Search results for "New York City Economic Development Corporation"

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Venice on the East River
Juha Uitto / Flickr

Before New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered his second State of the City address, it was widely expected that he would focus the address almost entirely on housing policy. He did speak at length about his ambitious plan to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade. But it was a major transportation policy unveiled near the end of the address that surprised onlookers and made headlines.

“Transportation is central to the mission of providing affordable housing and services—connecting neighborhoods in the five boroughs to New York’s largest job centers,” said the mayor. Building these connections, he continued, could be achieved by taking advantage of the water with a five-borough ferry system.

This system would launch in 2017 with routes that connect Manhattan to Queens, South Brooklyn, and the Rockaways. The following year, ferries would run along Manhattan’s Lower East Side and between Manhattan and Soundview in the Bronx. Another route connecting Coney Island, Staten Island, and the Financial District is still in the planning stages. The administration has said that work is slated to begin this year on the $55 million process of designing and building the system’s docks; the city will also select private ferry operators to run the service. When completed, the ferries will accommodate 4.6 million trips a year, according to the mayor’s office.

The proposed system could launch in 2017 with routes connecting Manhattan to Queens, South Brooklyn, and the Rockaways.
Courtesy Office of the Mayor of New York City

Like many of de Blasio’s urbanism proposals, this one was born under his predecessor. In 2008, Michael Bloomberg worked with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the New York City Economic Development Corporation to create a framework for a citywide ferry network that includes many of the sites seen in de Blasio’s plan. The Bloomberg administration ultimately only moved forward with the East River Ferry. That service launched in 2011 as a pilot program and has been providing service between Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Long Island City for $4 a ride ever since. The ferry has been hugely popular, but still requires a significant subsidy—$2.22 per trip, according to a 2013 study commissioned by the EDC. (For comparison, there is a $0.62 subsidy for each subway ride.)

The de Blasio administration has said the new system would require between $10 million and $20 million in annual subsidies and that a ferry ride would cost as much as taking the subway or bus. Critics of the mayor’s plan say that the city’s money would be better spent on other transit programs like bus rapid transit that could reach lower-income New Yorkers who do not live near the water. (In his State of the City address, Mayor de Blasio also pledged to complete an additional 13 BRT lines.)

Creating and sustaining a viable city-wide ferry system—even with considerable subsidies baked in—will not be easy to pull off, said Jeff Zupan, a senior fellow at the Regional Planning Association who has been studying New York City ferries for decades. In that time, he has seen plenty of ferry attempts fail. Just last fall, the de Blasio administration discontinued ferry service to the Rockaways that was set up after Superstorm Sandy because it was costing the city about $30 a passenger.

Zupan is skeptical that the new Rockaway iteration—or any of de Blasio’s planned routes for that matter—will fare much better. To be successful, he explained, ferries must provide a quick and efficient ride between people’s home and office. This is most feasible when ferries run between densely populated areas (think Hoboken to Lower Manhattan) where it is easy to get to and from a dock and then onto a final destination. Short distances also make matters easier because riders are enticed with a faster trip and ferry operators can run fewer boats while still maintaining frequent and reliable service. Many of de Blasio’s proposed routes do not have this built-in advantage.

“They are not all going to be dogs,” said Zupan referring to de Blaiso’s planned routes, “but they do not have all the features you want to look for. If they had all the features, these would have been done long ago because these ideas have been around for a long time.”

But Zupan noted that the resurgent waterfront, with apartment towers sprouting up one after the other, has buoyed the mayor’s plan. The glossy buildings may offer great views, but are typically a hike from transit options. Citywide ferries could be a major boon to developers already eager to build near the water. The mayor’s office did not respond to AN’s question about whether it would ask developers to contribute funds for the ferry system.

Ultimately, the mayor’s five-borough plan is a kit of parts with only some routes seeming positioned to succeed. But what will happen to some, or all, of the ferries cannot be known until the boats hit the water. “You can never really know until you try it,” said Zupan.

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Save the date! Here's your first sneak peek of NYCxDESIGN 2015
We might be in the thick of winter, but planning is already underway for the third annual NYCxDESIGN coming up in the Spring. On Thursday morning, organizers—NYC & Company and the NYC Economic Development Corporation—invited members of the design community, fittingly, to the newly opened and revamped Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum to kick off the week-long, citywide design festivities taking place May 8–19. The program offers a platform to more than 40,000 designers and 3,900 design firms practicing in the city to showcase their work. Over the course of 12 days, a variety of exhibitions, installations, panel discussions, and open studios will be held in venues throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. Six returning events anchor the program, including: BKLYN DESIGNS (May 8–10), WantedDesign Brooklyn (May 1–19), Collective Design (May 13–17), Frieze Art Fair (May 14–17), WantedDesign Manhattan (May 15–18), and ICFF (May 16–19). The opening night of BKLYN Designs will be the official launch of NYCxDESIGN. If last year's impressive turnout of 2,000-plus listings at 181 venues is telling, then May 2015 will be a busy one for those in the design sector.
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MoMA's Midtown Monotony
Paul Gunther

Mission accomplished: The mid-town brownstone block where Alfred Barr and his fellow Modernist pioneers placed their Museum of Modern Art as America’s definitive destination for the Euro-centric discovery, interpretation, and advocacy of the Western world’s most progressive and putatively inevitable artistic trajectory will soon complete its path to final, filled-in form.

