Bloomberg’s vision for a redeveloped far west side inches closer to reality

Quinn, Bloomberg and Nadler on the far west side. (Dana Rubinstein)
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Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s vision for a resplendent new neighborhood on the far west side of Manhattan isn't a total bust after all.

Yesterday afternoon, Bloomberg officially marked the groundbreaking of a Hell’s Kitchen project nearly four decades in the making. He began his remarks by placing the project, known as Gotham West, into his preferred context.

“We always believed that the far west side of Manhattan had tremendous potential for providing what our growing city needs, and that’s more jobs for New Yorkers and more affordable housing for them to live in,” said Bloomberg, who pointed to last week’s announcement of a potential new office tower in the Hudson Yards area as further evidence of the neighborhood’s resurgence.

Bloomberg has had grand plans for the far west side since he’s been in office. Back when Dan Doctoroff was his deputy mayor for economic development, the administration proposed building a Jets stadium in the area. The city rezoned the neighborhood accordingly in 2005. Unfortunately for Bloomberg, Doctoroff’s plan died in the face of opposition from, among others, Councilwoman Christine Quinn, who had yet to shift her politics centerward to become Bloomberg’s trusted ally.

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(Quinn stood by Bloomberg's side at yesterday's announcement, as did Representative Jerry Nadler.)

In 2008, Related Companies, partnering with Goldman Sachs, won the development rights for Hudson Yards and announced plans for 5.5 million square feet of office towers, nearly as much residential space, and 1 million square feet of retail. Then the recession hit, and the plan stalled out.

Last week, however, Related Companies inched the ball forward, striking a deal with Coach, the accessories retailer, to buy a 30 percent stake of a new office tower planned for the corner of the site. Notably, the building will be erected on the portion of the site that is solid land, rather than atop the actual railyard, which would require Related to drop $700 million on a concrete platform.

The history of Gotham West has been similarly stop-and-go. It was condemned in 1975 and subsequently acquired by the city. It later became home to a 300-space public parking lot, a 50-space NYPD parking, P.S. 51, a vacant warehouse and the beloved Shamrock Stables, according to Corey Johnson, chairman of Community Board 4. In the early 2000s, there were also plans to build movie studios there. 

Monday's groundbreaking also marks a step forward in the mayor’s commitment to build or preserve 165,000 new units of middle-income and affordable housing in the five boroughs by the end of 2014 as part of his New Housing Marketplace Plan. Thus far 125,700 units have been funded.

For residents of the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, the Gotham West project has less to do with the mayor’s legacy-building, and more to do with the redevelopment of a languishing site.

“It was a long-fought victory,” said Johnson. “It wasn’t a quick process. There were negotiations at every level of city government.”

The negotiations led to an agreement that Gotham Organization, the developer, would build 1,238 apartments on the site that takes up nearly the entire block bounded by 44th and 45th streets and 10th and 11th avenues. Of those units, 682 units will "affordable." Six hundred of the 682 will be “permanently affordable," or permanently below market-rate.

More precisely, 41 units will be available to families of four earning up to $32,720 or individuals earning up to $22,920. Two hundred and nine units will be available to available to families of four earning up to $40,900 or individuals earning up to $28,650. Two hundred and sixteen units will be available to families of four earning up to $110,430, or individuals earning up to $77,355. And another 216 will be available to families earning up to $134,970, or individuals earning up to $94,550.

The project will also replace P.S. 51, an elementary school whose students have, since the start of the school year, had to commute to the Upper East Side while the project is underway.