Bad PR Week for the Empire State Building

This has been a rough public relations week for the Empire State Building, the beautiful landmark skyscraper that has become a familiar presence in New York City since it was created in 1931.  First there was a flood of negative publicity around the denial to join in the honoring of the memory of Mother Teresa and then there was the failure to quell the approval of a new super-tower planned to be built right nearby.

During its glory days, the Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world.  After the horrific destruction of the Twin Towers in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, it once again bore the mantle of the tallest structure in New York.  Now, there are 14 taller buildings in the world, but the Empire State Building still stands proud as one of the greatest architectural marvels ever created.

One of the PR fiascos was the mishandling of a request to light its upper floors blue and white in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Mother Teresa.  The request was denied, sparking a protest and a rally on Thursday that drew hundreds denouncing the decision.  The explanation that the Empire State Building has a policy not to honor any religious figures seems weak since they commemorated the visit of the Dalai Lama in the past and light up for various religious holidays.  And the controversial decision to light the building yellow and red for Communist China's 60th anniversary did not garner the Building any sympathy. 

Most rational New Yorkers simply shook their heads in disapproval over the silly things people choose to turn into tabloid newspaper headlines.  The public relations misstep over the Building's dissing of Mother Teresa will blow over, if it hasn't already. 

The more serious occurance was the failed attempt to stop the planned construction of a major skyscraper right next to the Empire State Building.  The City approved the project for what is called 15 Penn Plaza, a monumental new skyscraper nearly as tall as the Empire State Building, becoming a new can't-miss feature of New York's legendary skyline -- and it's close enough to the Empire State Building to make them look like new dual towers, even if their architectural designs are so different.  The Empire State Building is worried about the impact of having such a tower so close by -- some of the views from the Building's tourist-popular observation deck will be obstructed and the new building will block the Art Deco classic building from certain angles. 

But the creation of 15 Penn Plaza also comes with a promise of investing $100 million to improve Penn Station and the surrounding neighborhood.  As we approach the ten year anniversary of 9/11, with no memorial and no Freedom Tower completed yet, a major capital project like this should bring jobs, revenue, and pride to the city.  Of course, you can't just drop a tower that's over 1,200 feet in the middle of a crowded urban area and not expect some opposition. 

Mayor Michael Bloomberg commented on the Empire State Building's protests: "You know, anybody that builds a building in New York City changes its skyline. We don't have to run around to every other owner and apologize...One guy owns a building. He'd like to have it be the only tall building. I'm sorry, that's not the real world. Nor should it be."

I, for one, love the New York City skyline, and hope it continues to grow for the better.

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