Innovation & Design

Has NYC's Development Agenda Stalled?


A year ago, the city was poised to embark on $12 billion of new development. Now? Not so much. A look at the status of some of the largest projects

For New York City, April is the cruelest month. Just one year ago it was poised to embark on $12 billion worth of eye-catching new development centered on mass transit hubs, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled a 127-point plan to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent while adding a million new residents by 2030. A lot has happened since then.

Autumn jitters over the sub-prime mortgage market snowballed during the winter into talk of a full-blown recession, making it difficult for private developers—which the city and state rely on to help make its massive developments possible—to secure financing. Then, in March, political momentum for many of the projects faltered after New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was forced to resign amid a prostitution scandal.

And, just this week, the state legislature refused to vote on creating a congestion charge for drivers entering Manhattan, passing up more than $350 million in federal funds for transportation improvements—a significant part of Bloomberg's environmental agenda. The Yankees and Mets just took to the field, but New York City's urban design agenda seems stuck in a rain delay. Here's a look at the status of some of the largest projects.

Atlantic Yards: Developer Bruce Ratner hired Frank Gehry, in 2003, to masterplan a basketball arena and 17-tower district of retail, offices, and residences on 22 acres surrounding Brooklyn's transit hub. It convinced the city and state to use eminent-domain, while neighbors sued—unsuccessfully, so far—to scale back plans. But Ratner's inability to find an anchor office tenant for the development's signature tower, which Gehry dubbed "Miss Brooklyn," now threatens to delay construction by years. "We are committed to building the whole thing, it just might take a little longer than anticipated," says spokesperson Lorin Riegelhaupt, projecting an arena and residential tower by late 2010, and another residential building soon after. To help Ratner find an anchor tenant for Miss Brooklyn, which had once targeted a 2010 opening, Gehry has sent a signed letter and sketch to a dozen or so CEOs, hoping to persuade them to relocate headquarters there.

5 World Trade Center: JPMorgan Chase promised, in 2007, to build a Kohn Pedersen Fox-designed headquarters for its investment-banking division on the site of 130 Liberty Street, an asbestos-laden building that was heavily damaged on September 11th, 2001. JPMorgan's investment bankers are now set to move into Bear Stearns's tower in midtown—JPMorgan acquired Bear Stearns, the first victim of the credit crisis, in March—leaving the fate of 5 World Trade Center uncertain. In the meantime, crews are continuing to clear 130 Liberty Street. "We're days away from full abatement," says Lower Manhattan Development Corporation spokesman Mike Murphy, predicting that demolition of the building will finish by January 2009. Elsewhere at the World Trade Center site, developer Larry Silverstein began foundation work on several office towers this winter.

Fulton Street Transit Hub: According to Mysore Nagaraja, who until recently headed capital construction for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), just one contractor bid on the job to construct a Grimshaw-designed hub for nine subway lines underneath the Financial District. The offer was for $1 billion, well over the original estimated cost of $750 million. That experience, he said last year, would lead the MTA to redesign future bids in order to get better prices. The MTA has since recalibrated the Fulton Street bid. While it still promises an attractive new station, it refuses to say whether or not the facility will include a glazed oculus that had been the signature element of earlier designs. "Daylight has been an absolute driver," Sir Nicholas Grimshaw said in March, "getting daylight down to the lower level and then just having decent finishes and clarity of where you're going." The MTA promises to release details about the project this year.

Hudson Yards: Five months after five different teams of developers and architects unveiled their schemes for developing Hudson Yards, to be located over a 26-acre rail yard fronting the Hudson River, in March the MTA chose developer Tishman Speyer's $1 billion bid for a 99-year-lease (with several options to buy and sell). The site, known as Hudson Yards, represents Manhattan's largest and last remaining undeveloped area. Tishman Speyer's master plan, by Murphy/Jahn and Peter Walker Landscape Architects, had been widely panned by the press since it was unveiled. During the March 29 announcement that his bid had won, company chairman Jerry Speyer said that the design could end up changing as the site evolves. The developer has committed $2 billion to build a platform over the rail yards' eastern portion, but everything else—including the timely expansion of subway service to the area—depends on an unstable economy. Tishman Speyer must also persuade the city to rezone portions of the site to allow taller, denser towers.

Jacob K. Javits Center: Lord Richard Rogers signed on with the state in 2005 to expand the city's riverfront convention center, originally designed by I.M. Pei, located north of Hudson Yards. The project stalled during the last years of George Pataki's governorship, as the original $1.4 billion cost projection proved unrealistic. Spitzer, Pataki's successor, declared that the budget was at least $1 billion short and scrapped the expansion in favor of an onsite renovation that would cost under $200 million. His replacement, David Paterson, has not yet signaled his intentions. Mayor Bloomberg, meanwhile, mentioned in February that exploration of other sites closer to the city's airports could make better sense for the state.

Moynihan Station: During the 1990s, New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan proposed that federal, state, and local authorities make a joint effort to replace Pennsylvania Station, a subterranean hub dating to the 1960s, with a soaring new station inside a Beaux Arts post office across the street, designed by McKim, Meade & White, who created the original, oft-mourned demolished station. Since then, the project has taken on the late statesman's name but none of his enthusiasm. Its most recent iteration would have partially financed infrastructure improvements by allowing private developers Vornado and The Related Companies to construct 7 million square feet of office space nearby, and by moving Madison Square Garden into the post office along with the new rail hub. Spitzer had started cramming to shore up $2 billion in crucial funding—but when he departed, momentum did, too. The Garden's owners announced on March 28 that they were breaking off talks to join the plan and would instead renovate the current arena. New York Senator Charles Schumer is now urging the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which holds $2 billion in assets for an unspecified regional project, to take the lead in negotiations.

World Trade Center PATH Station: Santiago Calatrava earned acclaim in 2004 for imagining an avian form for the lower Manhattan station of a commuter rail line that connects the city to New Jersey. After costs threatened to exceed a budgeted $2.2 billion, in February 2007 the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey began a value-engineering study. Agency spokesperson Steve Coleman says it will be finished "soon" and that it will recommend to hold costs as close to the budget as the design allows—which might mean the station gets smaller. The project should open in 2011, Coleman adds, close to its original schedule.


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