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Thread: Midtown / Midtown East Rezoning Plan

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    Default Midtown / Midtown East Rezoning Plan

    Since we've lost the Plan to Rezone Midtown thread, I've started this one.

    How About Another Empire State Building or Two? City Outlines Mega Midtown East Rezoning

    By Matt Chaban

    Published: 7/12 (July 12th, 2012?)

    Start The Slideshow

    It’s the moment developers, planning geeks, and perhaps the entire city without knowing it, has been waiting for all year: the unveiling of the city’s plans, first hinted at in the mayor’s State of the City address, to remake the face of Midtown Manhattan.

    It is big. No, really big. Bigger than almost anything the city has ever seen. Empire State Building big. While that will not be the case for every tower that is eventually built through the program, it could be for at least a few.

    The parameters, unveiled at Community Board 5 last night, are close to what had been previously hinted at, an area stretching from 39th Street up to 57th Street, emanating out from Grand Central. Fifth Avenue has been eliminated from the original study area, as has the northern reaches of Third and Lexington avenues, which were considered too residential. Still, the plan affects all or part of 74 blocks in the heart of the city.

    Far fewer of them will be developed because a provision in the plan limits development sites to only those that stretch the length of an entire avenue blockfront, and they must sit on a site that covers at least 25,000 square feet, or a little more than half an acre. Still, that is already the case for many Midtown towers, including landmarks like the Seagram and Lipstick buildings, for example. The bigger challenge would be emptying old towers of tenants so new buildings can be built.

    Just how big? As suggested at another public meeting last month, the focus of the rezoning is on the blocks surrounding Grand Central Terminal as well as the length of Park Avenue to 57th Street. Surrounding avenues will see their density bumped up slightly, from a floor area ratio of 15 to 18 (excuse the technical numbers for a moment). Park Avenue and the Grand Central subdistrict, which will expand one block north to 49th Street and two blocks south to 39th Street, between Madison and Lexington Avenues, will have an FAR of 21.6. A new Grand Central core district will be created for the blocks immediately around Grand Central with an FAR of 24. (See: map.)

    To put that all in perspective, the massive Pan Am/MetLife tower that currently looms over Grand Central has an FAR of 18. City Planning pointed to the old Bear Stearns headquarters around the corner, at 383 Madison Avenue, as having an FAR of 21.6. One Bryant Park, just down 42nd Street, hits 24 FAR, and is one of the biggest buildings in the city. Frank Ruchala, the project manager for the rezoning from the Department of City Planning, mapped out scenarios with towers rising between 575 feet and 700 feet on Park Avenue and between 700 and 800 feet around Grand Central, approaching the height of 30 Rockefeller Center.

    “We think that’s what’s appropriate to build the kinds of building we need,” Mr. Ruchala said. After all, this plan is predicated on preparing the Central Business District for a major modernization over the coming decades.

    But the fun does not end there. All these big new buildings can be built as of right, meaning no cumbersome public reviews. But should a developer wish to aim high, really high, they can go for an additional FAR bonus, a jump to 24 along Park and around Grand Central, while the Grand Central core subdistrict, the eleven small blocks around the train station, jumps up to a whopping 30 FAR, on par with the skyline defining Empire State Building (FAR of 33, the only thing in town that comes close). As if to drive this point home, City Planning’s presentation showed a spindly tower, which looked not unlike the MoMA tower it once rejected, piercing the skyline above Grand Central.

    To achieve this, a developer must submit to a special permit, requiring the standard (and often torturous) public reviews. There would be a considerable emphasis on quality design, both at the top of the building, which would almost certainly take a prominent place on the skyline, as well as at the base, where “a significant public space” would be required, as Edith Hsu-Chen, director of the Department of City Planning’s Manhattan office, put it.

    Mr. Ruchala framed it in terms of global competitiveness. “If you look around the world, you see iconic building being built in every major city,” he said. “We invented that.” He then showed a slide of the Chrysler Building, Seagram Building and Lever House.

    These greater heights do not come for free, however. For a boost ranging from 25 to 100 percent of the current zoning, developers would have to buy their air rights either from local landmarks or a city-sponsored Development Investment Bonus. The numbers are still far from final on this, but the project would hope to generate many millions of dollars to fund improvements to the streets and subways.

    The city has only identified two projects so far, the most critical of which seems to be better routes through the Grand Central subway stations for the Lexington Ave and No. 7 trains, though attention is also being paid to stops along 53rd Street. “The 4/5/6 is at 116 percent capacity,” Raju Mann, chair of the board’s transportation committee, pointed out warily. “We need to think seriously about solving this problem, and make sure there are sufficient resources to do so.”

