For Immediate Release
October 20th, 2014
Rachaele Raynoff - (212) 720-3471
First Phase of Planning Strategy to Strengthen Pivotal East Midtown Commercial District Would Promote Growth, Create Jobs and Improve Life for Commuters
Proposed Major New Buildings Would Be Subject to Public Review
October 20, 2014—Public review officially launched today for a rezoning of the Vanderbilt Corridor, the first phase of the de Blasio Administration’s two-part strategy to strengthen East Midtown as a world-class 21st Century commercial district, attract more quality jobs to New York City, and deliver vital infrastructure and public realm improvements together with new development. The zoning proposal would allow for larger state-of-the-art buildings along Vanderbilt and Madison avenues in Manhattan that would provide specific, significant and public transit infrastructure upgrades. Each proposed development would be required to go through the City’s robust public review process. The City’s proposal is designed to facilitate commercial development along the blocks along Grand Central Terminal’s west side, improve pedestrian circulation within the iconic transit hub and its vicinity, and allow greater opportunity for area landmarks to transfer their unused development rights. Delivery of much-needed improvements at Grand Central Terminal would relieve subway station bottlenecks and create new public open space.
City Planning Commission Chairman Carl Weisbrod said, “The proposed zoning change for the Vanderbilt Corridor is Phase One of our efforts to ensure a vibrant and productive future for East Midtown which is something that the business community, the local community and indeed the entire city desires and needs. Consistent with our approach to planning under this administration, this proposed zoning coordinates new development with appropriate infrastructure and services by requiring the developers of major new buildings to provide specific and significant public transit and public realm improvements. ”
Covering the blocks fronting on Vanderbilt and Madison Avenues between East 42nd and East 47th streets – the heart of East Midtown and a major economic engine for New York City -- the proposed zoning change would reinvigorate this aging commercial district by stimulating private sector investment both to alleviate the area’s shortage of modern office space and also to address challenges to its strained infrastructure. The corridor is very well served by public transportation, with underground connections linking all five blocks to the Grand Central Terminal complex. In addition, the MTA’s East Side Access project, which will bring Long Island Rail Road customers to East Midtown with a one-seat ride, is under construction below the corridor. However, the City has identified infrastructure and public realm challenges in the area, such as congestion in the Grand Central subway station, crowded sidewalks and a lack of publicly accessible open space. With several potential development sites along the corridor, the zoning changes offer the opportunity to provide modern new commercial space in the immediate vicinity of Grand Central while making significant infrastructure improvements to the overall Grand Central complex.
The Vanderbilt Corridor proposal addresses specific concerns raised during the public review process of the 2013 East Midtown proposal. One of the most notable changes is replacement of the district improvement bonus with a mechanism whereby developers of new projects must complete infrastructure improvements along with construction of their buildings.
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 completed by the developer as part of the construction of each new building. This proven zoning mechanism would provide certainty that the improvements would be implemented in accordance with a schedule established for their construction. (A 2014 DCP report details how similar transit bonuses have resulted in subway improvements in connection with private developments over the last three decades.)
The initiative is intended to spur private commercial investment and improve pedestrian circulation in and around Grand Central, one of the busiest hubs in the entire transit system with nearly a half million daily users. In order to qualify for the maximum allowable floor area, property owners will be required to undertake improvements to the Grand Central pedestrian and transit network. The amount of the floor area granted above the area’s maximum permitted floor area ratio (FAR) of 15 would be subject to discretionary review and dependent on the public benefit derived from the improvements proposed as part of each project.
In addition, the existing Grand Central Subdistrict Landmark Transfer Special Permit would be modified to increase the maximum permitted FAR on a development site in the Vanderbilt Corridor from 21.6 FAR to 30 FAR through the landmark transfer. This change would provide greater opportunities for the transfer of unused landmark development rights in the Grand Central Subdistrict.
A special permit would be required for the development, conversion, or enlargement of hotels in the Vanderbilt Corridor. The findings for the permit would be focused on ensuring that a proposed hotel would incorporate services and facilities that are complementary to office uses in the overall East Midtown business district.
Finally, 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 currently underutilized area into a public space that would be a gateway to the business district, providing significant benefits to workers and visitors of the surrounding area while helping support future growth.
The Vanderbilt Corridor proposal offers zoning options for the redevelopment of sites along the five block stretch between 42nd street and 47th street. Property owners could seek additional floor area either by purchasing landmark development rights or by making significant transit and public realm improvements, or by using these two mechanisms in combination; both mechanisms require special permit approval.
SL Green, a private developer that owns a full bock site immediately west of Grand Central Terminal, is applying for the new Grand Central Public Realm Improvement Bonus with a proposal to undertake vital pedestrian and subway improvements together with the construction of a major new office building across from the Terminal. Its application, to be reviewed concurrently with the City’s proposal, would enable it to build a larger building than the as-of-right zoning currently allows. The permit would facilitate development of One Vanderbilt, a 1.3 million zoning square-foot, 67-story commercial building containing offices , and retail uses. The proposed building would provide new indoor and outdoor public space adjacent to the Terminal, including street improvements to create a new 12,000 square-foot public place along Vanderbilt Avenue between 42nd and 43rd streets and a new ground-level public indoor transit hall that will provide a centralized access point for East Side Access.
As part of its proposal, the developer would provide a package of public realm improvements in and around Grand Central Terminal. Off-site improvements would transform the Grand Central subway station complex, with new subway station stairs, passageways, elevators, expanded mezzanine space and other modifications designed to help alleviate platform overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue line (4, 5, and 6), and reduce train delays and system wide back-ups. The proposed new building itself would also feature a series of vital new connections and public spaces including a new subway entrance and elevator on 42nd Street, a new below-grade intermodal corridor connecting the 4, 5, 6, 7, Shuttle, and Metro-North trains to the LIRR East Side Access concourse currently under construction. Provision of the pedestrian and subway improvements would be coordinated with the construction of the building.
It is also anticipated that the Vanderbilt Corridor zoning changes could facilitate redevelopment of other sites, including, in the near term, a site owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) at Madison Avenue and East 44th Street. The MTA headquarters site is currently the subject of a Request for Proposals (RFP) to transfer the site to a developer as a private redevelopment opportunity. Plans call for the MTA to vacate the site in 2015 and, when chosen, a developer would then construct a major new building on the site if approved for either the Grand Central Public Realm Improvement Bonus or the Grand Central Landmark Transfer special permit.
With the official launch of public review today, the proposed Vanderbilt Corridor zoning changes and the One Vanderbilt special permit application now go to Manhattan Community Boards 5 and 6, followed by the Borough Board and Borough President, the City Planning Commission and the City Council as part of the City's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). For specifics of the zoning proposal or more details on the ULURP timeline, please visit the DCP website.
Greater East Midtown
Phase 2 of the comprehensive, ground-up planning strategy for East Midtown’s future is also advancing. Separately, Council Member Garodnick and Borough President Gale Brewer are co-chairing a planning process for Greater East Midtown toaddress 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 East Midtown Steering Committee has begun meetings, guided by a consultant facilitation team, to set a framework to foster economic growth and vitality for the greater East Midtown area. The process is incorporating input from a wide range of stakeholders. The committee includes a representative from:
It 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. It is anticipated that the Task Force will make recommendations to the Department of City Planning next Spring. The resulting framework will help shape potential zoning modifications for East Midtown as well as facilitating coordination of new development with appropriate infrastructure and city services for the surrounding area.
Together, 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.