Doubts Over The Vessel’s Safety Remain



The Vessel in Hudson Yards. Photo: Jordan Gonsalves

Just a few months ago, New Yorkers and tourists could capture some of the best views of the city from the Vessel, in Hudson Yards, the 150-foot-tall climbable sculpture with a honeycombed-shaped staircase. But one of the most popular tourist attractions in Midtown now stands empty. It’s been closed since August after the fourth person in two years committed suicide by jumping from the sculpture.

“It seemed like a nice idea until it was covered in blood,” said Carla Fine, who lives in the neighborhood. “They didn’t want to raise the barriers because it would cost them their artistic vision. And now it has cost four lives.”

As the holiday season approaches, it’s unclear if the Vessel will reopen in time as tourists flood the city, which is desperately trying to regain the foot traffic it lost during the pandemic shutdown. Community Board 4, which includes Hudson Yards, wants suicide-prevention building regulations to apply to the Vessel, a safety measure the board had previously raised when the structure was opened in 2019. But residents said Related, the property developer of Hudson Yards, ignored their concerns. Now they are worried that more deaths will occur if the structure is reopened.

After the third suicide in January, Community Board 4 met with a suicide prevention expert who recommended raising the glass barriers to 8 feet and installing nets to catch people. They communicated these recommendations to Related in an open letter.  But neither of these changes were implemented before reopening the Vessel in May. Instead, Related hired more security to watch for distressing activity and charged a $10 admission fee. The community board responded saying, “Putting up this barrier is the only mechanism to truly prevent someone determined to jump.”

“We are pressuring the developer to make changes, but ultimately we cannot enforce them. We are simply an advisory board,” said Jesse Bodine, who serves as district manager of Community Board 4.

According to the New York City Building Code, there aren’t any suicide prevention regulations that buildings must follow. “The height of the guards at the Vessel are up to code,” said Andrew Rudansky, press secretary for the Department of Buildings. “Any property owner who wants to go above and beyond those minimum requirements in the interest of public safety is welcome to do so.”

Earlier this month, the code was updated with over 600 major changes. None of them reflected regulations in response to the four suicides at the Vessel. Rudansky declined to comment on the suicides or any gaps in the code. 

In addition to the distress the structure has brought to the community, Hudson Yards has also been a slow investment for the city. At a price tag of $25 billion, it’s the most expensive private development in American history. The city made big bets on the development, forecasting that Hudson Yards would drive nearly $19 billion or 2.5% of citywide GDP by 2025. The Vessel initially opened to lure tourists and shoppers into the adjacent Hudson Yards Shopping Center. 

According to a report by NYC & Co, New York’s tourism agency, New York aims to bring in 36 million visitors this year — up from the 22 million last year.  The New York State Comptroller’s office reported that the city’s pre-pandemic tourism was at 66 million visitors in 2019, but projects that New York tourism won’t return to those levels until 2025.

With the Vessel closed, along with major construction delays due to the pandemic, and one of its major tenants — Neiman Marcus — closed due to bankruptcy, Hudson Yards faces a precarious holiday season, one of the most important times for tourism revenue in the city. While the opulent stores remain open, the mall is mostly still empty. Its second phase was supposed to include eight new buildings for more residential and office space, as well as a school— all slated to be completed in 2024, according to The New York Times. But Related no longer provides a completion date on its website. 

Hudson Yards and Related did not respond to requests for comment.