Empire State Building Challenges New Skyscraper Plans

The Empire State Building may have some competition.

Even before the loss of the World Trade Center, the Empire State Building defined the Manhattan skyline. After 9/11 and destruction of transmitting facilities at the World Trade Center, New York broadcasters moved to the Empire State Building.

This week there were multiple reports that the owners of the Empire State Building are challenging construction of a 1,216-foot skyscraper at 33rd Street and 7th Avenue, located less than a quarter mile away.

While the Empire State Building is higher, much of that extra height is due to the TV and radio mast on top. Matthew Schuerman, in his article Dueling Points of View on Manhattan's New Skyline on WNYC.org points out that the top floor of the ESB is only 34 feet above Vornado's 15 Penn Plaza skyscraper.

Schuerman's article includes some renderings of the Skyline with Vornado's tower, with the renderings from Empire and Vornado quite different in orientation and their depictions of the new building. Vornado's drawing shows the skyscraper at twilight,

"That is a very artful and best possible representation," said owner Anthony Malkin said, in defending the Empire's rendering. "Clearly, we did not choose the best representation. That would not serve our purpose, nor would it serve theirs."

None of the articles that I found discussed the implications of the new tower on existing broadcast operations at Empire. There are TV stations transmitting at high power from antennas on the mooring mast, which is much closer to the height of the proposed 15 Penn Plaza structure.

What impact will this new building have on their signal? Would Vornado consider installing a structure on top of its building to support broadcast antennas?

A 1,200-foot structure could provide competition for Empire. People on the top floor of the 15 Penn Plaza tower will be within a quarter mile of the Empire State Building and close to the main beam of stations transmitting from Empire. While RF power density should be below established maximum permissible exposure levels for humans, what impact will it have on electronic devices?

Don't expect the new skyscraper to appear soon. According to the WNYC.org article, Vornado hasn't found a tenant to rent its tower and is still years away from construction.

Doug Lung

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. As vice president of Broadcast Technology for NBCUniversal Local, H. Douglas Lung leads NBC and Telemundo-owned stations’ RF and transmission affairs, including microwave, radars, satellite uplinks, and FCC technical filings. Beginning his career in 1976 at KSCI in Los Angeles, Lung has nearly 50 years of experience in broadcast television engineering. Beginning in 1985, he led the engineering department for what was to become the Telemundo network and station group, assisting in the design, construction and installation of the company’s broadcast and cable facilities. Other projects include work on the launch of Hawaii’s first UHF TV station, the rollout and testing of the ATSC mobile-handheld standard, and software development related to the incentive auction TV spectrum repack.
A longtime columnist for TV Technology, Doug is also a regular contributor to IEEE Broadcast Technology. He is the recipient of the 2023 NAB Television Engineering Award. He also received a Tech Leadership Award from TV Tech publisher Future plc in 2021 and is a member of the IEEE Broadcast Technology Society and the Society of Broadcast Engineers.