the space continues to cause problems, however. A small second-floor area above the entrance at Columbus Avenue, accessible from inside by stairs, is required to be open and to furnish 43 chairs and seven tables. At a recent site visit, however, the stairs were blocked. Access to this second-floor area does not have to depend on the existence of an adjacent restaurant tenant and thus should be available at all times the covered plaza is open.
The Special Lincoln Square District zoning refers to this space, as well as three others, at 30 Lincoln Plaza, 2 Lincoln Square, and 1991 Broadway, as covered plazas. From a non-legal point of view, however, it is less clear what makes them covered plazas, especially since two out of the four are fully indoors and no different from a common-sense definition of a covered pedestrian space. At least here and at 30 Lincoln Plaza, the space is covered, yet to some degree open to the air, maintaining a vague connection to the concept of plaza. The Broadway and Columbus Avenue entrances have glass enclosures that are allowed to be lowered only from October 15th to April 15th, and even then must be raised if the daytime temperature exceeds 60 degrees fahrenheit. The space also has an entry point from the north side of West 62nd Street between Broadway and Columbus Avenue.