New York officials urge local community councils not to waste chances in Mega Midtown revamp plan

New York state officials tasked with implementing the governor’s downtown redevelopment plan that would help expand Penn Station and convert about 50 nearby acres into a modern mixed-use neighborhood are moving forward , even as the city gradually returns to pre-COVID office life. And they are urging local community councils to get on board quickly.

Members of the state’s Empire State Development, the state entity spearheading the $306 billion project, warned members of Manhattan Community Boards 4 and 5 at a Thursday night town hall of the emergency of the project. Otherwise, they said, they could miss the opportunity to get federal funds from a White House and Senate backing infrastructure projects. The project does not need to go through the city’s land use review process, but does require community input from local community councils that would be affected by the project. It is unclear what authority the community councils have to modify or stop the state project.

The sprawling project known as the Empire Station Complex is still in the early planning stages. But renderings show eight sites around Penn Station that would be redeveloped with up to 10 multi-purpose towers, expanded sidewalks, expansive pedestrian plazas and underpasses leading to nearby Sixth Avenue subway stations. Under the current plan, organizers said the mixed-use buildings could have 1,800 units, of which 540 would be affordable, although they did not explain what would qualify as “affordable”.

Holly Leicht, executive vice president of real estate development and planning at Empire State Development, the authority helping lead the project, said the state may be able to raise $1.3 billion in the 2021 budget. -2022 allocated to the project to get more than 10 dollars. billion in federal allocations.

“We have a moment now,” Leicht told more than 150 people on the Zoom call.

“We have to expand Penn Station, we have no choice. The new Hudson tunnels are coming and they can’t go into the existing Penn,” Leict said, referring to the Gateway Tunnel Project, the long-awaited railroad project that will replace aging railroad tunnels between New York and New Jersey. “They need to get into a new, expanded Penn. So we have this moment where we have new tunnels coming, we have funds to do the transportation project, and that’s exactly where we should be expanding.

Leicht argued that the future of New York’s growth should be in the downtown area.

“It’s not the next five years, it’s the next generation of growth in New York and that growth really should be close to transit,” she explained. “It goes hand-in-hand with congestion pricing because we’re trying to limit the number of people driving into New York City.”

But Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who is likely to be a board member for the council’s 6th District in 2022 after her primary victory, said she would “unequivocally” oppose those plans. Brewer wants to ensure more affordable housing is added in exchange for massive property tax abatements. And she bristled at the thought of adding buildings nearly as tall as the Empire State Building to the neighborhood.

“If we’re going to do this, it has to be done differently,” Brewer told Gothamist/WNYC after the meeting. “We all want Penn Station to be better. The question is, how do you pay for this?

Leicht said the state hired Ernst & Young, which also helped advise on how to secure financing for Hudson Yards. The company recommended a combination of tax breaks, selling air rights, long-term leases on buildings and, instead of new buildings paying taxes, redirecting some of that money for building improvements. public transport.

Proponents of the Empire Station complex say the area around Penn Station needs a facelift as the average age of the buildings is 87 years and they hope to create a more pedestrian-friendly neighborhood.

A coalition of civic groups calling itself the Empire Station Coalition is also concerned that buildings like the Hotel Pennsylvania, Hotel Stewart, Gimbel’s Skybridge and St. John the Baptist Church will be demolished.

Empire Station may also require the state to use eminent domain to demolish some of the buildings in the construction area. Organizers said on Thursday they had no plans to use it at this time and were in talks with real estate company Vornado about relocating many businesses to the area, although they could not say how many.

But not Madison Square Garden, which is across from Penn Station. Peter Matusewitch, vice president and deputy program manager at MTA Construction and Development, said Thursday that moving or relocating the garden was not essential for Empire Station. While this may improve the station’s design, he said he doesn’t think it’s time to negotiate this type of deal. He said he was working toward a 2030 deadline because that’s when the new Gateway tunnel is expected to be completed under Penn Station.

“If Gateway comes, we have to be ready, we can’t waste this moment,” Matusewitch said. “We would be at a huge risk of what could be the best funding opportunity any of us will ever see in our lifetime.”