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In January, Governor Andrew Cuomo heralded a $51bn reimagining of Manhattan Midtown West that will “spread East to Broadway and West to the Hudson” — by March, that plan was being opposed by local politicians as “a real estate development plan, not a transportation plan.” Next week, residents will have their chance to get a say in the future of the area at a Virtual Town Hall.
Manhattan Community Board 4 (MCB4) Chair Lowell Kern encouraged locals to get involved, saying: “The Governor’s proposal has the potential to displace residents and business in the district, while also the potential to enhance the neighborhood for generations to come. We believe it is important the community learn more details of this plan now.”
Cuomo announced the plan in his State of the State address at the start of the year. He said the project — which includes the redevelopment of the Javits Center, Port Authority Bus Terminal, Penn Station, and extensions of the High Line to the new Moynihan Train Hall and Pier 76 — would create almost 200,000 jobs.
The ambitious multi-billion dollar plan takes in 140 acres of Manhattan real estate and will include transit hubs and “new residential commercial and public works projects that will combine to form a new vibrant, exciting district,” he said. Cuomo’s first step is to deal with New York’s decaying transit hubs and push again for the delayed Gateway Project to deliver new train tunnels between Manhattan and New Jersey.
“We’ll begin with re-imagining and rebuilding a true blight — New York City’s Penn Station — which is aging, deteriorated and overcrowded,” he continued. “By acquiring the square block to the South of Penn station, we can build another terminal. Penn South will add at least eight additional underground tracks. This new complex also anticipates two new cross-river train tunnels. Washington has the delayed these tunnels, called the Gateway Project, for years and they must finally move forward. The Moynihan Hall, Penn South and the renovated Penn Station will double our capacity and make travel easier, safer, more reliable and enjoyable. The new project will be called the Empire Station Complex and will be the most ambitious mass transit development in the United States of America.”
The Governor has since delivered the new development at the Javits Center, which has increased capacity by 50%.
He’s also created a 5-acre open space at Pier 76, replacing the NYPD Tow Pound. “Pier 76 is probably the most under-utilized piece of real estate in New York City. After decades of apathy, the pier will become a magnificent public space that will delight visitors and tourists and welcome all of Manhattan,” he commented in January.
Cuomo’s overall plan for the west side involves “another New York city eyesore, the Port Authority Bus Complex.” At the end of June, Town Halls were held by Port Authority to outline their proposals for the terminal to Hell’s Kitchen residents.
He plans to thread all this together by extensions of the High Line to “make this a walkable, enjoyable part of Manhattan,” he said. Phase one will connect the High Line to the new Moynihan Train Hall by extending “eastward from 10th Avenue and 30th street through the Brookfield properties, creating a 1,200 foot path.” The state is studying a proposed phase two, in which the High Line will push northward and connect Pier 76 with a pedestrian bridge across the West Side Highway.
Part of the $51bn funding will come from making 14 building sites available that will yield 20 million square feet of retail, commercial and residential development. Cuomo emphasized that the “priority will be to use these sites for affordable housing, creating up to 1,400 much-needed units.
“In total, these West Side projects represent $51bn in investment and 196,000 jobs. Even more. They will show New Yorkers and the world that a new New York city is in reach and that the future is bright,” he added during his State of the State speech.
However, the Governor’s grand $51bn plan for Manhattan Midtown West has faced fierce opposition from local politicians and community groups. “The current proposal by the Empire State Development Corporation falls on its face at the first step, as the proposal has no vision for the area or the future,” said Jeffrey LeFrancois, First Vice-Chair of MCB4 back in March. “And is a real estate development plan, not a transportation plan.”
In a letter to the Governor, local politicians added to the voice of the community. “We cannot have a plan for the area around Penn Station and not have a clear understanding, let alone agreement, on what happens to Penn Station,” said the letter signed by Representatives Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler, Manhattan Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, New York State Senators Brad Hoylman and Robert Jackson, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. All are members of the Empire Station Complex Community Advisory Committee.
The scheme is being seen as a move to demolish six blocks around Penn Station and build 10 skyscrapers without a city review or transportation plan. Locals believe the plan is being driven by the interests of developers and is not focused on creating a world class transport hub for New York.
In a joint statement from the chairs of Manhattan Community Board 4 and 5 in March, there was a request to “hit pause” on the development. “It is time for a better Penn Station. New York City deserves a world class, intermodal transportation center. Our communities are eager to improve Penn Station and we want to do it right,” said Lowell Kern (MCB4) and Layla Law-Gisiko (MCB5) in the statement. “Unfortunately, the plan introduced by the Empire State Development Corporation at the height of the pandemic has nothing to do with Penn Station or infrastructure. Rather, it is a real estate development packaged as a ‘transportation’ project.”
If the current plan goes ahead, Touro College, The Hotel Pennsylvania and St. John the Baptist Church would all be demolished.
Some of the proposed towers are so-called “supertalls” of up to 1,300 feet that would block views of the Empire State Building and cast large shadows over much of midtown.
“The ‘Complex’ would cause myriad adverse impacts: from sidewalk overcrowding, shadows, and the demolition of entire city blocks, to the obstruction of views of the Empire State Building. The state treats these issues as if they are a ripple in the midst of a tsunami of development. They are fully aware of all the impacts, yet they propose no mitigation,” said Kern and Law-Gisiko.
LeFrancois warned at the MCB4 Executive Committee in March that If the plan moves forward: “It will only make the area more dangerous, crowded, and we could add the Empire Station Complex plan to the list of planning failures for the city and the state.”
Empire State Development plans to present and discuss the proposed Empire Station Complex project at the Town Hall on Thursday, July 15 at 6pm via Zoom. You can register and submit questions via this link https://tinyurl.com/sshd2wp