City planners have revealed a few new tidbits about the proposals being considered for the Seward Park Mixed-Use Development Project.
Back in May, developers submitted their ideas for the redevelopment of nine parcels near the Williamsburg Bridge, which together make up the most valuable city-owned site in Manhattan. Since the bidding process is confidential, there has been almost no official information about the proposals under review by officials of the Economic Development Corp. and the Department of Housing Preservation & Development. Last night, however, EDC Senior Vice President David Quart offered some morsels at Community Board 3’s July meeting.
After going through a pre-screening process, the city has settled on a small number of finalists from which the winning bid or bids will be selected in the fall. Quart would not say how many proposals made it to the final round but he called them all “very robust proposals, very exciting proposals and very responsive (to the requirements spelled out in the Request for Proposals/RFP).”
All of the bids, he said, met the housing formula agreed upon by CB3 and the city during years of negotiations. They include 1000 apartments (half of which will be permanently designated as affordable housing). Each proposal also includes a new, expanded Essex Street Market on the southeast corner of Delancey and Essex streets, as well as a 15,000 square foot park on Broome Street and allowances for a new public school.
Many of the plans, Quart added, include a grocery store and a movie theater, two amenities members of the community have requested. Some of the proposals include office space of various kinds — ranging from coworking concepts and small business incubator spaces to more traditional offices. There are also some plans for sports facilities, including gymnasiums, as well as other “active recreational” concepts. Some developers have expanded on the vision for the Essex Street Market (Quart was not specific about this point). Others have proposed rooftop green spaces, augmenting the ground-level park that the RFP requires, as well as a hotel and a variety of “cultural facilities.”
Quart said that with the exceptions of a grocery and movie theater, developers planned to keep individual retail spaces to no more than 30,000 square feet. During previous negotiations, the city resisted efforts by the community board to place size restrictions on retail at Seward Park. Members of the community board sought to encourage small-scale businesses, rather than big box stores — while the city insisted that developers needed the option of adding some large anchor tenants to the mix. So, it’s notable that the bidders have apparently stuck to a “small store” model.
City officials have held two meetings with members of a community advisory panel appointed by CB3. Members of the group have received summaries of the final proposals, but identifying information regarding developers has been removed. Panel members were required to sign confidentiality agreements, forbidding them from disclosing any details publicly about the bids. Quart said the city would meet with the community group at least one more time before the winning bids are selected.
In spite of the gag order, some developers have leaked their involvement in the Seward Park RFP process. Various news accounts in recent weeks have named some of the nation’s biggest development firms, including: Avalon Bay Communities, L&M Development Partners, Forest City Ratner, the Gotham Organization, the Related Companies, BD Hotels, Artemis Real Estate Partners and Douglaston Development. According to the stories and sources within the neighborhood, various firms are working with LES community partners, such as Henry Street Settlement, Grand Street Settlement, the LES BID, the Met Council on Jewish Poverty, Two Bridges Neighborhood Council and Asian Americans for Equality.
Last night, Quart said the proposals were being evaluated based on the criteria set forth in the RFP, as well as on a separate set of “community priorities” detailed within the document. Interviews are being conducted with developers to learn more about their plans and to tweak certain aspects of the proposals. He reiterated the city’s intention to move quickly after a developer or developers are selected. There’s a strong desire within the agencies to make as much progress as possible before Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s term expires at the end of this year.