It began officially when the townhouse leased from John D. Rockefeller in 1932 was demolished for the first purpose-built International style MoMA headquarters by Goodwin and Stone, standing in breathtaking contrast to the 19th century context of residential masonry facades on the surrounding lots. It was precisely this bold juxtaposition that told the dynamic story best. And with it, the Museum set in motion its enduring dual role as both museum and real estate developer.

Manhattan’s mid-blocks as placeholders of lower density and contrasting styles in a joyful discordance of design history and shifting accommodation of existing fabric to contemporary needs is headed towards extinction, excepting designated landmarks sandwiched amid the leapfrogging glass curtain walls scraping at a disappearing sky. This unfolds despite Section 81-00 in the “General Purposes” section of New York’s Zoning Code (as approved and enforced by the City Planning Commission) calling for “the historic pattern of relatively low building bulk in mid-block locations, compared to avenue frontages.” Such good intentions yield to overriding development interests amid what seems yet another ceaseless real estate boom; landmark designation holds as the sole buffer to demolition, and the street wall uniformity following it, and is labeled therefore as an impediment to change. “Amber” (as in “fixed”) is just another word for nothing else to lose.


Somehow it seems fitting that with the exception of a few narrow mid-blocks, as between Madison to Park, where two midcentury Avenue-fronted lots accommodated new towers touching in the middle as of right, Barr’s bold 53rd Street launch pad signals the final victory of Modernism’s 80-year old call for what was back then a radical paradigm of new form.

MoMA president Glenn Lowry as much as said so back on April 10, 2013, when first announcing the plan to demolish Tod Williams Billie Tsien’s 12-year old American Folk Art Museum: “The building’s design does not fit our plans because the opaque facade is not in keeping with the glass aesthetic of the rest of the building…” This is official modernism writ large as proscribed four generations beforehand and apparently non-negotiable across time. When contemporary classicists appeal for comparable design deference, they are generally labeled reactionary.

The block is now maxed out and done. It is not easy to demolish 50+ story buildings. To refurbish or redefine interiors like downtown’s residential conversions of old corporate towers is possible, even likely, but by and large the formal exterior envelope is now sealed excepting perhaps some occasional decorative refreshment (as usually regretted eventually when styles shift and the original integrity seems right after all).

This final transformation is made official at two sites: one nearing completion, the other finally set to start with the financing in place. The Folk Art Museum demolition is under way, starting with facade removal for placement in storage as a trace of a lost landmark, like the eagles from the parapet of the old Penn Station pulled from a New Jersey landfill years after its destruction.


That nearing completion is the Enrique Norten TEN Arqitectos 46-story flagship Baccarrat Hotels and Resorts replacing as it did Aymar Embury II’s restrained classically-tinged yet modernist 1955 limestone-clad Donnell Library Center. The new library, housed at street level and subterranean as is so often the trade off on such zoning deals, is reduced in size from 97,000 square feet to just 28,000, including space-consuming “bleacher steps” eerily reminiscent of Koolhaus’s Soho Prada. Just when public library usage surges to unprecedented demand, Norten’s clients have set aside one third the total size for this oddity and future users can only hope that these bleacher steps have some sort of relevance to intended function as opposed to a spot for noisy and noisome crowd congregation.

The city sold the old five-story Donnell for a measly $39 million, which is about one half the price of the new luxury hotel/condo’s penthouse sale price alone. While it is unfair to yet judge the design result on its own merit, its role in “completing” the block’s south side facade is fact. It fills it in with the side street facade of Caron and Lundin’s 1957 666 Fifth Avenue to the east; to the west is Kevin Roche’s 1986 red granite–clad pharaonic Post Modern EF Hutton Building and the fabled CBS Black Rock tower of Eero Saarinen and Florence Knoll, completed in 1965 and daring to veer from high Miesian orthodoxy with emphasis on unbroken, order-free vertical columns instead of a glass curtain wall.

Meanwhile, the urban infill at its block-wide maximum on the northern street wall is the last piece, namely the MOMA-hatched real estate deal leading to what will open in 2018 as Jean Nouvel’s Tower Verre. It will be an 82-story luxury residential tower rising to 1,050 feet after the City Planning Commission knocked off a submitted 200 feet more despite ambiguous authority to do so as back then (prior to approval of the 57th Street mother lode of needle towers) it was deemed unseemly to equal the height of the Empire State building envelop and even eclipse that of the Chrysler. Times change, values change when it comes to the sky and the impact on infrastructure and existing communities alike. Three street level floors designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro will again expand MoMA’s gallery and programming space, including easy, transparent access into the Sculpture Garden with the rest of the tower reserved for the world’s wealthiest, who will thus sadly most likely never actually reside there.

So except for MOMA’s sequential architectural iterations and the abutting St. Thomas Episcopal Church the inn is full.

