Manhattan's 2,500-step Vessel attraction, the soaring centerpiece of the $25 billion Hudson Yards complex, was “meant to be climbed.”
Now, under pressure from the federal government, the complex's developer and the attraction's operator must pay to make the attraction accessible to visitors with disabilities who can't climb the 150-foot-tall structure.
At least one lift is to be installed to settle a claim by the U.S. Justice Department that the Vessel's inaccessibilty violates the 1990 Americans with Disability Act, according to a nine-page, voluntary settlement signed Friday, and announced Monday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
In dispute is whether the Vessel is subject to the act: Related Companies, Hudson Yards' real estate developer, and the Vessel's operator, say the attraction is neither a "public accommodation" nor a "commercial facility." The government says it is both.
Nevertheless, under the settlement, the developer and operator agreed to help design, install and operate the new mechanism.
“It is vital that individuals with disabilities have access to major new tourist attractions in our cities,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division said in a statement, noting the upcoming anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Vessel, which cost $200 million, opened in March on the Far West Side as the featured attraction of the Hudson Yards complex, with offices, apartments, shopping and dining — which Related says is the most expensive real estate project in American history.
The Vessel has 154 “intricately interconnecting flights of stairs — almost 2,500 individual steps and 80 landings,” according to the attraction’s website, which says “the vertical climb offers remarkable views of the city, the river and beyond.”
The website says it’s “a soaring new landmark meant to be climbed.”
Ricki Shmuel, a spokeswoman for Related, said in a statement: "At Vessel, we opened with an elevator enabling all visitors to enjoy multiple levels, including the summit, and are pleased to expand on that with additional lifts that will traverse the top levels further maximizing the experience of this one-of-a-kind sculptural attraction for people with disabilities."
Under the current setup, there is an elevator, but it goes to only three of the attraction's 80 platforms, or landings, all on one side, Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District, said in a statement. Even then, Berman said, during busy times, the elevator sometimes bypasses all but one. The developer and operator dispute the government's claims.
The settlement bans the practice of skipping those elevator stops — by March 1 at the latest.