    The other big public works project—of which there could be more, the city is still soliciting ideas—is the already controversial closure of Vanderbilt Avenue. A drawing of the plan reveals that the crosstown traffic lanes will remain open, essentially creating plazas out in front of the new and old buildings, similar to Times Square but without the traffic of 7th Avenue rushing by. Access to Grand Central would still be provided by the block between 43rd and 44th streets (just missing the slightly incensed Yale Club, two of whose members spoke at the hearing).

    As for those old buildings not quite big enough to cash in on all the new air rights being thrown around, if they were built before the 1961 zoning code, and thus have more FAR than current zoning might allow, developers will be allowed to tear down their buildings and build to the old densities, a move seen as helping replace many outdated buildings—nearly 80 percent in the area are older than 50 years, according to the city.

    While supportive of the idea, the community board was taken aback by many of the proposals. “The amount of density here is incredible, and I applaud the city for being ambitious” Mr. Mann said. “But I don’t think many of the issues have been thought through that will keep Midtown from being overwhelmed.”

    One of the biggest issues was the decision to allow bigger buildings if their designs were deemed to be of sufficient quality. There was widespread concern about who would determine that—the City Planning Commission and the City Council—and why every building in the district should not be held to the same standard if Midtown was so important to begin with, as the city officials kept insisting. “Thirty FAR scares the hell out of me,” board member Miele Rockefeller said. Member Matthew Scheid countered that “I’m fine with 30 FAR, but I don’t understand why it’s not 40 FAR or 25 FAR. You haven’t explained the rationale for the numbers.”

    As with a previous meeting, historic preservation was a hot topic, with many board members concerned that there would not be enough time for the Landmarks Preservation Commission to survey and protect buildings of historical or cultural significance. Especially now, given the economic incentive developers would have to tear down their buildings, since the rezoning has been outlined, the task would be even harder. “I think there’s wide recognition that this is a special area, and there are special buildings in this area,” Edward Klimerman said.

    There were also widespread concerns about whether the sale of development rights would be sufficient to cover the costs of the needed improvements. “The city paid for the improvements to Times Square,” land-use vice-chair Giuseppe Scalia pointed out. “Why are developers being given millions of square feet to do it here?”

    But the biggest issue was not so much policy as politics. The city is putting what it calls a sunrise provision into the plan, which means that no buildings can be built under the new zoning until five years from now, in the summer of 2017. This is meant as a protection for the city’s considerable investment in Hudson Yards—Mr. Ruchala called that “our top priority”—but that left many on the board wondering why this rezoning could not simply wait five years. Their explanation, at times implicit, occasionally explicit, was that the administration, and its partners in Big Real Estate did not feel it could wait. Ms. Hsu-Chen said simply that developers needed time to plan for their projects.

    “There was this idea that came out in the media that we were looking to destroy half of Midtown,” Mr. Ruchala said. “We’re not looking to do that, and we don’t think that’s possible. We’re looking to create some development for the future.”

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    Midtown's New Look Unveiled


    Published July 11th, 2012

    City officials Wednesday unveiled a long-awaited plan to encourage developers to build new office skyscrapers in the aging district near Grand Central Terminal by allowing them to build higher and denser.

    The Department of City Planning is proposing a major rezoning of the area around the transportation hub and stretching up major arteries, including Park and Madison avenues. In some cases, developers would be allowed to build 60% more space than what's allowed under today's zoning without a lengthy approval process.

    For example, on certain sites near Grand Central developers could build towers roughly the size of the 51-story 1 Bryant Park, at 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue under the proposed rezoning. On parts of Park Avenue, they could build towers about the size of Goldman Sachs's new 43-story headquarters at 200 West St., in the Financial District.

    From the Archives

    Developers have complained that they can't make money on building office towers in the area unless they're able to pack more space onto scarce and expensive land in Midtown. These complaints have found an audience with officials in the Bloomberg administration, who are concerned about New York's ability to compete against cities like London and Tokyo for the world's leading companies.

    According to real-estate brokerage CBRE Group Inc., 71% of large office buildings in Manhattan are more than 50 years old.

    "It is critical that East Midtown's stature as one of the premier business addresses in the world be maintained over time, said City Planning Commission Chairwoman Amanda Burden. "We are therefore pursuing ways to incentivize over the next 20 years the development of a handful of state-of-the-art office buildings…that will build on the dynamic strength of the area."