This glimpse of midtown’s now inevitable future began in part in the 1970s, when the Museum set out successfully to secure zoning permission for the revenue-generating and facility expanding mid-block tower on land it owned by drawing on the air rights of the Philip Johnson-designed Sculpture Garden. This seminal exception to the planning tenet mixing the density of Avenue vs. side streets that characterized midtown’s archetypal form and function set a precedent. It was granted the variance despite vociferous objection from local neighborhood and civic organizations alike, presciently knowing that that act alone spelled the end to the Manhattan plan as evolved. Excepting landmarks and designated historic districts, all midblock lots would be replaced eventually by a seamless continuity of the Avenue street fronts in what would be finally a colossal uniform cube of street wall verticality.

That path-breaking commission went to Cesar Pelli Associates, who delivered the 52-story Museum Tower at 15 West 53rd Street in 1984, along with a coat checking friendly atrium, expanded restaurant and gift stores, and new gallery spaces of still conventional scale.

The Pelli commission led a generation later to another major overhaul and expansion, this time built largely with capital contributions and the taxpayers of New York City. The demolition of all remaining 53rd Street brownstones and the Dorset Hotel behind it on 54th Street heralded Yoshiro Taniguchi/Kohn Pederson Fox’s 2004 six-story David and Peggy Rockefeller Building, eight-story Lewis and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building, and tucked in 16-story Museum Office Building, all framing a refurbished Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden. Following its completion was the sale of the remaining empty lots to the Hines Corporation for $125 million and then, finally, the purchase of the imperiled Folk Art Museum lot, completing the Tower Verre footprint.

The initial variance became the rule and today it’s inexorable as this finished block offers surest sign. Visit and see the future of zoning in Manhattan, and likely soon beyond.

To announce the end of history in this way in any social, economic, or cultural context is a fool’s errand as best demonstrated by what is now a fairy tale prophecy of political scientist Francis Fukuyama in his utopian, post-perestroika 1992 book, The End of History and The Last Man.

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human governance.

So much for that prediction, as shown with such brutality in the last weeks of global unrest deconstructing what seemed irrevocable. It turns out there is no end of change whether progressive or regressive and that history keeps unfolding in a constant, tautological, and occasionally violent way.

Just as such, wishful thinking and its inherent delusion fade, it is equally foolish in the fullness of time to declare a place and its architecture or other hands of man to be complete. Change is constant whether going forward or other times back; user needs, expectations, and capabilities adapt, including the ample supply of cheap financing, which underpins much of our present bounty.

At the same time, however, are there limits to growth? It is a question of particular currency in the absence of any commensurate will or allocation of resources to expand the public networks of transportation, communications, and essential services that any increased density demands. The failure to do so imperils the social contract on which all else relies.

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Landmarks Preservation Commission approves 45-acre senior housing development in Staten Island
Staten Island’s abandoned, graffiti-covered, New York Farm Colony is poised to become “Landmark Colony”—a mixed-use development with retail and 350 units of senior housing. Curbed reported that plans for the 45-acre project were unanimously approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) after updated designs were unveiled by Vengoechea + Boyland Architecture late last month. The  sprawling site has been abandoned for decades, but has a fascinating history that dates back hundreds of years. "Back in the day, the New York City Farm Colony was really a poor farm. That meant an able-bodied indigent could live there in exchange for their labor," explained Curbed. "The sprawling site also housed rehabilitation facilities for the needy. The site's use as a farm dates back to the 1600s, but the County of Richmond look over operations in 1830. It was managed by the consolidated city government until 1975, when the last residents were moved to Seaview Hospital." Based on a site plan presented to the LPC, the development team would stabilize and reuse five historic structures, dismantle four and reuse their parts, remove one, and stabilize another. Included in the plan is a network of open spaces and parks designed by Nancy Owens Studio. While the overall plan was approved by the Commission, some members weren't thrilled with the new Flats Buildings (pictured below) which was described as "generic." That part of the project will get updated and could be brought back before the Commission. The project is being developed by NFC Associates and the New York City Economic Development Corporation.
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Real Change for a Changing Climate
(Flickr / Climate Action Network International)

As we worked to finish our annual environmental issue, nearly 400,000 people marched through Midtown Manhattan to demand political action to address climate change. It was the largest gathering ever dedicated to the issue. Thousands of additional events took place around the world to echo the message that decisive action on climate change is urgently needed. Attending the march, the atmosphere was festive and empowering. The sense was that change is not only possible, but that it is long overdue. For New Yorkers the issue has become personal. The memories of Hurricane Sandy remain fresh in our minds.

Over the course of his administration, President Obama has announced strong new regulations for power plants, raised mileage standards for cars and trucks, and invested in alternative energy through the Recovery Act. In mid September, the administration announced steep voluntary cuts in hydrofluorocarbons—mostly used in air conditioning and refrigeration—by working with large corporations. He has arguably done more to address climate change than any other president, all in the face of an obstructionist Congress and the Republicans’ cynical, anti-science agenda. And yet these measures are not nearly enough to curb our emissions, let alone compensate for rising emission rates in the developing world.

