The Bloomberg Administration is arguably one of the most pro-development governments in city history. Since he took office, the Mayor has used city agencies to unleash the forces of New York real estate while also steering those forces to meet goals for a cleaner, greener, and more equitable city. PlaNYC, the catch-all name for the Mayor’s bundle of 132 sustainability initiatives, creates a framework for over 25 city agencies to collaborate on a vast array of projects, from the new East River Ferry service to a $187 million investment in green infrastructure. While some programs such as MillionTreesNYC, are making streets leafier one tree at a time, many of the Mayor’s initiatives have reshaped the city in profound ways. As the administration counts down its remaining days in office, AN checks in with the individual agencies whose projects have had the most impact on development in the city.
By Alan G. Brake, Molly Heintz, Julie V. Iovine, Branden Klayko, Nicholas Miller, and Tom Stoelker.
New York City Economic Development Corporation
The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) is not a city agency at all but a non-profit with a mission to spur local development, but the Mayor appoints seven members of the organization’s board of directors, including the chairperson.
The NYCEDC, which has grown from a staff of 200 to over 400 during Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor, has its hand in hundreds of projects across the city. “Our goal has been to diversify development across five boroughs,” said NYCEDC President Seth Pinsky. And just because Bloomberg’s term is coming to a close, don’t think things are winding down. The Applied Sciences campus on Roosevelt Island is just getting underway and, as of June, the city had acquired 95 percent of the land required to move forward with Willets Point, a five million square foot development that includes the remediation of a contaminated site.
courtesy NYCEDC; HPD
Major Initiatives: According to NYCEDC, the Waterfront Vision and Enhancement Strategy (WAVES) Initiative is a “sustainable blueprint for realizing New York as a premier waterfront city.” Under the umbrella of the initiative are 130 projects across more than 500 miles of city coastline. Twelve city agencies are involved along with investment of $3 billion over the next three years.
The City’s Coney Island Revitalization Plan calls for a mixed-use neighborhood with 5,000 new units of housing plus retail, an effort the city predicts will generate 25,000 construction jobs and 6,000 permanent jobs.
The South Bronx Initiative was launched by the Mayor in 2006 to create a strategic plan to support private investment, development, and infrastructure planning in that area. Working with HPD, NYCEDC developed retail corridors that would support new housing.
NYEDC has also increased outreach to communities impacted by its projects. The State says too much, recently citing EDC for playing “a behind-the-scenes role in the lobbying activities” on behalf of Willets Point and Coney Island developments.
Status: The statistics on WAVES initiatives are detailed: 34 projects completed; 71 projects on schedule; 14 projects with delays; 5 projects reconsidered; 1 project not yet started. Projects include New Stapleton Waterfront, a seven-acre development on the site of the former Navy Homeport in Staten Island, featuring 900 rental units, retail, and a waterfront esplanade. “The RFP was issued in late 2007, then the financial crisis hit causing us to lose all the original respondents. But we managed to persevere. We found a new developer, Ironstate Development of Hoboken, broke the projects into phases, and rejiggered some of the site uses,” said Pinsky.
At Coney Island, before construction can start, the proper infrastructure has to be in place—namely sewers. “A lot of the areas had never had substantial development, and in order to build housing and retail, you need to have adequate infrastructure,” said Pinsky. As part of the Coney Island plan, the City is putting $150 million into infrastructure alone.
Impact: “There used to be vacant lots in the South Bronx, and now there’s density, a hustle and bustle. I wish that EDC and HPD would work together more to do mixed-used projects—that’s the type of synergy we need.”
Magnus Magnusson, Magnusson Architects
New York City Department of City Planning
Major Initiatives: Under the Bloomberg Administration, the Department of City Planning has been more active than at anytime since the days of the Lindsay Administration’s vaunted City Planning Commission. Since 2002, 40 percent of the city has been rezoned (115 rezonings covering more than 10,300 blocks). Under the direction of Commissioner Amanda Burden, the department has adapted for the 21st century many of the initiatives first conceived under Lindsay, including large-scale mixed-use developments such as Hudson Yards (with customized zoning and financing mechanisms for infrastructure improvements) and Willets Point while amplifying community involvement through intensive public-private collaborations—the High Line, South Street Seaport—and enabling coordinated efforts across agencies in order to address sustainability goals and open space and streetscape improvements. In Greenpoint/ Williamsburg, planning partnered with HPD to structure a new Inclusionary Housing Program along the waterfront, while collaborating with the Parks Department to ensure that the new two-mile waterfront esplanade would remain fully accessible to the public.