    Under the plan, which must be approved by the City Council, developers could build more if they pay for architecture with the swagger of London's Shard or Shanghai Tower. Those projects would still require approval by the City Planning Commission and City Council.

    But developers also would have to pay for the right to build big: either by purchasing privately owned air rights over Grand Central Terminal or by contributing to a fund to pay for infrastructure upgrades. This fund would do such things as build additional stairways to access the subway platforms in Grand Central and a pedestrian mall on Vanderbilt Avenue.

    Bloomberg officials Wednesday declined to specify some of the plan's details, pending the completion of studies. Ms. Burden predicted that it would result in "a handful" of new buildings over a couple of decades.

    The new zoning might not go into effect until five years from now. The Bloomberg administration is considering such a delay because it doesn't want to create competition for the city's ambitious Hudson Yards project on the Far West Side, where developers are still seeking anchor tenants to help get large office towers off the ground.

    Development in the rezoned district also would depend on the health of the economy. Demand for office space has been lackluster lately amid uncertainty in Europe and about the financial-services industry.

    The city's real-estate industry cheered the plan Wednesday. "This is a vehicle to be able to build taller buildings, bigger building and to be competitive with the rest of the world," said Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York.

    But some community leaders have expressed concern over whether Midtown East, already one of the densest areas in the city, could accommodate more office workers. Dan Garodnick, the City Council member for the area, said more mass transit and other city services might be needed to handle the thousands of additional workers in the new buildings. "There are people who live within this study area who could be impacted," he said.

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    New York City May Allow Taller Towers Near Grand Central

    By David M. Levitt

    Published: July 13th, 2012

    Development of skyscrapers taller than the Chrysler Building may be allowed near Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal under preliminary zoning plans presented by New York’s Department of City Planning.

    A tower that high -- possibly as tall as 1,200 feet (366 meters) -- would have to go through a city review to assure that it’s a worthy addition to the New York skyline, said Frank Ruchala, the planning department’s east Midtown project manager. The Chrysler Building is 1,046 feet tall. Ruchala spoke last night at a meeting of Community Board 5, which represents midtown Manhattan residents.

    The planning department, under an initiative by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is seeking ways to keep Midtown’s east side, home to skyscrapers that house Citigroup Inc. (C) and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), from losing out competitively to London, Tokyo and other financial capitals. A rezoning may affect the value of towers owned by such real estate investment trusts as SL Green Realty Corp. (SLG), Vornado Realty Trust (VNO) and Boston Properties Inc. (BXP)

    “As the office stock continues to age, and little to no replacement stock is added, the dynamism of the office market begins to break down,” Ruchala said. “The needs of Class A tenants will begin to get unmet, and they will begin to look elsewhere.”

    ‘Single Best’

    SL Green in November paid about $80 million for a building on East 42nd Street, just west of Grand Central, giving it ownership of the entire block bounded by Madison, 42nd and 43rd streets and Vanderbilt Avenue. It’s “the single best potential development site in the city, if not the world,” Isaac Zion, the company’s co-chief investment officer, said at an investor meeting in December.

    The company has no comment on the rezoning initiative, Rick Matthews, a spokesman for SL Green, said today.

    Under the city’s plan, properties close to Grand Central, between Madison and Lexington avenues, would be entitled to acquire air rights to build towers as tall as about 900 feet -- about the size of 1 Bryant Park without its spire.

    Outside that “core” area, and including the west side of Madison and the east side of Lexington between East 39th and 49th streets, towers of about 700 feet would be allowed. That’s about the size of the former Bear Stearns tower at 383 Madison or the Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) building in lower Manhattan.

    Such towers would be required to have a full block of avenue frontage, and sit on at least 25,000 square feet (2,300 square meters) of land, Ruchala said. The plan also would allow for new buildings along Park Avenue between East 49th and 57th streets that may be about the size of Goldman’s tower.

    Special Permit

    To build higher, developers would have to seek a “new special permit to allow extraordinary buildings at key sites,” he said. Developers would be able to exceed restrictions by funding improvements to pedestrian areas and transit hubs and purchasing unused space allowances from area landmarks.

    Members of the community board said they were concerned about the impact that larger buildings would have on Midtown streets and train and subway stations that are already congested. Some also said that the plan might put buildings deserving of landmark status at risk.

    “Nobody really opposes the basic core, the basic premise, but we need more information,” Vikki Barbero, the board’s chairwoman, said in a telephone interview today. The board wants to know how many new buildings are being considered, she said. “We didn’t even get an answer to that.”

    ‘Pretty Good’

    Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, which represents building owners and developers in the city, said most of the plan “looks pretty good” so far.

