Search results for "NYC Department of Housing, Preservation and Development"
On November 28, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced milestones in three projects that will bring affordable housing and additional cultural and community space to the last city-owned parcels in the Downtown Brooklyn Cultural District. First, the Gotham Organization and DT Salazar are partnering with City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to develop a 515,000-square-foot mixed-use building on a site bounded by Fulton Street, Rockwell Place, and Ashland Place. Second, Two Trees Management Company has initiated the public review and approval process for a 32-story mixed-use facility designed by Enrique Norten of TEN Arquitectos on Flatbush and Lafayette. Finally, HPD released an RFP for the last development parcel in the district, located at the intersection of Ashland Place and Lafayette.
“Downtown Brooklyn has very quickly become one of the city’s most vibrant cultural destinations and an exciting place to live,” said Mayor Bloomberg in a statement. “These projects—which will bring more affordable housing and community space to the neighborhood—are more proof of the confidence that the real estate industry has in New York City and in downtown Brooklyn.”
HPD has finalized plans with the Gotham Organization and DT Salazar to build 600 units of new housing, 50 percent of which will be affordable and 40 percent of the affordable units will be two-bedroom units. When completed, the building will also contain 20,000-square-feet of cultural and related office space and 20,000-square-feet of retail space. HPD and the NYC Housing Development Corporation (HDC) expect to close on financing with the development team late next year and to see construction begin shortly thereafter. The Gotham Organization has not yet announced the architect of the project, which has just begun design development.
Two Trees, which agreed to purchase the district’s South Site parcel from the City’s Economic Development Corporation in 2009, began the City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) to gain approval to build a new mixed-use development on the Flatbush Avenue site. The approximately 47,000-square-foot lot, which is bounded by Flatbush, Lafayette Avenue, and Ashland Place, is currently a parking lot owned and operated by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC). Once the ULURP process is complete, and approvals have been granted, Two Trees can begin constructing the Ten Arquitectos highrise, which includes approximately 50,000-square-feet of creative and cultural space that will be shared by BAM, 651 ARTS, and the Brooklyn Public Library. In addition, the tower will include approximately 23,000-square-feet of ground-level retail, as well as approximately 300 to 400 apartments, 20 percent of which will be affordable.
Plans for the site also include a 16,000-square-foot public plaza programmed for a variety of outdoor uses, including dance and theater performances, film presentations, open air markets and crafts fairs, and other community uses.
Once the facility is complete, the 50,000-square-feet of cultural space and a portion of the public plaza will be controlled by the City of New York. Approximately 17,400-square-feet of space will be occupied by BAM to allow the institution to meet the needs of its growing audiences. A component of this expansion will enable the academy to make its BAM Hamm Archives Center resources available to the public, providing researchers, artists, educational institutions, and students with access to materials and records documenting the oldest performing arts center in the country.
The Brooklyn Public Library will use approximately 16,500 square feet of the cultural space to open a new state-of-the-art branch. The new branch will offer traditional library services as well as new technologies and programming that will benefit the local community.
651 ARTS, an acclaimed performing arts presenter dedicated to artists of the African Diaspora, will occupy a 12,500-square-foot studio and rehearsal center. The rehearsal studios will be available at affordable rates, and preference will be given to organizations in the Downtown Brooklyn Cultural District. The state-of-the-art studios will also be multi-purpose space for education programs, and will provide opportunities for live public performances, gatherings, and salons for artists to cultivate their work.
On November 27, HPD released an RFP for Cultural District Site II, the last development parcel in the district, located at the intersection of Ashland Place and Lafayette Avenue. The RFP calls for approximately 100,000 square feet of floor area and may include residential, community, and/or commercial space, with a requirement to include a minimum of 15,000 square feet dedicated to cultural space and the arts. If affordable housing is proposed it must serve low-income New Yorkers. Proposals must be submitted by February 1, 2013. For more information and to download the RFP, visit www.nyc.gov/hpd.
