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And cut! Manhattan Community Board 4 (MCB4) is pushing back on megadeveloper Vornado’s plans for a 212,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art film studio — citing a newly revised “sweetheart deal” of a lease that they say frees the company from long-promised public works and financial accountability to the neighborhood.
The Vornado Realty Trust was granted a 99-year lease to Piers 92 and 94 in 2008 by the city, with the intention to build a convention trade show complex. It is now in the process of amending lease terms with the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), having previously proposed the construction of a film and TV production complex that would rival the 200,000-square footage of New York’s biggest production house, Silvercup Studios.
But amid negotiations for the Hollywood future of the pier, many community members argue that the company has yet to fulfill its previous agreements to safely maintain both piers as well as improve public access around them — including a Hudson River esplanade, new Citi Bike station, pedestrian waterfront access, river viewing platform and public restrooms at Clinton Cove that have yet to be installed in the company’s 14 years of stewardship. Vornado temporarily stopped paying rent on Pier 92 in 2019 after it was deemed unsafe for use, and the new lease would allow the company to drop construction plans for Pier 92 altogether and return responsibility to the city and its taxpayers to rehab the rotting dock. Vornado claims they are only responsible for the building on the pier and that the city failed to maintain its structure.
Vornado is a dominant force within the Manhattan real estate landscape. The company owns 70 percent of 6th Avenue and has had a rocky start to 2023. The developer was previously slated to develop a parcel of sky-high office towers around Penn Station but paused plans in February, citing “economic instability” and the rise of remote work as detrimental to the project. Vornado’s stock prices have dipped 6.26 percent in the past month.
In Hell’s Kitchen, the MCB4 board contends that the realty giant has done very little with its lucrative opportunity at the West Side piers. “For 14 years, Manhattan Community Board 4 has been waiting for the long-promised public improvements in the area of Pier 92 and 94, and for those 14 years the community has been failed by EDC and Vornado,” wrote MCB4 Chair Jeffrey LeFrancois in a recent letter from the board, recommending that the lease terms be tabled. “Upon a thorough review of the difficult-to-access-by-the-public lease for Pier 94, and with the new findings provided from the lease of the Manhattan Cruise Ship Terminal, MCB4 remains deeply concerned by the lease terms and the process by which it was developed. A full review of the lease and its terms should be reviewed by the city’s Office of Management and Budget.”
EDC’s lease was made available to view for 90 minutes and by appointment only, which LeFrancois said was not enough time to take a thorough look into the terms of the deal. “It’s a horrible, archaic process,” he added. “For being a lease between the City of New York and a public asset, it was extremely difficult to get our hands on.”
The board was able to compare Vornado’s lease with the publicly available 2017 agreement between the city and operating partner Ports America at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal (Piers 88/90). While the Manhattan Cruise Terminal’s rent rises with inflation, the Vornado lease terms do not allow for this, said LeFrancois, giving the real estate firm millions in annual savings. Vornado would owe the city $900,000 in base rent for the first five years, jumping to $1.2 million in year six and increasing every five years with a maximum output of $2.8 million in year 86. According to its new lease, Vornado would not be responsible for its 37 open Department of Building violations and five Environmental Control Violations or the future upkeep of the pier — in contrast to the city’s cruise terminal agreement with Ports America, who is required to maintain and repair their piers.
The MCB4 has requested that Vornado take on similar responsibility for the pier, as well as a full market analysis from the EDC to cite the data behind determination over the lease cost structure. Most importantly, LeFrancois added, they want a clear deadline for completion of the languishing pedestrian improvement projects — excluded as required elements of the current lease terms. “Given the lack of investment by the city and Vornado in the last 14 years, which came with a litany of unmet promises for public benefit, the lease must include enforceable requirements. The expectation that any developer delivers a public benefit in a ‘good workmanlike manner’ should be removed from future lease drafts,” wrote LeFrancois. “This language degrades the public’s trust in the City’s ability to properly monetize its assets as it denotes ‘requirements’ that need not be met.”
Local elected officials echoed similar concerns in a recent letter to the EDC, but did not request a tabling of the lease. “Given that Piers 92 and 94 were not developed after many years during a lease agreement with Vornado, it is critical that any future project have much more rigorous oversight and ironclad lease terms that ensure it is developed as agreed upon and in the agreed upon timeframe,” reads the letter from Representative Jerry Nadler, Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, City Council Member Erik Bottcher, and Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal.
W42ST has reached out to the signatories to ask whether there has been previous action by officials regarding Pier 94’s maintenance and uncompleted projects and will update if we hear back. A representative from Council Member Bottcher’s office told us that they plan to investigate action taken towards uncompleted projects over the course of the 14-year lease.