    “The’ve identified the fact that we’ve got, on average, 73-year-old buildings in the most important commercial district in the world, and we need to allow for new growth over the long term in that area,” he said in a phone interview today. “They came out with a bold plan.”

    Ruchala said he expected only a “limited” number of buildings would qualify to exceed existing building heights in the area. The changes under consideration would be timed to allow development in the Hudson Yards area west of Midtown to proceed first, he said.

    “It is critical that east Midtown’s stature as one of the premier business addresses in the world be maintained over time,” City Planning Commissioner Amanda M. Burden said in a statement. “We are therefore pursuing ways to incentivize over the next 20 years the development of a handful of state-of-the- art office buildings around Grand Central Terminal and north along Park Avenue that will build on the dynamic strength of the area.”

    Council Approval

    The planning department’s proposal must undergo an environmental review and be approved by the New York City Council. The department expects to complete the process next year. Barbero said the community board is concerned the plan is moving too fast, especially with so many questions unanswered.

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    Midtown rezoning has air rights players watching and waiting

    Building owners, investors nervous about how Bloomberg proposal will pencil out financially

    By Jake Mooney

    Published: October 1st, 2012

    Real estate players with interests in Midtown aren’t quite sure how to react to the city’s sweeping Midtown East rezoning proposal, which would allow for the construction of taller buildings in the area.

    The proposal is “a double-edged sword,” said Paul Selver, an attorney for Argent Ventures, which, through a subsidiary, owns more than 1 million square feet of Grand Central Terminal’s unused air rights. The rezoning could either help or harm the value of the company’s investment, he said.

    Potential buyers of the air rights that Argent and others own are also anxiously awaiting some of the plan’s key details.

    The Bloomberg administration proposed the rezoning in July as a way to encourage developers to replace the aging office buildings in Midtown East with more modern office towers — thus making New York City more globally competitive.

    The proposal is now on a tight schedule to get a green light before Mayor Bloomberg’s term expires at the end of 2013 and must pass through the city’s Universal Land-Use Review Procedure, which includes approval from the City Council.

    Under the plan, developers in the entire 74-block Midtown East area would be allowed to construct taller buildings if they make a payment, called a District Improvement Bonus, into a new city fund. In addition, the existing “transfer zone” for the so-called Grand Central Subdistrict — a subsection of the broader Midtown East area — would be expanded, so that air rights there can be sold more freely.

    Expanding the transfer zone in the Grand Central Subdistrict is a significant move because, typically, air rights in the city are transferrable only to adjacent lots — or, in the case of landmark properties, across the street. (The city established the subdistrict, which includes the area between East 41st and 49th streets and Fifth and Third avenues, in 1992 in an effort to encourage the use of air rights. But in an illustration of why it’s now expanding the zone, only one such transfer has occurred since — to 383 Madison Avenue, a 47-story building completed in 2001.)

    In 2006, Andrew Penson’s Argent Ventures made a bet on the Grand Central area. The company bought the land under the train station and, by extension, its air rights from the American Financial Group, which, years earlier, had taken over the remnants of the Penn Central railway. Argent now holds about 1.3 million square feet of the unused remaining air rights.

    According to PropertyShark, other air rights owners in the area include St. Patrick’s Cathedral (1.2 million square feet), St. Bartholomew’s Church (646,299 square feet), 390 Park Avenue Associates (358,994 square feet), 250 Park Avenue (304,628 square feet), Landgray Associates (185,625 square feet) and Central Synagogue (165,049 square feet). Some of those owners, however, are in the broader Midtown East area and not the Grand Central Subdistrict, so will only be able to sell to adjacent building owners or those across the street.

    But the Daily News reported last month that the Archdiocese of New York is lobbying the city for the right to transfer its development rights anywhere in the zone, despite the fact that Grand Central is the only landmarked building that would be able to do so under the current proposal.

    Selver, Argent’s lawyer and the cochairman of the land-use department at the law firm Kramer Levin, said in an interview with The Real Deal that the future value of his client’s air rights will be determined, in large part, by the specifics of the rezoning.

    That is because under the Bloomberg proposal, in order to use the air rights that they purchase, developers would first have to buy separate development rights from the city, with the proceeds from those sales going into the fund to pay for pedestrian and transit improvements in the area.

    For example, within the Grand Central Subdistrict, building a tower with a floor-area ratio of up to 15 — in other words, a building with 15 times as many square feet as on the underlying lot — would be allowed as of right. But in order to build more, up to a FAR of 18, developers would have to pay into the city fund. To build even higher than that, to a FAR of up to 21.6, developers could either make additional payments to the city or buy air rights from those like Argent who own them.

