Marx Brothers Playground Development at
321 East 96th Street

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:

Number of Units: ~1,100

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.

Rendering of Marx Brothers Playground development, known as 321 East 96th Street, seen from Park Avenue and 96th Street. (Image by George M. Janes & Associates)

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. In July, this coalition received word that oral arguments in our case filed on behalf of Marx Brothers Playground would not be held until December 3, 2018. The project will likely remain halted, allowing New Yorkers to continue making use of this community space throughout the fall.

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.

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. Designate your contribution toward “Marx Brothers Playground” in our online donation portal via NY Charities HERE

Click HERE to send an e-mail encouraging Governor Andrew Cuomo  to fully investigate the alienation of Marx Brothers Playground.

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 resources:
FRIENDS’ testimony to the City Council Parks Committee re: Jointly Operated Playgrounds, September 17, 2018

Action Alert: A Park Near You Is Under Attack (via Municipal Art Society of New York)

Action Alert: Urge the City Council to Protect 268 Small Parks (via 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,” 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 tower,” The 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, 11-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.

Page updated: 09/21/18