On the morning of November 1st, at the Sheraton Times Square, Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke to a diverse business crowd about the ever growing population of our City – trumpeting the fact that at 8.55 million, NYC has never been bigger. The Mayor discussed “diversifying the economy,” including using City resources to incentivize a “five-borough economy” with involvement of the City in encouraging “advanced manufacturing,” real estate development and upcoming rezoning initiatives. The Mayor also spoke about the need to build trust in neighborhoods and stressed efforts being made to inform communities that development isn’t happening to them, “but by them and for them.” He added that many of those who live in these developing neighborhoods look at development “through the prism of past (and not good) experiences” but by building trust through “guaranteeing that developers do what they promised,” their attitudes would be able to change as well.
On October 13th, Herrick partnered with the Office of the Bronx Borough President and The Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, to host a trolley tour showcasing some of the new opportunities and development sites available in the Bronx. Commentary was provided by:
- Marlene Cintron, President, The Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation
- Wilhelm Ronda, Director, Planning & Development at The Office of the Bronx Borough President
- Daniel Donovan, Planner, Bronx Borough President’s Office
- Sam Goodman, Urban Planner, Bronx Borough President’s Office
The tour kicked off at the beautiful Bronx Supreme Court building at 851 Grand Concourse with a view of Yankee Stadium in the distance. The trolley then headed to a large development site that is currently up for grabs on 149th Street. Marlene Cintron expressed the need for mixed-use development in this particular area that is buzzing with shoppers and commuters. Ms. Cintron commented that BJ’s Wholesale Club, JC Penney’s and Target all have stores located in the Bronx that are among their top five performing stores nationwide. Enhancing the fast-developing neighborhood is a 250-room Hampton Inn that is the second hotel on 149th. Ms. Cintron also commented, “The Opera House Hotel has 94% occupancy and is a well-known destination for European tourists. Tourism is up 14% in the Bronx.”
“The Harlem River Waterfront District, which has the Harlem River to the West, East 149th Street to the North and the Major Deegan to the East is of particular interest to developers,” said Wilhelm Ronda who also pointed out that this development lot is near one of the first stops on the 4 train and is considered a “soft site.” Mr. Ronda explained: “Zoning is generous in this area. It is close to bridges and is a major thoroughfare. There are many opportunities here.” The Port Morris area, a primarily industrial neighborhood in the Southwest Bronx, is currently experiencing an extensive revitalization with many factories and manufacturing buildings being converted into lofts. The community has become home to young professionals and artists looking for more reasonable rent price-points outside of Manhattan and Brooklyn. The tour also passed The Grand Concourse Plaza Shopping Center on 161st Street, The Grand Concourse (modeled on the Champs-Elysees in Paris) that was declared a historic district in 2011 from 153rd to 167th Street is dotted with a mix of Art Deco and Art Moderne architecture residential buildings, and the Bruckner Boulevard Corridor that is home to the Clock Tower Building. The building, along with the surrounding area has shown tremendous growth and transformation. Rents have skyrocketed in this area in less than 7 years.
The Kingsbridge National Ice Center will be another triumph for the Bronx. The complex will be housed in the historical building once used as an armory and will feature 9 rinks. It is set to be one of the largest indoor ice-centers in the world and will attract national and international tourism bringing a significant economic boost to the area. NHL great, Mark Messier, is an investor and chief executive on the project.
The Bronx Borough President’s Office expressed enthusiasm about working with developers to continue strengthening the economic development of the Bronx. Borough President Ruben Diaz highlighted the borough’s strong sense of community and its wealth of commodities and character and encouraged those in attendance to explore the area. Investment in the Bronx remains vigorous and has been strong since 2009. Mr. Diaz welcomed developers to the Bronx and urged interested parties to work with his office on current opportunities. “We want to facilitate new development that strengthens neighborhood character and fosters overall growth of the borough.” said Mr. Diaz.
According to Sam Goodman, who was born in the Bronx and is now an Urban Planner in the office of the Bronx Borough President: “The Bronx is not a place to live, it is a place to celebrate life.” With over $7 billion dollars invested in residential, commercial and institutional projects in the borough in the last 6 years, the Bronx is now the new borough of opportunity.
Notwithstanding the plethora of rezonings accomplished by the City Planning Commission (with the approval of the City Council) over the past decade—many of which erased industrial zoning—New York City continues to maintain multiple manufacturing districts throughout the five boroughs. Yet, except for certain niche industries and highly specialized manufacturing businesses, the decline of traditional industrial uses continues. Of course, key concentrations of industrial jobs do exist, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and portions of Industry City (also in Brooklyn), for example. But it seems quite clear that these are not in the “traditional smokestack” industries, where assembly lines of people engage in round-the-clock mass production. On the contrary, a range of manufacturing sectors has actually lost hundreds of jobs over the last few decades, of which garment businesses are among the most recognizable.
As a pedestrian, we want to see a lively street-scape at eye-level; we want buildings to have a “street life”, not a blank face. A recent goal of new zoning for commercial strips is to mandate retail use and “building transparency” at the ground floor — see new zoning requirements for Park Slope. (This follows long-standing rules prohibiting “pedestrian-unfriendly” uses – such as banks – along 5th Avenue in Midtown and Madison Avenue in the Upper East Side.)
Is it “proper” to use zoning on certain streets to achieve a design goal of avoiding a blank wall of dentist’s offices – or worse, interior parking – when such uses are otherwise allowed? Is this an aesthetic issue – avoiding a solid wall along the street (where a building essentially “turns its back” to the pedestrian)? Or, is it a question of enlivening the street with retail activity? Continue reading
Strolling along Fifth or Madison or Park – or just about any key Avenue in Midtown – it is apparent that every financial institution in the world seeks to locate on as many strategic and visible corners as possible (from Habib American Bank to Wells Fargo; from HSBC – which is the Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation – to Citibank). From financial behemoths to minor players in the money markets, these banks want you to see them and use their ATMs. They occupy major intersections and large areas on the ground floors of important buildings. They want your money and they want to be seen.
Is this is a good thing? Should the proliferation of banking operations be halted? Are these retail uses – like stores and restaurants? Do they serve the public – and are they key uses which should be encouraged? Or, are they unappealing dead spaces which disrupt vital commercial corridors which should instead be predominately characterized by pedestrian-oriented, visually appealing uses? Is Madison Avenue harmed because the Bank of China and the Bank of America are competing for your business? Or, are ATMs and bank services vital to New Yorkers and tourists alike? Continue reading
ZONE is in the nation’s capital for the Fall Urban Land Institute Conference. Here’s an initial report: Continue reading