    Consequently, the amount the city sets for the price of the separate development rights that it will be selling will affect the value of the privately owned air rights.

    A competitive edge

    Howard Goldman, a partner in the land-use law firm Goldman Harris, said in its current form, the proposed rezoning could put the city fund in competition with private air rights owners.

    “Any requirement that you use the city’s air rights first basically creates serious competition,” Goldman said. “The city can set the price. They can underbid Grand Central if they want to and also give themselves a competitive advantage.”

    Selver expressed a similar concern.

    “In the past, the city has set the number at which they will ‘sell’ development rights too low,” he wrote in an e-mail. “They will tell you that they need to do so to encourage development, and even accepting that, I’ve never seen them set a number high enough.”

    Since so few air rights have been sold in the Grand Central Subdistrict, there are no comps and pricing is expected to be tricky.

    A spokesperson for the Department of City Planning, which is overseeing the rezoning, said the city is still determining the payment amounts it would require for its fund. But she said that the decision-making process will take into account the value of privately held development rights in the area, and will be complete before the public review process begins in the first quarter of 2013.
    There is also the question of how many developers will be interested in buying extra development rights. The proposed rezoning would only allow taller new buildings on sites with full avenue frontage and at least 25,000 square feet of lot size. The goal is to encourage what the planning department calls “significant new commercial buildings.”

    Still, there are a few sites within the Grand Central Subdistrict whose owners — or future owners — would qualify.

    The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said early this year that it’s planning to sell its headquarters, a row of prewar office buildings at 341, 345 and 347 Madison Avenue that take up the length of the block between East 44th and 45th streets. Under the proposed rezoning, a buyer could demolish those buildings and construct a larger tower in their place.

    Meanwhile, 380 Madison Avenue, at East 46th Street, was left without a major tenant in March when Investment Technology Group moved out, and the owners are reportedly planning to renovate or tear down the building.

    ‘The real impetus’

    Goldman called replacing Midtown’s aging office stock “the real impetus” for the rezoning. East Midtown’s office buildings are significantly older than in “competitor cities” like London and Tokyo, city planning officials say.

    To address that, Bloomberg’s proposal would also allow owners of qualified buildings that are “overbuilt” — meaning that their towers exceed the allowable height under current zoning guidelines, but were likely grandfathered in — to tear them down and replace them at their existing height or, in some cases, taller if they pay into the new fund.

    Goldman said he thinks many qualifying owners will seize the opportunity — despite the mandatory payments into the city fund.

    Another source, who asked not to be named, noted that the costs of rebuilding would be significant, but that landlords would look at the longterm financial benefits. “Potentially, it’s anyone who owns a property that’s either underbuilt — which very few of them are — or is old and tired, and the owner is willing to demolish it, lose his rent stream for a couple of years and build another one.”

    The city may not need many property owners to modernize to deem the rezoning a success: The city planning spokesperson emphasized that the goal is to seed the area with just a handful of modern and sustainable office buildings.

    All this depends, of course, on whether the proposal is approved (and in what form) before Bloomberg’s term is up.

    “I think the city put out a proposal within a relatively short time frame, and now I think they are in the process of listening to what people have to say about it,” Goldman said. “I’m absolutely certain there will be changes before it’s in its final form. What the changes are is a different question.”

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    Bloomberg Pushes a Plan to Let Midtown Soar


    Published: October 6th, 2012

    London, Tokyo and other metropolises have created central business districts with forests of skyscrapers in recent years, seeking to meet the needs of globe-trotting corporate tenants.

    But New York’s premier district, the 70-block area around Grand Central Terminal, has lagged, Bloomberg officials say, hampered by zoning rules, decades old, that have limited the height of buildings.

    Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg wants to overhaul these rules so that buildings in Midtown Manhattan can soar as high as those elsewhere. New towers could eventually cast shadows over landmarks across the area, including St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. They could rise above the 59-story MetLife Building and even the 77-story Chrysler Building.

    Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal reflects his effort to put his stamp on the city well after his tenure ends in December 2013. Moving swiftly, he wants the City Council to adopt the new zoning, for what is being called Midtown East, by October 2013, with the first permits for new buildings granted four years later.

    His administration says that without the changes, the neighborhood around Grand Central will not retain its reputation as “the best business address in the world” because 300 of its roughly 400 buildings are more than 50 years old. These structures also lack the large column-free spaces, tall ceilings and environmental features now sought by corporate tenants.