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
I’m so glad you could make it to my microhousewarming. Ha-ha, no, there’s still going to be a lot of fun, I’m just calling it that because of how much I’m loving my new Kips Bay-area, Bloomberg-administration-ordered, 275-square-foot microapartment. You can put your coat right ... there on your shoulders! Please keep your coat on. One of Gerald’s friends brought a hat, so unfortunately space is a bit tight in the closet.
Greening the city has meant a glorious and historical expansion of its parks and waterfront amenities. But building new parks is far more complicated than planting bulbs and bushes. And even as the city has demonstrated great initiative in creating new parks, how it plans to maintain them—physically as well as financially—is far more uncertain. Caitlin Blanchfield takes a stroll through the variegated schemes for keeping up New York’s parks and esplanades.
New York City is currently in its greatest period of park expansion since the 1930s. With 29,000 acres of land already in the stewardship of the Parks Department, tracts flanking the Hudson and East Rivers are being turned over to green space, restored wetlands, and recreational use. Where once there were rotting piers and toxic sludge, New Yorkers kayak in the Hudson and schoolchildren catch (and release) sea horses under the Manhattan Bridge. As Nancy Webster, executive director of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, put it, New York’s new parks “redefine an understanding of local geography and provide a unique sense of place for New Yorkers” by recapturing its identity as a port city.
Cutting the ribbon is one thing. Keeping a park usable, healthy, and engaging for decades to come, quite another. Capital projects far outstrip park maintenance in the City’s budget. According to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, the budget for capital projects, which includes opening new parks and restoration projects that require heavy construction, is around $1.6 billion annually. The maintenance budget, which is dedicated to horticultural care and facility upkeep, is around $300 million.
“Maintenance and operations have a separate and vastly smaller stream than capital projects, yet capital design has no knowledge of maintenance and operations funding, which should dictate design strategies,” said Deborah Marton of the New York Restoration Project, an organization that functions as a wealth reallocator, distributing funding from private donors, city, and state across the boroughs, particularly in the Bronx, Harlem, and Central Park. “Parks are often allowed to fall into disrepair because they will then get capital dollars. We’ve inherited 19th-century ideas about how cities and budget are structured. Much of the city’s public spaces are in the jurisdiction of different organizations: the Housing and Preservation Authority, the MTA, Port Authority, and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. This division is anathema to how we currently think about public spaces.”
Courtesy Hudson River Park Trust
With city and state funding providing just under 65 percent of current maintenance and operation budgets, ensuring that parks are properly maintained has fallen to strategic alliances of privately interested citizens and varying models of public/private partnerships committed to overseeing long-term sustainability and funding. While some, such as the Hudson River Park Trust and the Brooklyn Bridge Corporation are legislated entities, many other organizations, like friends groups working in small community parks, are entirely voluntary, leaving the places they steward at the whim of charitable resources.
“Maintenance and operations have a separate and vastly smaller stream than capital projects, yet capital design has no knowledge of maintenance and operations funding, which should dictate design strategies, ” said Deborah Marton, senior vice president of the New York Restoration Project.
Approaching its 35-year anniversary, the Central Park Conservancy is a paragon of success for public/private partnerships. In the late 1970s, slashed budgets and municipal neglect had rendered the park both dangerous and in catastrophic disrepair, at which point concerned citizens banded together and formed the conservancy. Since then it has raised $650 million and developed a sophisticated system for managing its 843 acres.
The key, said Conservancy president Douglas Blonsky, “is total vigilance.” Central Park is lucky. As Blonsky readily admits, it is the backyard of New York’s wealthiest residents and has a profile higher than any other park. Of a more than $42 million operating budget, 85 percent comes from the prosperous patrons who are stacked in the high-rises framing its perimeter. Such a model is simply not plausible in places without the density and affluence of Central Park’s constituency.
“There is no one model that works; it’s not one size fits all. There can only be one Central Park Conservancy,” said Benepe. The parks commissioner advocates for entrepreneurship, saying that funding alliances arise organically to creatively meet the needs and conditions of each park. In the city’s recent park projects, that spirit has had a decidedly development-friendly bent. Brooklyn Bridge Park and Hudson River Park, both waterfront sites with complex programs incorporating recreation, leisure, and environmental remediation, have gone the way of rents, not altruism.
