Fresh success at Hudson Yards shows how NYC wins with rezoning
As 2020 nears its eagerly awaited expiration, four giant, very different news-making companies share an overlooked, common thread. Can you guess what it is?
Pfizer was first of several pharmaceutical firms to announce the development of a successful COVID-19 vaccine. BlackRock hedge-fund honchos are replacing Goldman Sachs execs as top White House economic advisers. The National Hockey League is struggling to launch a 2020-21 season. And Facebook is in the news nearly every day for just about everything.
What’s the connection? All the companies are moving to Hudson Yards, the far-west-side Manhattan district that gets trashed in reactionary circles for everything from exaggerated “subsidies” to the fact that it doesn’t resemble Rockefeller Center.
The pharmaceutical firm, the investment bank and the NHL are moving their headquarters from other parts of town into buildings by three different Yards-area developers — Pfizer at Tishman Speyer’s Spiral, BlackRock to Related Companies’ 50 Hudson Yards and the NHL to Brookfield’s One Manhattan West.
Facebook, meanwhile, merely leased a whopping 1.5 million square feet in three buildings at Related’s complex, one of the largest office deals in several years. (Related’s 28-acre “Hudson Yards” is part of the 360-acre Yards District.)
There’s a lesson in the migration of so many of-the-moment companies to a slice of Manhattan that 10 years ago was a backwater of prostitution, tire-repair shops and unsightly sunken rail yards.
In today’s increasingly development-hostile climate, the moves dramatize the power of rezoning to fundamentally alter the city’s destiny for the better and bring revitalization even amid the gloom of an economically destructive pandemic.
The word “rezoning” puts some people out like a light. But for decades, much of the city was straitjacketed by antiquated rules to preserve manufacturing long after factories moved away. Efforts to bring neighborhoods into the modern world began under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and, surprisingly, continued under “progressive” Mayor Bill de Blasio.
A 2005 rezoning to allow larger, non-factory buildings on the Far West Side catalyzed its transformation into a great commercial district, as well as a new locale for homes, stores, hotels and restaurants. More recent rezoning also facilitated the development of One Vanderbilt near Grand Central Terminal, a game-changer for Midtown East.
But rezoning requires public review. It’s increasingly stymied by resistance over “gentrification” and “out-of-scale” construction (the latter argument would have prevented the Empire State Building from getting built).
The movement killed off City Hall’s worthy proposals to rezone 300 blocks of Brooklyn’s Bushwick, the Industry City site in the same borough’s Sunset Park and Lenox Terrace in Harlem. Others hang in the balance as they await court decisions.
Unlike at Hudson Yards, those hotly contested initiatives weren’t meant to yield giant skyscrapers. They were tailored to encourage affordable-housing creation by requiring new projects to include cheaper apartments. But the principle was the same: to unlock neighborhood potential and allow them to flourish anew. Unfortunately, the idea is poison to activists and to certain pols who’d prefer to preserve the city in aspic.
Hudson Yards has defied the reactionary tendency, however. And let’s hope President-elect Joe Biden is paying attention. A hockey site described him as “the first serious hockey fan” to occupy the Oval Office. If we’re lucky, the NHL’s move to Hudson Yards will spur federal action that could boost revitalization.
City and state desperately need to replace the crumbling Hudson River rail tunnels that feed into the Yards; tracks emerging from the tunnels remain visible just west of The Vessel and Related’s new towers. The Trump administration has balked at helping to pay for the job.
Biden might be more inclined to pony up the dough. The sight of his beloved NHL’s home amid gleaming new towers might be just the thing to make him deliver it.