    The rezoning — from 39th Street to 57th Street on the East Side — would make it easier to demolish aging buildings in order to make way for state of-the-art towers.

    Without it, “the top Class A tenants who have been attracted to the area in the past would begin to look elsewhere for space,” the administration says in its proposal.

    The plan has stirred criticism from some urban planners, community boards and City Council members, who have contended that the mayor has acted hastily. They said they were concerned about the impact of taller towers in an already dense district where buildings, public spaces, streets, sidewalks and subways have long remained unchanged.

    Mr. Bloomberg has encouraged high-rise development in industrial neighborhoods, including the Far West Side of Manhattan, the waterfront in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and in Long Island City, Queens. But with the proposal for Midtown, which is working its way through environmental and public reviews, he is tackling the city’s commercial heart.

    “Unlocking the development potential in this area will generate historic opportunities for investment in New York City,” Deputy Mayor Robert K. Steel said.

    The initiative would, in some cases, allow developers to build towers twice the size now permitted in the Grand Central area. The owner of the 19-story Roosevelt Hotel at Madison and 45th Street could replace it with a 58-story tower under the proposed rules. Current regulations permit no more than 30 floors.

    Administration officials acknowledged that the current market for new office buildings across Manhattan was relatively weak. For example, a 40-story office tower at 11 Times Square, at 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue, which was completed in 2010, is still not full.

    But the officials said major changes in zoning were intended to make it possible to build when demand returned, as history suggests it inevitably will. In promoting the proposal, the administration has repeatedly stressed that Midtown Manhattan needed to keep pace with business districts in other world capitals. And New York does compete with London for some financial firms.
    But many of New York’s prominent corporations, law firms and other businesses are not about to decamp for a spectacular skyscraper in Hong Kong anytime soon. Part of the obsession with taller buildings is about prestige and worldwide bragging rights, for size and architectural supremacy.

    By the city’s estimates, the new towers would be home to an additional 16,000 employees in a neighborhood that now has 230,000 office workers. That could strain the Lexington Avenue subway line, which runs through Grand Central and is already operating well above capacity.

    “Massive new buildings could be constructed,” said Michael B. Gerrard, an environmental lawyer working with the Municipal Art Society to review the proposal.

    “They’re proceeding at a breakneck pace,” he said, referring to Bloomberg aides. “The administration wants to get all this done before the gate closes.”

    Vikki Barbero, chairwoman of Community Board 5, said she was concerned that the proposal could undercut two existing initiatives: on the Far West Side, where a 50-block area was rezoned in 2005 for high-rise development; and downtown, where developers are seeking tenants for the World Trade Center site.

    The proposal would have to be approved by the City Council. The Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, who is expected to be a leading Democratic candidate for mayor, has declined to express a position on it before the review process is finished.

    But Councilman Daniel R. Garodnick, a Manhattan Democrat, said the Bloomberg administration had failed to consider a host of substantive issues before plunging ahead.

    “We need to address the impact of thousands of new office workers,” Mr. Garodnick said. “There are implications for transportation, sanitation and public safety.”

    Amanda M. Burden, a close Bloomberg adviser who is director of the City Planning Department, has rebuffed requests from community boards and elected officials to slow down the process.

    The City Planning Department, which has rezoned 116 neighborhoods under the Bloomberg administration, played down the impact of the proposal, saying that only a limited number of building sites would qualify for the new zoning, perhaps 20. Critics respond that the potential is far higher.

    The real estate industry has urged the administration to move quickly, fearing that the next mayor might not be as sympathetic.

    The Real Estate Board of New York, the industry’s lobbying group, generally supports the proposal, though it favors expanding the district boundaries and allowing bigger buildings without public review.

    “We’re pretty happy with the direction this is going in,” said Steven Spinola, president of the real estate board. “The details need to be ironed out.”

    Under the proposal, the city would essentially sell the right to build bigger towers, especially near Grand Central Terminal and along Park Avenue. In a first step, builders would pay the city an unspecified amount for a “district improvement bonus” in order to go 20 percent above the existing limits. The revenue would be used to improve subway connections and public spaces in the neighborhood.

    A developer could then buy additional development rights from the city or from landmarks like Grand Central Terminal itself that have unused development rights.

    The city’s Budget Office has questioned whether the plan would undermine the initiative at Hudson Yards, on the Far West Side of Manhattan. The city issued $3 billion in bonds to build a boulevard and a subway extension to Hudson Yards, but the flow of revenue from the sale of development rights there to pay for the bonds has been slow.