A recent study suggests that drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions is not only possible, but will save money in the long run. According to the New Climate Economy Report 2014, “the structural and technological changes unfolding in the global economy, combined with multiple opportunities to improve economic efficiency, now make it possible to achieve better growth and better climate outcomes.

The report puts urbanization at the center of the fight to reduce emissions. The sprawling development pattern in the U.S. wastes money and resources, according to the report: “New modeling for this report shows that the incremental external costs of sprawl are about $400 billion per year, due to increased costs of providing public services, higher capital requirements for infrastructure, lower overall resource productivity, and accident and pollution.” Addressing sprawl will be the first line of offense in reversing our outsized emissions in an economically viable way.

Climate change is one area where the architecture/design/urbanism communities have taken the lead. The professions can and must do much more. In already dense areas, like New York, improving the efficiency of our buildings has the greatest potential to reduce our already modest (by U.S. standards) emissions. On the day of the People’s Climate March, Mayor de Blasio announced a plan to cut the city’s emissions by 80 percent over 2005 levels by 2050. Nearly three quarters of the city’s greenhouse gases can be traced to its buildings. As a first step, the mayor created a plan to upgrade 3,000 city owned buildings, and pledged to work with the private sector in incentivize efficiency upgrades. Though these upgrades will come with upfront costs, the city estimates a savings of $1.4 billion in energy costs by 2025.

The New York Chapter has quickly moved to embrace the Mayor’s plan, releasing the following statement: “The American Institute of Architects New York Chapter (AIANY) commends the mayor’s pledge to drastically reduce the City’s greenhouse gas emissions by focusing on building design. AIANY has long advocated for local laws and code changes that support energy conservation. Upgrades to public buildings, including housing, that concentrate on renewable energy sources and innovative design solutions, will benefit all New York City residents and set a powerful example for the private sector and the rest of the world. New York’s architects stand ready to help carry out this work.”

We couldn’t agree more. 

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Mall for All
Courtesy NYC Economic Development Corp.

A New York State Supreme Court justice has given the green light to a controversial 1.4-million-square-foot shopping mall and entertainment center slated to rise on public parkland next to Citi Field in Queens. The “Willets Point West” development sits within Flushing Meadows–Corona Park and is currently being used as a parking lot for Mets fans. Opponents of the project tried to block it in court on the grounds that giving away public land for private development would require state approval. In mid-August, justice Manuel Mendez rejected that argument, writing in his ruling that developing a shopping mall served the “public purpose of improving trade or commerce.”

Following the decision, the project’s developer—the Queens Development Group (a joint venture between Sterling Equities and the Related Companies)—and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) vowed to push forward with their plans. A spokesperson for the EDC told AN, “We are pleased with the decision affirming the plan to redevelop the Willets Point area.” He added that the project is expected to break ground once the site is fully acquired and remediation work is completed. Meanwhile, the plaintiffs in the case have vowed to appeal.

Willets Point West is only one piece of the $3 billion, 62 acre Willets Point development. It is slated to rise on public land currently used as a parking lot for the New York Mets ballpark, Citi Field.

The creation of “Willets Points West” only represents a piece of the $3 billion, 62-acre redevelopment surrounding Citi Field. The fight to develop this land dates back through many mayoral administrations, but was ultimately advanced in the final months of the Bloomberg years. In 2013, the New York City Council gave the plan its blessing after the development team pledged to write a multi-million dollar check to the Flushing Meadows–Corona Park Alliance, create a rooftop farm for the mall, and provide 300 units of affordable housing in the surrounding district.

As “Willets Point West” moves forward, there are plans in the pipeline to turn the gritty, industrial acres behind the Mets’ right field into a mixed-use development. To kick-start the transformation, the city sold 23 acres of Willets Point to the Queens Development Group for one dollar.

For the actual development to start, though, the low-income, largely immigrant population who works at the auto body shops in what is known as the “Iron Triangle,” must be encouraged to move elsewhere. The city has started writing checks to motivate the roughly 130 small businesses to relocate. As of this writing, there are about 30 businesses left on the site.

The future of the displaced small businesses is unknown, which is why this piece of the redevelopment has been the most controversial. In March, Tom Angotti, a professor at Hunter College, told the Wall Street Journal, “When they move, they don’t just take their clientele with them—they have to start all over again. It’s extremely risky for them.”

According to the EDC, the first phase of the project includes 2,500 residential units (875 of which are affordable), as well as community facilities, a school, a hotel, retail, parking, and more than six acres of open space.

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The Missing Link
Courtesy AECOM

For years there has been an inconvenient gap in the East River Esplanade between East 37th and East 60th streets, disrupting what could be a contiguous promenade experience along the waterfront. The gap is there because of two major built projects that cause the north section to be disjointed from the south section. The first is FDR Drive, the brainchild of Robert Moses who gave preferential treatment to vehicular traffic along the East River. The second is the United Nations headquarters, an iconic Modernist building complex that trumps local land use in the interest of global alliances. Despite these two obstacles, AECOM has come up with a solution to bridge the gap on the East River Esplanade.