But it will most likely be the attention to detail that will be remembered most about Burden’s reign, from the creative zoning encouraging cultural uses on 125th Street to the bar-style balustrades along the East River Waterfront Esplanade.
Status: Subject to major rezonings, some neighborhoods are already reaping the hoped–for rewards although not always as originally envisioned. A 2004 rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn to transform it into a major business hub has been slow to take off, even as it has triggered a residential boom—26 new buildings; 5,200 units. This summer, the emergence of the Brooklyn Tech Triangle, New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress campus, and MakerBot’s move to MetroTech are adding some momentum. The 2005 rezoning of the Greenpoint /Williamsburg waterfronts has added fuel to the ascendance of the Brooklyn waterfront, while rezonings of Bedford Stuyvesant North, West Harlem and the South Bronx will inevitably take much longer to catch on.
Attention is currently focused on a big final push to rezone East Midtown and redirect development towards the East Side triggering changes with potentially more impact on the core skyline than anything along the waterfronts.
Impact: “Mayor Bloomberg restructured city government by having agencies responsible for land use and economic development report to a single Deputy Mayor. Strong leadership at City Hall has coordinated multiple Mayoral agencies, not just those concerned with economic development, to help shape and realize our ambitious rezoning initiatives. It has been through the coordinated and directed efforts of multiple agencies that we have been able to achieve adoption and ensure implementation of our ambitious plans.”
Commissioner Amanda Burden, Department of City Planning
New York City Department of Parks and Recreation
Major Initiatives: New York City comprises 29,000 acres of parkland. Over the past decade, the Bloomberg Administration has added more than 730 acres. While Central Park has long been a major economic generator of funds ($656 million in increased tax revenues in 2007 generated by adjacent properties increasing in value by proximity to the park), increasing riverside accessibility at Greenpoint and Williamsburg’s former industrial sites, Hunters Point South, Hunts Point and along the city’s 520 miles of waterfront have become key initiatives of the administration, and the progress is notable. Commissioner Adrian Benepe has made no secret that the administration’s definition of success lies in creative financing with a bedrock of public-private partnerships. The commissioner pointed to the Central Park Conservancy as the great “friends of” model, but hand-in-glove cooperation with City Planning and the Department of Transportation has reshaped waterfront parks and their upland streetscapes by courting development.
Jesper Norgaard; Courtesy Toll Brother
Status: There are 160 active capital projects in the parks department. Of several near-term priorities, three waterfront projects are engaging in public-private developer involvement. In Greenpoint/Williamsburg the city is cobbling together parcels to create public parks linked with privately owned pubic spaces (POPS). A 2005 rezoning required developers to build the POPS at the river’s edge in return for substantial floor area ratio increases. The zoning encouraged Toll Brothers to build Northside Piers, Douglaston to create Williamsburg Edge, and JMH to restore 184 Kent. The 30-acre Hunter’s Point South allowed for park designs by Balsley/Weiss/ Manfredi with Arup and residential towers developed in part by Related and designed by SHoP. In the Bronx, a grass roots riverside cleanup eventually led the Department of Environmental Protection to supply land for Barretto Park.
Impact: “The difference between now and 1979 is that you didn’t have the dozen or so major nonprofits involved, so that I think that will insure that whoever takes over at Parks, maintenance will not be an afterthought.”
Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Department of Parks and Recreation
“Before we bought the Banknote Building we were certainly aware of what had been accomplished at Beretto Point and Hunts Point and saw that as a tangible sign of the city’s commitment to the peninsula. It was a strong symbol that things were happening here.”