A spoeksperson from Vornado told W42ST: “Vornado, together with our soundstage partners, is pleased to be working with NYC EDC to bring the first purpose-built studio campus to Manhattan at Pier 94. This project would deliver public amenities requested by the community, including new public restrooms for Hudson River Park, an 1,850-square-foot community amenity space, 25,000 square feet of waterfront open space and pier access and safety improvements to the bikeway while creating over 1,300 construction jobs. This development will solidify New York City’s position as a leading market for content production and studio space.”
A spokesperson from EDC told W42ST: “Pier 94 will harness New York City’s innate creativity and ingenuity while also ensuring our city remains competitive with other major production markets with a state-of-the-art content production studio and open spaces for all New Yorkers to enjoy. Pier 94 will create 400 film and TV jobs and over 1,300 construction jobs created along with an estimated economic impact of $6.4 billion over the lifetime of the project, while also bringing needed public space improvements along the West Side’s greenway. We look forward to working with the community board, elected officials, and community stakeholders to see this project through to completion.”
“We’re hoping the city recognizes the value of land on the West Side of Manhattan,” said LeFrancois. “Public piers should not just be given away to a developer who hasn’t done anything in 14 years.”
If you would like to share your opinion with the city prior to the potential execution of new lease terms, the last opportunity for public comment is a hearing this morning (May 24) by the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services. To access the public hearing and testify, call 1 (646) 992-2010, Access Code: 717 876 299 no later than 9:55 am on May 24, 2023.
Thank you CB4 for paying attention
It should come as no surprise that Vornado is following this path because it’s their SOP. Look at what they’ve done to Hotel Pennsylvania — buy it, let it fall into disrepair, then use government funding to help resuscitate the space. We need someone like Mayor Menino of Boston to stand up to Vornado like done in Downtown Crossing over a decade ago. Tell them that if they don’t honor their commitments, then the property will be taken from them to be leased by someone else. https://boston.curbed.com/2014/10/31/10028928/tom-meninos-greatest-real-estate-rivalry
1. So NYC insists that there is too much vehicle congestion, insists on Congestion Pricing – and then allows uber-development to create more congestion.
2. Another film studio even though there are multiple film studios in Manhattan Queens, Brooklyn, Westchester, Long Island and NJ.
Can’t even rely on NY Times to do reporting on massive land use idiocy and corruption
Yes – all single passenger vehicles should be banned in Manhattan below 86th Street. Livery, commercial, and car pool only. People who want to joy ride solo can do so in New Jersey.
If congestion is truly the concern, then it is completely corrupt for the City to add more congestion by allowing big development that will generate vehicles.
Actually most midtown traffic is now commercial – very few personal vehicles.
BTW folks seem unaware of all the traffic generated by ecommerce, including exploited gig workers who use personal vehicles (not commercial plates) to deliver – Amazon, Instacart, Hello Fresh etc.
If folks walked to the store instead of ordering, there’d be a decrease in vehicles.
And of course Uber is a huge contributor to traffic
I’ve read this article twice and feel like I’ve missed something. What are the streets leading up to those piers? Is it 52nd Street and 54th Street? Even the map provided doesn’t show the side streets. How will this business venture impact the Hudson River parks? If I remember correctly the fabulous (long gone) Pier Antiques shows were on piers 88, 90 and 92. It’s been a long time.
Can we just let the river be a river? It seems that every square inch of Manhattan that is empty MUST have a structure on it. This should not be true of land facing the river, which has a covenant with New Yorkers as guardians of American history. STOP BUILDING ON OUR RIVER!
WTF??? so much for getting the chance to respond, since it is 9:53 PM Eastern standard time on May 24. This just makes me so incredibly angry. Why on earth with the city grant them this kind of lease. Does anyone ever bother to come to Hells kitchen and do any kind of research of the neighborhood or any kind of impact study/etc. I think we can all agree the changing of 11th Ave. to One Direction is a bust! If you don’t think so, spend a few afternoon standing at the corner of 45th and 11th Ave. and I think you’ll change your mind. Tornado hasn’t delivered and they need to be kicked to the curb. I’ve lived 30 years in Health Kitchen on 10th Ave., and 11th Ave. And I can tell you firsthand the improvements that I have worked in the majority of them that have not. This might be a small blessing because it just sounds like it would’ve been a train wreck.
Oh but Vornados was quick
To tear down the old Bickfords restaurant from the 50s on 34th and 8th and the gaping whole sits there in the ground. Wish they decided to rebut before they obliterated a historic building.
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