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Old Posted Apr 13, 2007, 11:37 AM
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NY Sun

Colossal Plans for Hudson Yards
City Soon To Request Proposals


By ELIOT BROWN
April 13, 2007


The city is about to unveil its preliminary proposal for the 26-acre Hudson Yards site over the MTA's rail yards, a colossal development that is said to include about 13 million square feet of an undetermined mix of residential and office space.

The project, which could be handed over to a single developer, would be substantially larger than either the World Trade Center redevelopment or the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn.


Nearly two years after the city lost its bid to build a stadium on the West Side site, the Bloomberg administration and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which owns the rail yards site, will come forward with design guidelines at the end of the month, a city official said. It plans to issue a request for proposals in May.

At least four major developers are working on bids for the mega-project, according to the president of the Real Estate Board of New York, Steven Spinola. The cost of the project — including the task of building a platform above working rail yards — is so high that Mr. Spinola said developers could seek to partner with pension funds or private equity funds to foot the bill. He said current market conditions and the expected abundance of office development around Penn Station to the east would probably lead a developer to build mostly apartment towers.

Numerous officials and others involved in discussions say there are many points of contention regarding the brisk timeline and design guidelines, particularly the MTA's insistence on flexible guidelines that do not offer specifics about the makeup of buildings or infrastructure. By not setting out detailed requirements for a developer, the MTA could expect to attract higher bids, though community leaders say issues such as "affordable" housing and public infrastructure should be agreed upon at this point in the process so as to ensure its eventual approval through the city's uniform land use review.

"It's an extremely ambitious project in terms of its size, and it's also ambitious in terms of its time frame," Mr. Spinola, who has been involved in discussions regarding the guidelines, said. "The MTA is anxious to have the deal done, and done quickly."

The giant swath of land west of Pennsylvania Station is one of the last remaining large undeveloped spaces in Manhattan. Despite the failed stadium bid, numerous projects such as the no. 7 line subway extension, the pending expansion of the Jacob Javits Convention Center, and improvements to Hudson River Park would reinvent the area west of Midtown when combined with a development over the yards.

The site atop the existing rail yards was a cornerstone of the city's failed bid for the 2012 Olympics, as it would have included the main stadium on the western half of the area and a cultural center and office towers over the eastern half.

After the bid failed in mid-2005, the city eventually negotiated a deal with the MTA in which the transit authority would take responsibility for the bidding process, and any new development would go through the city's land use review process. The city initially wanted to buy the western yards from the MTA, though it dropped its plan late last year and settled on the existing plan, for which future developers will give payments in lieu of taxes to help fund the no. 7 subway line.

The land over the eastern half of the rail yards was rezoned in 2005, and the current design guidelines being created pertain only to the western half, which would be rezoned by the developer or developers that win the bidding process.

In order to create a project of this scale that could successfully move through the city's land use review process, the MTA and the city agreed to create the designs with significant input from stakeholders including the development industry, the City Council, and the community.


While the various parties have yet to reach an accord, the city and the MTA are still hoping to request bids on the project starting next month.

To the concern of community members, the city appears to be leaning toward demolishing a stretch of the High Line, which could be transformed into an elevated stretch of parkland on the western half of the yards.

"I would like to see as much of the High Line stay up as possible," state Senator Tom Duane said in a phone interview. "I know that there are other stakeholders that don't necessarily agree with that."

The chairwoman of a land use committee at Community Board 4, Anna Levin, who has been involved in discussions with the city and state, said that while the city has been pushing against the High Line, the MTA has been working to create a site plan that lacks specificity, a point that several officials involved in the process have confirmed. Ms. Levin said she and others have been pushing for the design guidelines to include specifications about affordable housing, building placement, the inclusion of infrastructure, and a school.

Restrictions on construction can limit developers' expected returns, and thus bids for the project would likely be lower than without the regulations. While there have been some differences and the timeline has been accelerated, Ms. Levin said she does not believe the project is highly contentious.

A spokesman for the MTA, Jeremy Soffin, said the agency is committed to working with the city and other parties to find a solution "that will provide vital funding of the MTA's capital needs and ensure a wonderful addition to the West Side community."

It is thought that bids for the development could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars to the MTA, and the agency's seemingly aggressive push for a more lucrative plan is consistent with the Spitzer administration's pledges to exact more from developers in large projects on public land.

While revenue for the MTA is important, the president of Manhattan, Scott Stringer, said in an e-mail that other needs have yet to be worked out.

"We still have a ways to go — especially on affordable housing and open space — before we have the consensus needed to move forward," Mr. Stringer said.

The city plans to disclose its initial design guidelines at a public meeting at the end of the month, according to an official familiar with the process. From there, the city is aiming to issue its request for proposals by the end of May.

The requests for proposals are for both the eastern and western halves of the rail yards, and the city official said the project does not necessarily have to be completed by a single developer.


Once the developer is selected, it will conduct an environmental review and seek project approval from the City Council and the city's planning commission.
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