De Blasio Administration and Council Member Garodnick Announce Two-Track Planning Strategy for East Midtown to Foster Growth, Create Jobs, and Drive Critical Up-Front Infrastructure Investments

May 30, 2014

Borough President Brewer, Council Member Garodnick, and City agencies to launch new community planning effort to address long-term needs in Greater East Midtown area

Short-term proposal targets zoning changes for 5-block Vanderbilt Avenue corridor to spur new commercial development and require major transit and pedestrian improvements at Grand Central

NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio, Council Member Dan Garodnick and Borough President Gale Brewer today announced a multi-part strategy to strengthen East Midtown as a world-class 21st Century commercial district. The framework announced today represents a new consensus that will help ensure East Midtown’s future vitality as a business district, attract more quality jobs to New York City, and deliver vital infrastructure improvements in the same timeframe as new development.

The area around Grand Central Terminal is a major economic engine for New York City, but it faces a shortage of modern office space and challenges to its overstrained infrastructure. To foster investment in the district’s future, the Department of City Planning (DCP) is proceeding with a two-track process that will deliver in both the short- and long-term.

First, the department will advance a zoning proposal to allow for larger state-of-the-art buildings along Vanderbilt Avenue that would provide specific, significant and upfront public infrastructure upgrades. The initiative is designed to ensure that property owners provide for much-needed improvements at Grand Central Terminal to relieve subway station bottlenecks and create new public open space sought by local stakeholders. The changes will undergo a full public review.

SL Green – the owner of a large site at Vanderbilt Avenue and East 42nd Street – will likely be the first applicant for this new zoning special permit, with a proposal to deliver vital pedestrian and subway improvements concurrent with the construction of a major new office building across from the Terminal. 

Separately, Council Member Garodnick, Borough President Gale Brewer, and Chairman Weisbrod will begin a ground-up planning process for Greater East Midtown. This process will actively engage a broad range of stakeholders to collectively identify long-term needs and goals for the neighborhood. The process will result in a comprehensive framework by next spring to foster economic growth and vitality within the study area. Embracing the need to reinvigorate East Midtown and improve the neighborhood’s public spaces and transit infrastructure connections, the process is expected to tackle a host of complex issues that will provide a basis for future zoning, infrastructure and policy initiatives. Its task force will be co-chaired by Garodnick and Brewer, and will work closely with the Department of City Planning and other public agencies. Its membership will also include members of local community boards, as well as representatives from local business groups and other stakeholders.

The entire planning strategy announced today will ultimately be shaped by extensive public input.

“We are going to keep New York City competitive, and do it through strategic investments and ground-up planning. These are the kind of policies that won’t just pay off today, but will lay the groundwork to keep districts like East Midtown thriving and attracting new business for decades to come,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“This is about investing in New York City’s future. East Midtown is home to 200,000 jobs and features unparalleled transit access, including multiple subway and regional commuter rail lines. This is an asset we must maintain and improve to make sure that it functions efficiently and continues to attract employers who will create good jobs for New Yorkers,” said Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen.

“Today’s announcement demonstrates that we are working diligently to fulfill the Mayor’s commitment to strengthen East Midtown as a world-class 21st Century commercial district consistent with community and city-wide needs,” said City Planning Chairman Carl Weisbrod. “Equally important, it also exemplifies our approach to ground-up community planning that coordinates new development with appropriate infrastructure and city services. We believe the result will truly be a Greater East Midtown.”

“This collaborative planning process will help us to come up with a plan for Greater East Midtown that puts the needs of the public at the top of the agenda,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “I’ve long called for all new development in Manhattan to help strengthen the transit network, relieve congestion on our sidewalks, and create new open space—and this effort will help ensure that.  It’s essential to ensure the vitality of East Midtown, and our city, well into the future.”

Council Member Dan Garodnick said, “This plan now puts the right emphasis on upfront infrastructure improvements, and guarantees that there is public review of the projects most likely to move forward early. It also allows for us to have a thoughtful exchange about how the broader East Midtown can grow and remain competitive, while also planning for district-wide improvements.”

“Mayor de Blasio’s proposal to increase the supply of state-of-the-art office buildings in East Midtown will create quality jobs, both blue-collar and white-collar, that can have a real economic impact in New York and help to rebuild this city’s middle class,” said Héctor Figueroa, President of 32BJ SEIU. “The proposed improvements to the transit infrastructure that are included in the mayor’s proposal will help make New York more livable for everyone.”

“Rezoning east midtown to have it be competitive as a modern center of commerce with the infrastructure improvements needed to support growth in the district will be an important contributor to creating jobs with good wages, health insurance and retirement security in our industry and others,” said Gary LaBarbera, President of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.

“The proposed rezoning and infrastructure improvements are essential to creating new state-of-the-art office space that will make sure New York City remains the world's premier business address,” said Peter Ward, President of the Hotel Trades Council. “We look forward to continue to work with the community, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Council Member Dan Garodnick and other stakeholders to ensure that rezoning midtown east grows our economy, improves public transportation and protects middle-class jobs.”