Jonathan Denham, co-president of Denham Wolf
Courtesy FXFowle; KPF
New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission
Major Initiatives: Though landmark districts encompass a mere three percent of the city’s landmass, their effects can stretch beyond landmark borders. Developers argue that the districts inhibit growth and preservationists believe they spur it. Under Mayor Bloomberg, the Lamdmarks Commission has been known to allow huge projects within districts, such as the Rudin Managment’s St. Vincent plan, especially when highly contextual. At other times, new buildings are allowed to challenge the status quo, as in Hines’s One Jackson Square, which sits just up the street from St. Vincent’s. To make for a more transparent process, Commissioner Robert Tierney said that new rules will be introduced next year to codify procedures and allow online permitting. But this has not mollified concerns from developers. Two Trees owns more that 2 million square feet within the DUMBO historic district. “People like to live in DUMBO before it was a landmark district,” said Two Trees’ Jed Walentas. “The fact that it’s landmarked just makes it more expensive.”
Status: Pre-Bloomberg, there were 77 historic districts and 9 historic district extensions, encompassing approximately 22,400 properties.
Currently there are 108 historic districts and 18 historic district extensions, encompassing approximately 28,500 properties.
There are 30,000 landmarked sites throughout the city, including 1,316 individual landmarks, 10 scenic landmark sites, and 114 interior landmarks.
Courtesy Two Trees; LPC
Impact: “Yes, it’s a process that requires significant resources and time, but maybe for the developers who are able to work through our process, it’s worth it.”
Chair Robert Tierney, Landmarks Preservation Commission
“There’s a time and a place for landmarking; where it becomes scary is when it becomes an anti-development tool during a hot real estate market.”
Brooklyn developer Jed Walentas
Courtesy DOT; Linda Pollack; Courtesy DOT
New York City Department of Transportation
Major Initiative: Pedestrian Plazas
Status: Recognizing that streets in New York account for 25 percent of the city’s area yet pedestrian amenities were scarce, DOT created Sustainable Streets, a multimodal transportation policy for the city, calling in part for improving streetscapes for pedestrians and cyclists and creating new public spaces from underused roadways in targeted locations such as Times Square, Herald Square, the Flatiron District, and now Vanderbilt Avenue. Also in 2008 and 2009, DOT undertook the Green Light for Midtown program to improve the streetscape along Broadway, created new plazas at Madison Square’s iconic Flatiron Building, and built a ribbon of new public space along a new Broadway Boulevard connecting Herald and Times squares.
In June the study, “If You Build It: The Impact of Street Improvements on Commercial Office Space,” showed how improvements work together to create a backbone along Broadway. Hotels, in particular, are taking advantage of older building stock. In recent years, the Ace Hotel, the NoMad Hotel, and the Flatiron Hotel have all opened in previously overlooked blocks of Broadway; Marriott plans an Edition Hotel in Madison Square’s Clock Tower Building. Astor Place may be the next hot spot. With over eight acres of new pedestrian space planned there, it is the site for one of the first new spec buildings in the past 20 years.
Impact: “Once it was valuable to be right on the park, but now it’s also valuable to be near the park as the pedestrian improvements and bike lanes connect everything together. It’s not just Broadway, but areas around them forming a cohesive whole.”
Janet Liff, a commercial broker in Midtown South
“We have definitely seen vacancies decrease and rents increase. We’ve seen a massive amount of hotel development at the north side of the Flatiron District. In particular, large commercial tenants see these improvements as their front yard. It was the perfect storm of investment in the community.”
Jennifer Brown, Executive Director of the Flatiron 23rd Street Partnership
New York City Department of Housing Preservation & Development
Major Initiative: The New Housing Marketplace Plan calls for the creation and preservation of 165,000 units of affordable housing by 2014.
Status: HPD counts more than 125,000 units towards this goal. By the end of fiscal year 2011, 35% of housing started under the plan was new construction, 65% preservation. The agency has been more successful at preservation of affordable housing than new construction, due in part to the real estate downturn. HPD is currently “getting started on and finishing out” many new construction projects and closing in on construction, according to Deputy Commissioner for Development RuthAnne Vishnauskas. “You will definitely see progress towards getting towards the marquee goal for new construction sites.” Seward Park (now in ULURP) on the Lower East Side and Hunter’s Point South (under construction) in Queens are major new developments that the agency hopes to complete by 2014, each of which will include more than 900 units of affordable housing.