    So the City Planning Department inserted a so-called sunrise provision, in which developers in the Grand Central area would have to wait five years before they could start building. Presumably, that would reduce the competition between the two areas and leave time for Hudson Yards to gather momentum.

    Entities outside the Grand Central area, meanwhile, are pressing the administration to broaden its boundaries. St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Central Synagogue and St. Bartholomew’s Church, which are all farther north, want the same ability as Grand Central Terminal to sell unused development rights. But some developers and city officials question whether the value of development rights would decline if supply is increased.

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    Untangling the Grand Central Snarl


    Published: October 17th, 2012

    A pedestrian halo suspended in the sky between two office towers. An elevated glass walkway with seasonal grasses. A pedestrian plaza with sidewalk cafes and retail.

    SOM A rendering of a halo-shaped skyway between buildings by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

    These are a few of the proposals by architects who want to transform Grand Central Terminal from a chaotic beehive back to its former glory as a stately entry point to the city for the many thousands of commuters and tourists who use it each day.

    The Department of City Planning has proposed a rezoning of the area around Grand Central, including parts of Park and Madison avenues, to allow for a handful of new office towers, some of which could rival iconic buildings in Shanghai, Dubai and London.

    As part of the proposed rezoning, some developers would be required to donate to a fund to make infrastructure upgrades in the area, including building additional stairways to access the subway platforms in Grand Central and a pedestrian mall on Vanderbilt Avenue.

    But some want to see more ambitious solutions to Grand Central's pedestrian traffic jams, which are only expected to increase with the addition of more office space and new commuter access to the terminal by the Long Island Rail Road.

    "What's in it for the public?" said Roger Duffy, a design partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, an architecture firm.

    WXY A rednering of a High Line-like walkway by WXY Architecture.

    The firm was one of three asked by the Municipal Art Society of New York, a nonprofit, to submit proposals about how to redesign public space in the area. The group plans to unveil the submissions at a conference Thursday, which it hopes will influence city planners as they contemplates upgrades to the area. The proposed rezoning is still in the early stages of the public approval process.

    "Grand Central itself is our most beloved landmark. It's the center of commercial New York. It's also a neighborhood. But yet, the area over the years, it has become somewhat disconnected and a little lonely at times, particularly in the evening," said Vin Cipolla, president of MAS.

    The ideas from the architects have thus far found a receptive audience with the department. "I look forward to seeing the concepts that the MAS teams have put forward and to continuing conversations with the public about critical pedestrian and transit network improvements that can accompany future development in East Midtown," City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden said in a statement.

    Foster A rednering of a pedestrian plaza for
    easier terminal access by Foster + Partners.

    The most visually striking proposal, designed by Skidmore Owings, is a halo suspended between two new office buildings that would move up and down. It would give visitors a view of the city from different heights, similar to the London Eye.

    The firm says it has consulted with engineers and the proposal is technically feasible, but the bigger challenge would be to ensure that the government and owners of potential new office towers could work together.

    "That's kind of radical. Currently there's a divide between the public and private," Mr. Duffy said.

    The firm of WXY Architecture created a design for an elevated pedestrian walkway on the current Park Avenue Viaduct with a glass bottom and seasonal plantings similar to the High Line.
    "Our strategy was the dream of the near-future being a lot better," said Claire Weisz, a founding partner at WXY.

    Foster + Partners, which designed the Hearst Tower near Columbus Circle, stuck to more incremental changes, such as creating a pedestrian plaza on Vanderbilt Avenue, increasing the heights of the pedestrian tunnels and creating more open, visible entrances to the terminal.

    "It's one of the most wonderful civic spaces anywhere in the world," said Brandon Haw, a senior partner. "Nonetheless, it is very difficult to navigate."

  7. #7
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002


    10 Buildings Possibly Endangered by a Midtown East Rezoning

    by Sara Polsky

    Published: November 20th, 2012

    The city is hoping to upzone the area around Grand Central Terminal, allowing taller buildings and additional special projects in a 74-block area between 37th and 57th streets. Among the people not happy about this: historic preservationists, who worry that the plan could endanger some historic but un-landmarked buildings in the area. The New York City Landmarks Conservancy has come up with a list of 15 possibly endangered buildings around Grand Central that were built between 1911 and the late 1920s, and the Journal reports on a few of the properties in question. We went through the conservancy's list to find 10 of the most notable endangered buildings, and we collected 'em all on a map.