The conceptual design work that AECOM has prepared for the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) reveals that there will be a new piece of infrastructure dedicated to pedestrian and bicycle circulation decking over the water adjacent to the FDR Drive. The primary objective is to connect the north and south portions of the Esplanade, but the design team is using the opportunity to introduce other amenities as well.


Gonzalo Cruz, a creative design director at AECOM and project manager for the Esplanade project, explained that the design seeks to develop easily accessible connections to the street grid, provide three programmatic nodes, and establish a “ribbon” of features to integrate the mile-long project as one cohesive design. Between 38th and 41st streets there is a recreation node designed for active uses such as children’s play areas and fitness equipment. At 48th Street there is a gathering node for passive recreation with an amphitheater seating area, shade trees, and a variety of seating options, including a bar area with benches and small gathering spaces. And at 53rd Street there is an environmental education node with educational signage and ecological plantings.


Cruz pointed out that an increasing number of people want to ride bicycles in New York, either for recreation or commuting, therefore the city needs to build the infrastructure to facilitate that objective. The expanded esplanade will feature a bike lane separated from the pedestrian walkway to streamline north-south movement along the East Side of Manhattan.


Developing ideas for the project has been a true collaborative effort, said Cruz. AECOM worked with various city agencies and community groups to determine how to deal with access, programming, and logistics. Internally, AECOM brought together their landscape design and planning team with the environmental design and marine engineering teams to solve the complex design problem.

The goal is to design a project that benefits the local community, as well as the city at large, and Cruz believes that they have been successful thus far with the conceptual design. Cali Williams, vice president of EDC, agrees. “We’re proud of the open engagement process that sought and subsequently applied the best ideas from both the design team and local community to achieve the highest standards of form and function,” said Williams.

There is no set timeline to develop the project yet, but planning is underway. For those of us who long for the landscape-oriented transformation of the New York City waterfront, this project cannot come soon enough.

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The Golden Ticket
Denver's expanded Union Station.
robert polidori

In cities around the U.S., train stations are being converted to multi-modal transit hubs anchoring impressive new neighborhoods, and private developers are cashing in. John Gendall rides the rails to skyrocketing real estate prices.

One of great rites of passage for most Americans, from baby boomers to Generation Y, was the trip, often on a sixteenth birthday, to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get the first driver’s license. But research from automotive data company Polk shows the share of car purchases made by young adults (ages 18–34) plummeted by 30 percent between 2007 and 2011, while the share for adults aged 35–44 fell by 25 percent. Younger Americans, it would seem, are not as eager to get licensed up at the soonest opportunity. Not only has this sent carmakers scrambling to render the driver’s seat with all the trappings of a smartphone—the commodity that young adults actually do covet—but it has also instigated a series of land use trends that are reshaping American cities, and train stations are taking center stage.

“Teenagers and young adults aren’t even getting driver’s licenses,” said Amtrak chief of corridor development Bob LaCroix, “These trends are making our stations very interesting to the real estate community.” ‘Interesting’ would be one way to put it. ‘Potentially very lucrative’ would be another.

Opened this summer, Denver’s revitalized Union Station has stimulated urban development in its surrounding areas as well as along the transit lines that feed into it. Real estate prices near the station have jumped from around $435 per square foot to $600 per square foot.
robert polidori

New Yorkers will be familiar with this effect from Hudson Yards and Atlantic Yards, where the Related Companies and Forest City Ratner are, respectively, developing on the formerly uncovered rail yards of Penn Station, in Midtown, and Atlantic Terminal, in Brooklyn. But in cities across the country—Denver, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, Miami, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles—developers and municipalities are making serious investment in transit and transit-oriented develompents. “Every major metro area in the country, really, is doing a pretty substantial build out of its transit systems,” said Rachel MacCleery, Senior Vice President at the Urban Land Institute (ULI).

Since developing suburbs by the swath is becoming less tenable for economic and environmental reasons, municipalities and developers are more tactically considering land use within city centers. In Philadelphia, for example, the main train station, 30th Street Station (which happens to be the third busiest station in Amtrak’s system) is ringed with significant real estate anchors: the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, and, just across the Schuylkill River, City Hall, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Center City district. Though the station itself is an impressive historic structure and though it has this orbit of vibrant neighborhoods, its immediate context leaves something to be desired. One local architect, who wished to remain unnamed, called it “the hole in the middle of the donut.” Amtrak, which owns the station and over 80 acres of rail yards, including—and this is important—the air rights over them, is teaming up with neighbors Drexel University and Brandywine Realty Trust to develop a comprehensive master plan for the station and its context. To do this, Amtrak tapped SOM, Parsons Brinckerhoff, OLIN, and HR&A Advisors in May 2014 to undertake the two-year planning process.

Plan for a new Los Angeles Union Station.
Courtesy Gruen Associates

Real estate professionals and transportation advocates point to Washington DC’s NoMa district as a particularly compelling precedent. Close to Union Station, the area, once dominated by parking lots and warehouses, had long suffered from high vacancy rates. In 2004, though, an infill transit stop was added to the Washington Metro commuter rail line, instigating a surge of real estate activity. Now, Washington is looking to build on that success with a redevelopment of its Union Station. Working with the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, the U.S. Department of Transportation, Maryland Transit Administration, Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Amtrak engaged Parsons Brinckerhoff and HOK to author a 15-to-20-year master plan that will triple the passenger capacity in the station, double the train service, and plan for real estate development on and around the station.

