Ongoing Challenges


Building Name: 321 East 96th Street
Architect: Perkins Eastman
Developer: Avalon Bay and Educational Construction Fund
Building Height (to roof): 710 feet
Number of Stories: 68 (approximately)
Number of Units: 1,100 (approximately)
DOB Information: Click here.

Project Information:
Avalon Bay and the Educational Construction Fund have proposed a massive redevelopment of the entire block between 96th and 97th Streets and First and Second Avenues that would overtake the Marx Brothers Playground, a 1.5 acre park located at the western end of the block.

The plans include a staggering 710 foot-tall, 63-story mixed-use tower that will contain approximately 20,000 square feet of retail space, two public high schools totaling 130,000 square feet, and 1,200 residential units spread across 990,000 square feet, 25% of which will be reserved for the minimum legally-required affordable units. A second building constructed along First Avenue will house an additional high school. This block is the site of the Marx Brothers Playground, a public playground and sports field that will be closed for the entire duration of construction, and more importantly, the replacement open space will not have any of the protections of formally mapped public parkland. In order to build this tower, the developer seeks to alienate or “de-map” the park space in order to use its development rights toward the new tower.

Many members of the communities of East Harlem and the Upper East Side have raised concerns over the massive scale of this tower. But aside from the height, the private developer proposes to take public park land, the Marx Brothers Playground that has been an much-beloved open space in this park-starved area of the city for over 70 years, to facilitate the 700-foot residential tower on the site.

If this development proceeds, it will set a dangerous precedent that puts more than 250 playgrounds citywide at risk of being mined for their air rights. In recognition of this precedent Governor Andrew Cuomo has asked Commissioner Rose Harvey (New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation) to investigate whether the City’s actions are consistent with the State’s alienation rules.

In December 2017, FRIENDS filed a lawsuit in partnership with a unique coalition of organizations including Carnegie Hill Neighbors, CIVITAS, and the Municipal Art Society of New York to prevent the City from alienating this public park on behalf of a private developer. On September 17, 2018, the Parks Committee of the New York City Council held an oversight hearing about the state of the City’s 250+ Jointly Operated Playgrounds, including Marx Brothers Playground. Council Members expressed concern that playgrounds and open spaces in their neighborhoods lack the same protections as dedicated parkland, and FRIENDS and fellow advocates discussed the harmful precedent for these neighborhood parks set by the proposed development at Marx Brothers. FRIENDS full testimony from the hearing is available HERE.

In May 2019 the New York Supreme Court dismissed the Article 78 filed by the coalition. In a joint statement, the members of the coalition have said: “We are deeply disappointed in the Court’s decision to deny our Article 78 petition, and are weighing our next steps. We are emboldened by Justice Kelley’s judgement, however, that Marx Brothers Playground (prior to its alienation), as well as all publicly owned playgrounds under the jurisdiction of the Commissioner of Parks and Recreation, are parks protected by the New York State Public Trust Doctrine.” In February 2020 the coalition appealed the Supreme Court’s decision.

Open spaces and parks like Marx Brothers Playground are not luxuries; they are critical to our well-being, the well-being of our city, and the quality of life in our community. Once the Marx Brothers Playground is alienated, we can never get it back. We need your support to support this effort.

Please consider making a generous donation to help FRIENDS stop this attack on our public parks.

Click HERE to urge your local City Council member to protect the 268 Jointly Operated Playgrounds, like Marx Brothers, which are spread across the city in all five boroughs.

Additional Information

FRIENDS' Testimony to the City Council Parks Committee re: Jointly Operated Playgrounds, September 17, 2018
Action Alert: A Park Near You Is Under Attack, Municipal Art Society of New York
Action Alert: Urge the City Council to Protect 268 Small Parks, Municipal Art Society of New York

Park-Replacing Development Sets 'Harmful Precedent': Opponents, by Brendan Krisel. Patch, September 19, 2018
City clashes with community over Upper East Side playground’s future, by Tanay Warkerar. Curbed, September 17, 2018
Park or Playground? Semantics Dispute Illuminates Preservationists’ Fight, by Vivian Wang. New York Times, January 1, 2018
Battle heats up over East Harlem park where a 760-foot tower is planned, by Devin Gannon. 6sqft, January 2, 2018
Cuomo calls for investigation on de Blasio’s playground plan, by Rich Calder and Kirstan Conley. New York Post, October 24, 2017
City Council committee OKs AvalonBay’s 673-foot East Harlem towerThe Real Deal, August 10, 2017
'Behemoth' E. 96th Street Redevelopment Approved by Community Board, by Shaye Weaver. DNAinfo, March 23, 2017
New Details Revealed: 68-Story, 1,100-Unit Mixed-Use Project At 321 East 96th Street, East Harlem, by Reid Wilson, New York YIMBY, December 19, 2016
68-Story East Harlem Tower Would Have 1K Homes and New School Buildings, by Dartunorro Clark. DNAinfo, December 16, 2016

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