    Buildings Possibly Threatened by Midtown East Rezoning

    125 Park Avenue

    This York and Sawyer-designed building was built in 1922 and has since been modernized. For anyone who wants to go on a York and Sawyer kick as a result of their inclusion on this list, Columbia has a collection of their architectural drawings.

    Lincoln Building
    60 East 42nd Street

    This 1930 building on East 42nd Street was designed by James Edwin Ruthven Carpenter Jr. and finished in 1930. Wikipedia teaches us that it's currently the 49th tallest building in New York City, which is a fun claim to fame.

    51 East 42nd Streeet

    The New York Landmarks Conservancy lists the Vanderbilt Avenue facade of this building as endangered by the proposed rezoning. The property changed hands at the end of last year, and new owner SL Green was already eligible to buy unused air rights and expand the building.

    Graybar Building
    420 Lexington Avenue

    The Art Deco Graybar Building was built c. 1926, and it has some funky detailing, including reliefs of Promotheus and cables in the shape of a ship's ropes.

    Yale Club of New York City
    50 Vanderbilt Avenue

    James Gamble Rogers designed this building in 1915, one of the architect's many Yale-related commissions. The New York Landmarks Conservancy has identified the entire Vanderbilt Avenue area outside of the Yale Club as potentially endangered by the Midtown East rezoning.

    Roosevelt Hotel
    45 East 45th Street

    This 1925 building was designed by George B. Post. Even after an extensive renovation in the 1990s, the building has retained its original facade—one of the few hotels in the Terminal City area, the Journal explains, to have done so.

    Postum Building
    250 Park Avenue

    This 21-story building was built by Cross & Cross, the designers of Tiffany & Co. and the General Electric Building, in 1925. Building manager Dan Bradley tells the Journal that the management company, AEW Capital Management, is "studying the proposed language" of the rezoning plan very carefully to figure out how it will affect the property.

    The Lexington
    511 Lexington Avenue

    This hotel, designed by Schultze and Weaver, opened in 1929. (Schultze, as it happens, also worked on the design for Grand Central Terminal during his previous employment at Warren & Wetmore.)

    New York Marriott East Side
    525 Lexington Avenue

    What's now a Marriott at 525 Lexington Avenue used to be the Haloran House, and before that, the Shelton Towers Hotel. The Arthur Loomis Harmon-designed building, finished in 1924, was, as the one and only Carter B. Horsley points out, one of the first buildings to comply with the zoning resolution of 1916. Harmon received a gold medal from the Architectural League of New York and the American Institute of Architects for the design.

    The Benjamin Hotel
    125 East 50th Street

    This Emery Roth-designed 1925 building was once the Beverly Hotel. It's now the Benjamin Hotel, with the name change having followed a makeover and reopening in 1999. (Here's what the building looked like circa 1930.)

    Proposed Midtown East Rezoning Targets Historic Buildings Near Grand Central [NYCLC]
    Preservationists Fret Over Midtown Rezoning [WSJ]

  8. #8


    Thanks, Merry.

  9. #9


    Why do they have to concentrate it that densely? Can't they spread it out farther river to river? Then maybe those prewar buildings won't have to be threatened. They can do it after the 5-year waiting period. And that halo walkway looks like it defies physics.

  10. #10
    Fearless Photog RoldanTTLB's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Broomfield, CO


    The most money is right by GCT. The richest people living in CT won't commute on a second train (and certainly not a bus), so the highest PSF rents are the shortest walk from GCT. This necessarily translates to the tallest buildings remaining highly profitable. It's quite expensive to build that tall.

  11. #11
    Forum Veteran Tectonic's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2007
    New York City


    Sounds like Lower Manhattan might be in trouble as a CBD. The recent flooding does not help.

  12. #12
    Crabby airline hostess - stache's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    Nairobi Hilton


    Especially the east side.

  13. #13


    Quote Originally Posted by Tectonic View Post
    Sounds like Lower Manhattan might be in trouble as a CBD. The recent flooding does not help.
    I think that lower Manhattan is best suited as a residential area. The beautiful old buildings that are Class B and Class C office space would be beautiful apartments and hotels.

  14. #14
    Forum Veteran Tectonic's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2007
    New York City


    I was thinking the same thing, lets see how the aftermath of Sandy pans out over the next 10 years. The WTC is struggle to get tenants yet we have these other massive and potentially massive projects breaking ground in Midtown.

  15. #15


    While I do agree that new office buildings Downtown will struggle to get tenants in the near future, I don't think Downtown should be written off as a CBD and converted to residential. It's the third largest business district in the country and many companies who rent in those class B and C offices can't afford to be in Midtown and would likely move in outside the city.

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