For Washington D.C.’s Union Station, Amtrak hired Parsons Brinckerhoff and HOK to author a master plan that will tripple passenger capacity, double train service, and plan for real estate development around the station.
courtesy hok

The Washington project highlights one of the challenges of working with historic train stations in urban contexts: they come with what LaCroix called “serious constraints.” Unlike the suburbs, which, for the most part, can be transformed into buildable lots with the sweep of an earthmover, train stations typically demand greater finesse. “There tends to be more complexity to transit-related developments,” said Eric Rothman, president and transportation expert at HR&A Advisors. “There are always very important operational concerns.” As a simple case-in-point, LaCroix explained, “we can’t expand south because there is a little something called the U.S. Capitol.” Each of the other cardinal directions come with their own inviolable obstacles, so the Parsons Brinckerhoff/HOK plan goes below grade, but, LaCroix is quick to point out, “in an elegant way—not a Penn Station way.”

courtesy hok

In Seattle, where ZGF Architects completed a restoration of King Street Station in 2013, Daniels Real Estate is undertaking the so-called North Lot Development, a four-acre, 1.5 million-square-foot mixed-use project directly adjacent to the station. Though he identified the transit hub as the catalyst for the project, Daniels president Kevin Daniels conceded, “working with transit is a challenge,” citing the intricacies of moving people through infrastructure, between heavy rail and light rail, rail and bus, regional busses and local busses. “Developers can tend to get very myopic from our side, and transit folks can get very myopic from their side,” he said. “While it might be easiest to line up busses in front of restaurants, that doesn’t work from the development side. The design has to find common ground with what works for them and what works for us.”

Amtrak has partnered with Drexel University and Brandywine Realty Trust to develop a master plan for the area immediately surrounding Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station.
Courtesy SOM

Cases abound of historically preserved train stations that contribute little to community and economic development. What these cases demonstrate is that architectural attention on the station itself needs to be coupled with a serious commitment to the underlying transportation infrastructure. While the historic restoration of Seattle King Street Station was a critical element for the success of the project, that alone was not sufficient to anchor the neighborhood. The city and its transit agencies have committed to investing in transit and undertaking the gritty, long-term work of transforming the historic building into a multi-modal hub, orchestrating heavy rail, light rail, and local and regional buses.

Courtesy SOM

Cutting the ribbon on its transit hub this summer, Denver Union Station has become an important model for other transit-related developments. Having effectively reshaped the metropolitan experience in Denver, the project has stimulated urban development both at and around the station itself, but also along the network of transit routes that the station catalyzes. The Denver Union Station Neighborhood Development Company, a joint entity between developers East West Partners and Continuum Partners, has essentially shifted the city’s center of gravity toward the train station, which, for decades, had been dangling on the margins of Denver’s downtown area. The project included the historic preservation of the station itself, a robust public investment in transit, but also a real commitment to neighborhood building. Where Amtrak passengers once looked out onto acres of dusty landscape is now in the midst of becoming over five million square feet of commercial, residential, and civic space spread over nearly 20 acres. Several restaurants and a new hotel opened this summer. A Whole Foods is on the way. “It’s an incredibly complex station, but we’ve created a neighborhood, not just a transit station,” said Chris Frampton, a managing partner at East West Partners. Private developers play a fundamental role in realizing these transformations. “We typically seek developers through competitive processes,” said LaCroix, acknowledging that Amtrak is not in the best position to build neighborhoods. “When transportation agencies do the developing, they do it wonderfully, but they do it for trains,” said Frampton, making the case for private development to help in making neighborhoods.

“Transit investments are important, but they are only one part of making a neighborhood,” said Rothman. “The stations should be as inviting a place as possible to non-transit riders and transit riders alike. It needs to be a civic asset, not just a transit asset,” said Rothman. “Transit itself is not going to make a neighborhood.”

This is not just an act of civic altruism. “The marketplace is paying,” said MacCleery. In Denver, where the property leases had peaked at $435 per square foot, East West and Continuum recently leased One Union Station at $600 per square foot.

With this arrangement between transit agencies, private developers, and architects, everyone stands to profit. “We don’t have to own the real estate to get value out of it,” said LaCroix. “Smart, good development works for us. We can develop a very symbiotic relationship with private developers.”

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The Seaport Adrift
Courtesy SHoP

At press time, the founder of the New Amsterdam Market, Rovert LaValva, announced the end of the pop-up artisanal food market, which he had long hoped to make a permanent food hall in the historic South Street Seaport. LaValva accused Lower Manhattan Council Woman Margaret Chin of betraying the community and bemoaned her closeness to the Seaport’s primary owner, The Howard Hughes Corporation. AN immediately reached out to Chin for comment, and she called LaValva’s statement “false” and vowed to continue to work with the board of the New Amsterdam Market to try and give it a permanent home at the Seaport.