In the late 1980s, after Brooklyn’s waterfront had ceased to be the shipping hub of decades past and had deteriorated to house a dwindling number of warehouses, a group of concerned citizens rallied to turn the narrow space between Piers 1 and 5 into park lands, rather than the housing, retail, and parking development it had been slated to become. Advocates raised grants and secured capital funding for a build out, but because the cost of operating and maintaining a park on the waterfront is so high, Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki decided that a different funding stream, separate from the Parks Department budget, should be created to ensure the long-term sustainability of the park. They established the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation to operate commercial development on just under 10 percent of the 1.3-mile-long park. The Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy was subsequently created to manage programming. Based on financial models like Battery Park and Hudson River Park, the ground rent and taxes are intended to cover park maintenance and operations. On the city’s side it’s sacrificing ground rent and taxes, while the park allocates what could be public space to private use, which has incited some to lambast the park as a front lawn for high-end real estate, or as Project for Public Spaces’s Fred Kent put it, a “dead waterfront.”
At the southern tip, One Brooklyn Bridge Park is a luxury condominium complex with waterfront views and ground-floor retail (first store to move in: a dog spa). Since its completion in 2008, it has netted $14.8 million dollars, which has funded all park security, maintenance, and waterfront infrastructure costs. As the park continues construction, a hotel and residence will go up on Pier 1; two residential buildings are slated for Pier 6. Retail development on Water Street and John Street in Dumbo will also augment commercial revenue.
In part, this blend of private development and public space arose to meet the unique needs of the site: the pilings on which the park is built are subject to deterioration from salt water and aquatic microbes and must be checked every three years. As the river regains its vitality—the result of industry decline and waterfront greening— and teems with healthy, hungry critters, these pilings will need more frequent assessment and replacing. Reinforcing pilings on Pier 5 in concrete totaled $11 million. According to Nancy Webster, revenue from commercial development has been a successful stream of income, capable of footing the self-sustaining maintenance and operations bill so far. With the first review since 2008 on the horizon, she predicts the model will continue to function, so long as the hotel and apartments bring in projected profits. Currently, negotiations are underway with developers for hotel and residential development on Pier 1. Retail locations on John Street in Dumbo and Pier 6 are still undeveloped, and the development corporation is looking into alternative revenue sources from the sale of properties near the park now owned by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., which would have to take place by the end of 2013. At the same time, portions of Piers 3, 4, and 6 remain unfunded, their future uncertain.
“One advantage to our model is that we will have capital reserve for unseen maintenance emergencies. We will have funds to react as things come up. In other parks when emergencies arise, the city cannot fix them in a timely fashion,” said Regina Myer, president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation.
Courtesy Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation
Across the river and on the west side of Manhattan, Hudson River Park faces such a predicament. The legislation that enacted Hudson River Park as a city- and state-owned entity in 1998 has proved too limited to allow for the kinds of development that would net the necessary funding. The issue at Hudson River Park is twofold, explains Madelyn Wils, the Hudson River Park Trust’s executive director. With two piers still undeveloped, the Trust does not have the income it anticipated when the act was first created. Unforeseen infrastructural problems are also proving a drain on the budget. For instance, the bulkheads on top of which the park is built and that hold up Route 9A (the Westside Highway) are costly to shore up; many of them failed to withstand Hurricane Irene last summer. Moreover, wooden Pier 40 is fast decaying after plans for its development were halted in 2006, when the Trust was unable to find a developer or development plan that met the stipulations of the Hudson River Park Act.
Compared to the uses at Brooklyn Bridge Park, the act is narrow, excluding housing, commercial office space, hotels, and manufacturing. What was likely intended to protect the waterfront from overly privatized development has left the Trust in a quagmire of dead-end Requests for Proposals (RFPs). Currently the park, which stretches from Midtown to Battery Park, allows commercial maritime and ferry ports, entertainment, retail, and commercial recreation. But, according to Wils, respondents to RFPs have rejected those uses, leaving the trust in search of viable commercial development in the park, and looking to make marinas or generate commercial activity in the water itself. Exacerbating these financial strains, Chelsea Piers, tenants on three piers from 17th to 23rd streets, are suing the Trust to repair damages caused by marine borers over the past 20 years.