Marc Holliday, Chief Executive Officer of SL Green Realty Corp, said, “We are grateful to Mayor de Blasio, Deputy Mayor Glen, and Council Member Garodnick for advancing a plan that welcomes density where it belongs, adjacent to Grand Central Terminal, New York’s greatest transit hub. We will be moving forward with our plans for One Vanderbilt, a new world-class office tower that is already attracting attention from major tenants desiring modern space in the heart of Midtown. The project will invest more than $100 million in Grand Central’s transit infrastructure, dramatically improving access to the station and circulation through it. We are proud to invest in Midtown’s future and looking forward to working with the City, the MTA and our neighbors to make this a reality.”

“I want to thank Mayor de Blasio, Deputy Mayor Glen, Chairman Weisbrod, and Council Member Garodnick for outlining a sensible plan that will allow development and growth where it is ready to happen while continuing to work on balancing the issues involved in the larger rezoning area,” said Steven Spinola, President of The Real Estate Board of New York. “We appreciate that the administration has made this a priority and devised a practical plan that will create good middle class jobs and ensure that New York City remains the center of world commerce, culture, media, and finance. We look forward to working with the administration and other stakeholders on the plan for Greater East Midtown.” 

“The de Blasio administration has moved swiftly to get this important rezoning back on track, setting up a process to resolve open issues and ensure that our city’s central business district is second to none,” said Kathryn Wylde, President and CEO, Partnership for New York City.

“The Mayor’s proposal offers a welcome opportunity to collectively and carefully consider the new strategy for development in East Midtown. We look forward to continuing work with the City, stakeholders and the larger NYC community to realize the potential for smart investments in the physical city, with benefits for the public realm, the economy and transportation,” said Margaret Newman, FAIA, Executive Director, Municipal Art Society.

Vanderbilt Corridor

The proposal for this five-block area recognizes that there are development sites along Vanderbilt Avenue that can provide new modern commercial space, while also enhancing the area’s public open space and subway infrastructure. These two objectives have broad support and will help to maintain and strengthen the business district. The Department of City Planning (DCP) is proposing a new zoning special permit for sites along Vanderbilt, to create a public review process for larger modern buildings with a maximum density of 30 FAR, while requiring the property owners to make major improvements to the transit network as well as create new public spaces in the area. The new special permit, called the Grand Central Public Realm Improvement Bonus, would mandate that public improvements be delivered as part of the construction of each new building. This initiative will help spur private commercial investment and improve pedestrian circulation at and around the Grand Central subway station, which is one of the busiest in the entire subway system with nearly a half million daily users. In order to qualify for the maximum allowable floor area, benefited property owners will be required to undertake improvements to the Grand Central subway station that help alleviate platform overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue line (4, 5, and 6), allowing trains to depart on schedule and eliminating system wide back-ups, as well as other enhancements above and below grade. Both the City’s proposal for a new special permit and any buildings seeking the new special permit will undergo full public review as part of the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).

A proposed amendment to the City Map would change the designation of the block of Vanderbilt Avenue between East 42nd and East 43rd Streets to facilitate its transformation into a world-class pedestrian public space. This ‘public place’ designation would allow for the permanent improvement of this approximately 12,000 square foot area into a public space that would provide significant benefits to workers and visitors of the surrounding area while helping support future growth.

SL Green, a private developer that owns a site across from Grand Central Terminal, is expected to apply for the new special permit concurrently with the City’s proposal. The proposed SL Green project would facilitate development of a 1.6 million square foot office building with new indoor and outdoor public space adjacent to the Terminal, including improvements to the new public place along Vanderbilt Avenue.

As part of its proposal, SL Green would coordinate provision of the pedestrian and subway improvements together with the construction of the building. The City’s proposal for a new special permit and SL Green’s proposal for a new office building tethered to public improvements will be prepared to enter the city’s public review process this fall. It is also anticipated that the zoning text amendment creating the new special permit could also facilitate redevelopment in the near term of a site owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority at Vanderbilt Avenue and East 44th Street, along with additional public improvements.

The Vanderbilt Corridor initiative also includes greater options for the transfer of unused landmark development rights in the Grand Central Subdistrict, as well as special permit review for hotels to ensure that they provide amenities and services that complement the area’s status as a premier business district.

Greater East Midtown

In the coming weeks, Council Member Garodnick, Borough President Brewer and the City will launch a community planning effort called Greater East Midtown that will address the long-term needs of the larger area roughly between East 37th Street to the south, East 59th Street to the north, Fifth Avenue to the west and Second Avenue to the east. The public process will incorporate input from a wide range of stakeholders, including workers, residents, property owners, businesses and advocacy groups, elected officials and community representatives. They will address such issues as the state of the area’s existing commercial building stock, and appropriate uses, densities and locations for future development, as well as examine questions regarding sustainability, preservation, landmark development rights, the public realm, and various funding mechanisms for proposed improvements. The resulting framework will help shape potential zoning modifications to be advanced in 2015 and prioritize future physical improvements in East Midtown.  A consultant team will be retained to work with the City, community and stakeholders to develop the planning framework by spring of next year. The funding for the consultant study will be provided by the City, by City Council Member Garodnick and other stakeholders. 

These strategies will enable improvements to proceed as early as 2015 around Grand Central Terminal with substantial public input, while providing for comprehensive, consensus-based planning to enable East Midtown to keep its competitive edge as a vibrant 21st Century business district and thriving neighborhood.

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