While the LaValva/Chin spat makes for good copy, it also speaks to a larger sense of rudderlessness at the Seaport. Still only semi-recovered from Hurricane Sandy, the Seaport is very much in limbo. Pier 17, the old mall that anchored the Seaport festival marketplace in a suburban commercial milieu, which caused many New Yorkers to scorn the area, has been demolished. An updated, glassy, grass-and-performance-venue-topped shopping mall designed by SHoP will replace it. The other primary 1970s-era shopping building is closed, cleared of tenants, its fate unclear. The so-called Tin Building, which would have been relocated for a giant also-SHoP designed tower (that plan has since been scuttled), remains in place. The old Fulton Fish market building is empty.

The South Street Seaport museum, which owns the collection of ships—many of which are badly decaying and in need of restoration or relocation—as well as the string of early 19th century buildings known as Schermerhorn Row, is operating with a skeletal staff. Following an unsuccessful partnership with the Museum of the City of New York, its fate is highly uncertain.

Hughes is staging events and has created the now familiar shipping container food stand/shopping area to keep the area active. But it lacks the vitality of most New York City neighborhoods.

All this begs the question, what do we want the Seaport to be? Hughes obviously wants a return on its investment, and it wants to build out at the maximum allowable square feet. But the line between the public and private has always been blurry at the Seaport, and if anything, the public needs a larger stake in its future.

The seemingly outlandish Seaport City plan, which would create massive blocks long East River version of Battery Park City under the guise of flood protection, is advancing. The ever-powerful Economic Development Corporation is privately and publicly pushing for it. The mayor with his single focus on affordable housing could be seduced by this clumsy idea. He should resist it.

Not only would Seaport City destroy or neuter the just built East River Park, it would also further sever the Seaport itself from its namesake connection to the water. A more enlightened approach would be to integrate movable floodwalls under the FDR, as advocated by BIG and Starr Whitehouse’s Rebuild by Design plan.

More importantly, how can the Seaport itself be reconceived to connect better to its surroundings, to include non-mall elements like housing, to become a distinctive but more authentic neighborhood? Developers, preservationists, and community groups want vastly different things for the area. The mayor and the Department of City Planning should take a stronger hand here and insist that this important but fragile and under realized area meet its full potential. A master planning process, ideally one led by a world-class design team without financial interests in the area (i.e. not SHoP), which would represent all these interests, is sorely needed. A fancy food hall might be a great complement to the area, but let a good planning process bear that out.