According to the Pier 40 Development Feasibility Study by HR&A Advisors and Tishman/AECOM, released privately in May, Pier 40 needs about $100 million in repairs. The report found that the best source of ongoing income—adding the least traffic impact—would be 600 high-end rentals (as the Trust cannot sell its property) and a 150-room hotel. Other revenue-producing ideas under exploration include tax-exempt bonds and the more controversial Park Improvement District.
When created, the Trust was envisioned as an exemplar for in-water parks—influencing waterfronts in cities as far away as Paris and Sydney—but that has also exposed the park to unforeseen costs, such as retrofitting the decaying piers that are fodder for marine borers and battered by wind and brackish water. “Twenty years ago no one knew healthier water would mean more voracious aquatic borers, so you can’t build with wood. We’ve learned, for example, you have to use certain pavers to withstand water pressure from the currents,” Wils explained. Renting out berths for ferries and commercial cruise ships have racked in rent, but not enough to assuage these unpredicted high costs.
On Staten Island, Freshkills, the Parks Department most recent and expansive project, opening to the public later this year, must navigate not only an aquatic site, but also one atop a former landfill. Unlike Brooklyn Bridge Park and Hudson River Park, Freshkills— at 2,200 acres, three times the size of Central Park—does not have any trust, corporation, or conservancy in place to fund its annual operations. Not easily accessible by foot or subway, Freshkills is no magnet for the types of public/private partnerships that make other waterfront parks financially self-sustaining. According to Tara Kiernan of the New York City Parks Department, Parks is establishing a nonprofit Freshkills Park Alliance to fundraise for the park.
Courtesy James Corner Field Operations (left); William T. Davis (right)
To be built out over the next 30 years, Freshkills represents the next generation in experimental models for how a park can coordinate a complex program of restoration, recreation, concessions, and passive enjoyment, almost all within the city’s budget. Using active landscape design guidelines and the insights of 21st-century landscape architecture and responding to community input, Freshkills has been designed by James Corner Field Operations as a sustainable landscape using native plants and restoring natural habitats that, as long as healthy, will maintain themselves—and hopefully prevent it from meeting the same fate of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, where a pastoral park with shade trees and lawn grass built in the low-lying lands near Flushing Bay was overtaken by salt grasses and invasive species.
Capitalizing on less-than-idyllic site conditions, the sanitation department is already harvesting methane gas from the landfill below Freshkills, which it is selling back to National Grid, generating $12 million in revenue for the city. The park is also partnering with research institutions and local universities to investigate water quality, soil restoration, habitat restoration, and reforestation, among other environmental issues, opening up opportunities for grant funding. New York Department of State, Division of Coastal Resources, and the Federal Highway Administration have thus far contributed $12 million to the project.
While such initiatives dynamically wed stewardship and financial sustainability, they are but a drop in the bucket considering that Freshkills master plan has a $100 million price tag—in part so high because of the cost of remediating landfill seepage. As construction is still so heavily underway, the park has yet to determine its future maintenance budget.
As landscape architect and Columbia University professor of landscape architecture Kate Orff points out, “Maintenance is a park.” And parks that go unmaintained have the potential to do more than just becoming unkempt; they can be dangerous. Parks budgets have been downsized 30 percent, according to Wils of the Hudson River Park Trust. Parks Commissioner Benepe voices concern about how parks will be able to retain funding in the future. As great parks projects continue to roll out, it’s essential to pair a zeal for creating public space with an even greater dedication to keeping them safe, accessible, and vital for the long run.
Going to the DMV is nobody’s idea of a day at the park, but the emerging field of service design aims to change that. The Brooklyn-based nonprofit Public Policy Lab (PPL) incorporated last year with the goal to improve interactions between public services and those served by them through research, advocacy, and technical assistance.
Explained PPL executive director Chelsea Mauldin, “At the DMV, it’s important to look at how we interact with the created artifacts of that service—the physical space, the forms, the actual driver’s license. There’s a sequence of service steps you encounter.” By studying these interactions, service designers can decipher the strategic goals of public policy and improve efficiencies between the public agencies and their audience, while also saving money.
