New Yorkers rail against luxury tower blocking Empire State Building: ‘The mighty dollar rules the sky’

<span>262 Fifth Avenue, an 860ft building, blocks the view of the Empire State Building as it is constructed in December.</span><span>Photograph: Gary Hershorn/Getty Images</span>
262 Fifth Avenue, an 860ft building, blocks the view of the Empire State Building as it is constructed in December.Photograph: Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

Tom Clark’s Lower East Side apartment comes with a prime view of the Empire State Building. “I can see it from my couch,” he said. Well, he used to be able to catch a glance – before an ultra-thin luxury tower dubbed 262 Fifth Avenue came along.

Now the 860ft residential tower, which is still under construction, blocks the Empire State Building from most vantage points south of 28th street. Many New Yorkers (and tourists) can no longer catch a glimpse of the celebrated landmark, all because of some poorly placed – and incredibly expensive – condos.

“It really pisses me off,” Clark said while standing in the plaza in front of the Flatiron Building on Fifth Avenue, a few blocks south of the dueling skyscrapers. “The whole New York skyline has been destroyed. When I moved here I was thrilled with it, and now it’s just getting disgusting. These new buildings have no identity, no design to them. We’ve lost the character of New York, and it breaks my heart.”

Over 4 million people visit the Empire State Building every year (impressive, perhaps, as the cost of entry starts at $44 for adults). Once you arrive at its 1,050ft-tall observation deck, 86 floors up, you can see the entire city. But New Yorkers back on street level crane their necks to see the skyscraper itself.

Depending on your tax bracket, ultra-thin skyscrapers are either the scourge of the city or a prime investment opportunity.

Last week, a TikToker known as @dr.tpanova railed against 262 Fifth Avenue in a post seen 1.2m times. “Walking up Fifth Avenue while marveling at this emblematic building [the Empire State] and ending up on Madison Square where you could sit and have coffee while watching it shining in the distance used to be one of the great pleasures of being in Manhattan,” @dr.tpanova said in the video. (Factcheck: that’s debatable.)

“That beautiful inspiring view is gone now,” @dr.tpanova added. “Millions of people’s experiences of the city have been made worse.”

The fact that the skinny gray tower stealing the skyline will consist of 41 condos only accessible by the ultra-rich during a nationwide housing crisis – and a citywide dearth of affordable apartments for renters does not earn it any more fans.

“There seem to be no sky rules,” Clark said. “There are no laws except for the mighty dollar.”

One avenue over from Clark’s perch, Nem Fisher and Jagger Corcione were out on a walk with their dog, Ziggy. They agreed that 262 Fifth Avenue was an eyesore.

“People go to school to be architects, so why are we just chucking up cylindrical blocks?” Fisher asked. “They’re not concerned about the beauty of the city. It’s just about extremely wealthy people getting their prime view.”

“There are no more cool-looking buildings,” Corcione added, bringing up another much-despised development, 432 Park. Located on the south-east end of Central Park, just steps from the Plaza and Bergdorf Goodman, the toothpick-esque tower rises 1,396ft. That’s 1,396ft too many for 432 Park’s haters, who lament this ultra-modern assault on midtown’s skyline. Its height qualifies it as a “supertall” – a skyscraper that peaks beyond 984ft.

And, according to the New York Times, some of the building’s residents aren’t exactly thrilled with their home either. 432 Park is reportedly a terrible place to live, subject to leaks and loud noises when it sways in the wind – design flaws one would not expect from a residential building on Billionaire’s Row.

“It looks like a bunch of Legos on top of each other,” Corcione said. “I hate that building and always will.”

Sandra Leite, a Portuguese tourist in town with her family, did not notice the Empire State Building hiding behind its new neighbor before this reporter pointed it out.

“Now that you mention it, it’s like, why?” she asked. “Why would city hall approve something like that? But now it’s up there, and nothing can be done.”

Tom Fields, a New Yorker of 30 years who was reading in Madison Square Park, said 262 Fifth Avenue “just doesn’t add anything”.

“I don’t like the one in front of the Empire State, and I don’t like the tall buildings south of the park that are blocking my sun right now. I just don’t like seeing them.”

Not everyone feels the same outrage. To live in New York is to expect constant change: restaurants come and go so quickly that it’s an emotional gamble to become attached to a favorite spot, and rapid gentrification transforms neighborhood blocks into mall-like playgrounds for transplants unwilling to give up suburban staples like Wegmans or Whole Foods. Of course the city’s skyline doesn’t look anything like its classic, mid-century iteration.

Dennis Pangindian, a New Yorker who works in the neighborhood and was enjoying a coffee break, said his wife had showed him TikToks bemoaning the blocked views. “I get all the controversy, but I just don’t care,” he said. “Something is going to be built somewhere, it’s just not surprising to me.”

Caroline Owen, a tourist from Toronto taking a photo of the Empire State – or what you can see of it from Madison Square Park – also considered the tower a sign of “progress”.

“Over time, the consideration of the aesthetic might change,” Owen said. “Think of the Louvre, and the pyramid there. Everyone said it was a travesty at first, an affront to history, and now you just accept it for what it is.”

Unfortunately for pedestrians fond of looking above street-level, “progress” has become synonymous with bland skyscrapers that visually represent the ever-widening gap between the ultra-rich and the rest of us. A scourge upon the skyline – unless, perhaps, you’re lost heading uptown and need an unmissable landmark to reorient your path.