Gotham Organization Preps Seward Park Bid

Gotham West rendering. Courtesy: Gotham Organization.

Earlier this month, the city finally released its Request for Proposals (RFP) for the 1.65 million square foot Seward Park project.  Now it’s a waiting game until early May when development proposals for the mixed-use (residential/commercial) site are due.  New York City planning officials are optimistic that there will be a lot of interest in the site, the largest city-owned parcel below 96th Street. But until those bids start to come in, the identities of the prospective builders and the contours of what they envision will likely remain a mystery.

But one well-known developer, the Gotham Organization, is making its interest in Seward Park very clear.  Recently, Gotham Executive Vice President Melissa Panko told us, “Seward Park is the kind of project we want to do… Being a part of re-stimulating this area would be very exciting.”  Since the RFP was released, Gotham has been hard at work preparing its proposal for submission to the Economic Development Corp.

Just before the end of the year, Gotham executives gave us a tour of a large project they’re completing in Hell’s Kitchen.  While there’s no telling whether the development at 44th Street and 10th Avenue will bear any similarity to the firm’s Seward Park proposal, we thought it would be useful to take a look at the four-building complex known as Gotham West.

Most of the block was condemned in the mid-70′s and repeated development proposals faltered for almost 40 years before the bulldozers and cranes started moving a couple of years ago.  Sound familiar? In some ways, the situation on the West side mirrored the formerly infamous Seward park site.  The community was determined to see affordable housing on the parcel.  The current project features 1240 residential units, 682 of them affordable.

The Gotham site is smaller than the six acre Seward Park project but features more apartments (the Seward Park plan calls for 1000 residential units but a lot more commercial space). The largest tower rises 31 stories, higher than the city intends to allow on the Lower East Side parcel.  The views across the Hudson River and of the Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood are spectacular.  While there are some differences in the finishings, there’s very little noticeable difference between the market-rate and affordable apartments.  A central courtyard features an interesting garden space and a bit of peace and quiet from the roar of 11th Avenue.

In our interview, Panko emphasized Gotham’s commitment to working with neighborhood stakeholders, especially Community Board 4.  “It was one of the best collaborative efforts I’ve seen, she said.  There were, of course, bumps in the road.  Parents were concerned about the fate of a public school on the site (the Department of Education eventually agreed to build a brand new school) and some activists wanted a shorter tower on 11th Avenue.   Panko said patience was required from everyone involved in the process. A task force met regularly with Gotham officials.  Now that the project is nearing completion, the meetings are less frequent but they are still taking place. “We listened to the community,” she said, “but we were also honest about what would work (and what wouldn’t work) at Gotham West… You have to be sure not to put yourself (as a developer) in an untenable position.”

Half of the apartments at Seward Park, 500 units, will be affordable.  Panko said Gotham has a long history of building affordable housing in New York and believes in it as a mechanism to keep the city diverse and vibrant.  “Fundamentally, we believe that middle income housing is what makes New York City click,” she explained.  One-bedroom apartments in the affordable housing program at Gotham West range in price from $533-2.509.  It’s obviously very premature to talk about pricing at Seward Park.

Panko said Gotham is enthused about the prospects at Seward Park and if selected to develop all or part of the site, would take the long view. “It’s got to be a long term perspective with no quick exit strategy.  We would be bullish” for years to come.”

We contacted three members of Community Board 4 for their perspectives on Gotham West, but have not yet heard back. We’ll update this story if we’re able to speak with them in the future.