PPL’s first major initiative is a collaboration with the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and Parsons’ new interdisciplinary service design program, the DESIS Lab. Following a scoping meeting in late January, the team will spend a year studying how the agency interacts with its clients—developers, property owners, and residents—to recommend pragmatic and implementable design ideas. “This is an out-of-the-box collaboration,” said Kaye Matheny, the HPD assistant commissioner for strategic planning. “We’ll be evaluating how people engage with HPD—what are our touch points across the city, how do they engage with us, and how do we improve that?” A second phase of the partnership will study the impact of HPD’s providing over $8.7 billion to neighborhoods since 1987. “We want to understand how our investment has shaped and defined neighborhoods,” said Matheny. Achievable recommendations could begin implementation next year.
While service design has long been employed in the private sector, Mauldin believes this approach has broad applications in the public sector. She said service design is picking up where public space design began several decades ago. “At this point, everyone’s just learning. It wasn’t always the case that public spaces needed thought or design,” Matheny said, but now she added, “it’s becoming clear that there is a need.”
A last ditch effort to stop development at the Domino Sugar refinery fell through on May 25 when State Supreme Court Judge Eileen Rakower dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Williamsburg Community Preservation Corporation. The group claimed that the project’s developer, the Community Preservation Resources Corporation’s (CPRC), along with Department of City Planning and City Council, did not conduct the proper land use and environmental reviews.
Though City Council-member Steve Levin opposed the development, he was pleased to see the lawsuit dismissed. “The accusations in the lawsuit were unfounded,” said Levin. “It named the City Council as a respondent, and it seems pretty clear to me that the Council didn’t act in an arbitrary or capricious manner. So I agree with the ruling, but that doesn’t negate that I still have issues with the project.” Levin said that the density and height of the proposed complex would stress the area’s overburdened transportation and infrastructure.
Opponents are still grumbling about several issues they have with the Council. The plan for the 220,000-square-foot multiuse development designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects includes 2,200 housing units and a promise from the developer that 30 percent will be set aside for low to moderate income, but City Council only required 20 percent. “They don’t really care about affordable housing,” said Stephanie Eisenberg, one of the plaintiffs in the case. “They never intended to build 30 percent. The City Council was not duped; they read.” Still, Eisenberg and Levin share some common ground. “It leaves the city footing the bill for all the infrastructure,” she continued. “Plus, you can’t put more people on the L [train] or the JMZ.”
Levin held out the hope that East River Ferry Service launched on June 14 might alleviate some of the commuter congestion. It’s an idea that has been floated before, but seems to have gained momentum with New York City Economic Development Corporation’s (NYCEDC) pilot program. There are already stops north and south of the site at North Sixth Street and Schaefer Landing. CPRC Vice President Susan Pollock said the developer has been in contact with NYCEDC. “As the demographics change we hope to have a stop at the project,” she said.
It’s exactly such critical mass that concerns Eisenberg. “It’s just so dense on a very narrow site,” she said. Architect Rafael Viñoly finds the crowds appealing. “I think that density is what makes New York. If you had to refine some parts of the city, then Brooklyn has a ways to go,” he said. “The people who are concerned don’t see that the proposals for density are completely normal. The city continues the evolve.”
Before any crowds, the money must be found. Pollock said that while developers were “having a lot of productive conversations” regarding some $2 billion in financing, legal issues are complicating matters.
For Viñoly, there are certain priorities within the plan. “It’s very important to complete the waterfront park, and that will make a huge difference in how the project is read,” said the architect. Pollock agrees, noting that the developers invited members of the community to the site for an event and was surprised to hear how many had never seen the view. “It was astounding the number of old timers who have never before been to the waterfront there,” she said. “The site runs along five streets that stop dead at Kent Avenue. It is very important that it integrate into the community.” The new plan extends the streets onto the property, culminating on a great public lawn overlooking the East River and Manhattan skyline. Pollock said that the project is on target to start construction in 2012.