UN mulling options for temporary space during headquarters renovation

11 May 2005

United Nations officials said today "nothing has been ruled out" in the search for alternatives to house some 5,000 staff during the estimated five-year overhaul of the world body's ailing Headquarters building on Manhattan's East River.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday recommended in a report that the General Assembly accept a $1.2 billion loan offer from the host country United States to implement the Capital Master Plan to refurbish the deteriorating 50-year-old building. Mr. Annan also detailed a range of options under consideration to house UN staff during the renovation, now slated to kick off in 2007.

The playground in the shadow of the UN building at 42nd Street and First Avenue, known as Robert Moses Park, had long been considered the ideal location for such a move. But Mr. Annan noted that use of the space was now in question because New York State authorities did not pass, as had been expected, legislation that would have allowed that part of the project to go forward. The delay means that a new building on the property could now be ready no sooner than 2010 – three years too late by the current timeline.

Speaking at a press briefing, two UN officials confirmed that among the 100 or so locations being considered, only a commercial site in downtown Brooklyn had been found that could accommodate both the required offices and conference space. Another space, with room for offices only, had been found in Manhattan. Neither space was ideal, they said, and the search will continue to find an existing commercial space that can accommodate staff – and particularly conferencing requirements – in Manhattan at the scale required by the UN.

The officials said that while the Organization was examining all options, and had even briefly looked at a site in New Jersey, "We are far from identifying a building." Commuting is a major concern since the majority of UN staff live in Midtown Manhattan, close to the existing building.

And then there are the unique physical and logistical constraints that come with New York City itself – parking, traffic, security to name but a few, they said. Moving the operation overseas, as some news outlets have reported, is also an extremely cost-prohibitive and unlikely option, they added.

Finding the requisite conference space was proving particularly nettlesome in this regard, because the Assembly's annual two-week general debate, which draws Heads of State and government from all over the world each fall, can put 2,000 more people in the building at peak meeting times.

While saying that "nothing has been ruled out," – even separating offices from conferencing services, or constructing a "prefab" conference centre – the officials stressed that the ultimate goal is to house all UN facilities in a contiguous space.

The officials also said that the option of "progressive refurbishing" had been considered, but the building's overall ill-repair effectively ruled out any major construction taking place while staff remained on site.


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