Impact: “New York City is lucky and unique in that we have a very strong for-profit sector that builds affordable housing. That part of the sector never really wanes. There were for-profit developers doing affordable housing even when the economy was low.”
RuthAnne Vishnauskas, Deputy Commissioner for Development
New York City Department of Environmental Protection
Major Initiative: DEP signed a consent agreement with the New York State Department of Environmental Protection (which enforces federal EPA standards) to comply with the federal Clean Water Act standards, improve the health of the city’s waterways, and dramatically reduce the number of combined sewage overflows.
Status: DEP is currently developing Long Term Compliance Plans (LTCP) for ten New York City Waterways as well as a citywide LTCP, the first of which will be completed in 2013 and all of which will be finished by 2017. DEP is also expanding gray and green infrastructure throughout the city—including bioswales, and green and blue roofs—moving from pilot projects to larger scale implementation.
On July 1, DEP mandated a ten-fold increase in the amount of stormwater that must be retained on site for all new construction projects, dramatically reducing stormwater flows. DEP worked with the real estate and development community to create flexible options for retention systems, including pervious surfaces, green and blue roofs, storage tanks, and recycling systems. Cleaning New York’s waterways, from the Gowanus Canal to New Town Creek to the Bronx River, will also open up desirable waterfront sites for redevelopment. Investing in green infrastructure will in general benefit the development community, according to DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland.
Impact: “We spent a lot of time doing outreach to stakeholders, including the real estate community. They wanted more options and more guidance for how to meet the new standards. Green infrastructure improves the social spaces of the block and makes them more desirable. It improves the triple bottom line.”
Commissioner Carter Strickland, Department of Environmental Protection
Courtesy Billybey Company; Branden Klayko / AN
New York City Economic Development Corporation/ Department of Transportation/Private Operators
Major Initiative: East River Ferry Service
Status: A three-year pilot program for East River ferry service connecting rapidly developing sites in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens including Hunter’s Point South and the Williamsburg waterfront launched in June 2011. The public-private partnership is part of Mayor Bloomberg’s Waterfront Vision and Enhancement Strategy (WAVES) calling for sustainable development along New York’s waterways. Initial projections estimating 409,000 annual trips were shattered as over one million rides were logged in just over a year of service. Responding to the popularity, private ferry operator, the BillyBey Ferry Company, began offering local food options on all of its 149-passenger ships and launched larger, 399-passenger boats on weekends.
Impact: “The East River Ferry Service is still in a trial period, but so far it’s exceeded all our expectations.”
EDC spokeswoman Jennifer Friedberg
“The early signs are remarkable in terms of economic vitality. The life that’s been embedded into the neighborhoods along the ferry service is remarkable. At the Edge development in Williamsburg, once ferry service was in place, marketing for the Edge worked much better. I have heard interest from developers in Long Island City on being near the ferry. It’s easy, frequent, steady transportation, especially when the only alternative is the overcrowded 7-line in Queens. Now, we’re looking for a permanent form of subsidy to keep the pilot going. The cost is one third of the subsidy of the average express bus service, so it’s a real bargain.”
Roland Lewis, President of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance
Courtesy Extell; UT Borrower; AKA Partners; Time Equities
Back To Building
MEANWHILE, private development is beginning to rally on its own, whether driven by an economic upswing or the irresistible momentum of the pendulum swinging back into action. Condominiums and tall towers are leading the way, more than a few on 57th Street, propelled apparently by that incomparable shaper of urban form, commercial competition:
105 West 57th Street
432 Park Avenue
250 East 57th Street
250 West 55th Street
International Gem Tower
Hyatt Times Square
One Hudson Yards
99 Washington Street
111 Washington Street
56 Leonard Street
Courtyard & Residence Inn
50 West Street