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Mayor de Blasio Goes All In on Urbanism in Downtown Brooklyn
In the decade since it was rezoned, Downtown Brooklyn has grown up in a big way. Just look at its skyline and the new apartment towers and hotels that call it home. The open air between those buildings will soon be filled because development isn't slowing down—it's just getting started. But the next decade of change in Downtown Brooklyn could offer much more than the first. That's because as new buildings rose, the area’s street-level never kept pace: public space is still scarce and underused, streets are hard to navigate and dangerous, and educational and cultural institutions have been disconnected. Today, however, Mayor de Blasio announced strategies to change all that by injecting the booming district with new (or refurbished) parks, redesigned streetscapes, new retail, and better connections between its many cultural and educational institutions. These investments could be transformative in their own right, but are especially notable given Mayor de Blasio’s hesitancy to talk about the importance of urban design. To be clear, New York City’s commitment to safe, livable streets did not die when Mayor Bloomberg walked out the door. In de Blasio's New York, there have been new bike lanes and the like, but the mayor doesn't speak about these issues with the force of his predecessor. That seemed to change today as this plan goes all in on urbanism. “This is one of the city’s great success stories, and we have an incredible opportunity to take these stunning communities, parks, and institutions and knit them together,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement. “The investments we are making will help Downtown Brooklyn continue its rise, generate good jobs, and make this a more dynamic neighborhood to live and work.” The plan starts where Downtown Brooklyn starts—at the mouth of the Brooklyn Bridge. The City plans to transform the 21-acre patchwork of underused parks and public plazas between the bridge and Borough Hall into a “great promenade and gateway into Brooklyn.” The renovated space, known as the "Brooklyn Strand," will be designed to better connect with the area's transit hubs and the celebrated Brooklyn Bridge Park, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. This strategy follows a study commissioned by the Brooklyn Tech Triangle - a cluster of tech companies in Downtown Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and DUMBO. It was led by WXY. While not mentioned explicitly, Vision Zero factors into this plan though the City's strategies to make certain corridors more bike and pedestrian friendly. This includes a multi-million dollar transformation of the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge—a plan that was conceived under Bloomberg and is slated to break ground next year. Over on Willoughby Street, the City will "explore non-traditional roadway design that recognizes and accommodates the heavy use of the area by pedestrians." ARUP is working with the city on that redesign. The City has also pledged to build a new one-acre public park in Downtown Brooklyn and refurbish two others—Fox Square and BAM Park. The latter has been closed to the public for decades, but will be spruced up by WXY. Fox Square will be renewed by AKRF, with Mathews Nielsen. To boost business in Downtown Brooklyn, the City will offer-up some of its own ground-floor space to retail tenants. It may also consolidate its 1.4 million square feet to provide affordable office space for businesses. And there are plans to launch a consortium between Downtown Brooklyn’s 11 colleges to “better connect the tech, creative, and academic communities.” This is intended to best prepare students for jobs at Brooklyn’s Tech Triangle. The Economic Development Corporation will provide $200,000 in seed funding to kickstart that initiative. As part of this plan, the emerging Brooklyn Cultural District, which straddles the blurry border between Downtown Brooklyn and Fort Greene, could get its very own Businesses Improvement District (BID). The City said it will work with the over 60 cultural groups in the district to market the area as a preeminent cultural hub. Of course, at this point, these are all fairly vague proposals—just ideas on paper unbound by hard deadlines. But this announcement shows that as Downtown Brooklyn builds toward the sky, the City will refocus on the people walking, biking, studying, and working on the streets below.
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Waterfront Revival
Courtesy Pier A Harbor House
Pier A, a landmarked, late 19th century structure in lower Manhattan’s Battery Park that has been vacant for decades and suffered extensive damage during Hurricane Sandy, will be reborn in July as an elaborate restaurant and event space. Renovation of the interior of the 28,000-square-foot, three-story structure, to be called Pier A Harbor House, is nearing completion by New York restaurant group HPH and developer Dermot Company. Architecture and interior design are by Green Light Studio of Manhattan. The New York City Docks Department built Pier A between 1884 and 1886, with construction overseen by its chief engineer, George Sears Greene, Jr., whose father, George Sears Greene, Sr., was a founder of the American Society of Civil Engineers. For many years the pier was used to greet distinguished visitors arriving by sea, including King George VI, who came here for the 1939 World’s Fair. After World War I, a clock whose chimes ring the hours in ship’s time was installed in its tower, the first permanent memorial to the war in the United States. In the 1970s the building was awarded a local landmark designation by the National Register of Historic Places and also designated a landmark by the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission, which called it “the last survivor of an impressive maritime complex on the site.”
Occupied at various points by the docks department, the police department, and the marine division of the fire department, it has been vacant since 1992. Although it is still owned by the city, the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA), a New York State public benefit corporation, has held a long-term ground lease for it since 2008. BPCA selected Poulakakos and the Dermot Company, said Gwen Dawson, its vice president of real property, because their concept “utilized the entire building and offered the building to the public for the first time in its history, which was one of our objectives.” In addition, she said their concept made “as few changes as possible to the second floor, the most historically significant part of the interior.” BPCA is spending $37 million—$30 million of which is from the New York City Economic Development Corporation—to renovate the building. Its core and shell have been restored and a new building envelope system and tin roof installed. Columns, beams, and arches have been replaced; interior basic finishes and fixtures have been repaired, restored, and replaced; and new mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems, as well as stairs and elevators have been installed. The BPCA is spending an additional $5 million to reinforce the promenade along the Hudson River and construct a new plaza adjacent to Pier A.
Hurricane Sandy caused some $4 million in damage when four feet of water flooded the building. According to Dawson, after the hurricane, electrical equipment was elevated, pine doors were replaced with more water-impervious mahogany, and a second fire-alarm box was created on the second floor to be used in the event of a future flood. The default on elevators was set to travel to the upper level, rather than the lower level, if there is a power outage, while polished concrete flooring, resistant to damage from water exposure, was installed on the first floor. Green Light’s design for the first floor of the new building includes a new, 128-foot “long bar”; an oyster bar, whose wooden ceiling is meant to resemble the hull of a ship; a glass-enclosed wine tower that will be three stories high and incorporate the clock tower’s spiral staircase; and a take-out coffee bar. The second floor contains close to 9,000 square feet of dining space, including an octagonal aperitif bar overlooking the Statue of Liberty that will occupy the former commissioner’s office, containing original teak wall paneling and glass; a fine dining restaurant that will feature four consecutive dining rooms and an open kitchen with two chef’s tables; and a bar offering views of the Freedom Tower and financial district skyline. The top floor of the building will have a separate VIP entrance and stairwell and will be rented for special events.
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Delays Plague New Waterfront Park in Brooklyn's Sunset Park
As Brooklyn Bridge Park opens two new piers, a planned green space five miles south continues to sit empty. Work began on Bush Terminals Piers Park in Sunset Park in 2009—just months after Brooklyn Bridge Park got started—but has been behind construction fencing ever since. The park was slated to start opening last fall, but that did not happen. And it's still not clear when it will. The Brooklyn Bureau reported that community members are becoming increasingly frustrated with the delays and the lack of explanation they are getting from the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC). At a recent community board meeting, representative from the EDC reportedly said they are “close” on completing the first phase of the park. Ninety-five percent there, they said. The slow pace was blamed on problems with construction and permitting. When the park finally does open, the formerly brownfield site will offer tidal ponds, wetlands, recreational space, picnic areas, and sports fields designed by AECOM and Adrian Smith Landscape Architecture. There is also a sustainable comfort station by Turett Collaborative Architects. But all of that is less than what was originally planned. “There’s no children’s playground as planned, nor an environmental center that the original plan envisioned. Bases for lighting have been installed, but not the fixtures,” reported the Bureau. As for Phase  2 of the park, there is no word on that at all.