Mayor Michael Bloomberg came to the Lower East Side this morning to announce that the Seward Park project, delayed for four decades, was finally a “done deal.”
Standing in an abandoned building of the Essex Street Market with some of the city’s biggest developers, community partners and neighborhood activists, he called Essex Crossing (the official name of the project) a “wonderful thing” that will bring “the new housing, jobs and open space Lower East Siders want and need and deserve.”
Word got out yesterday that the residential, commercial and community-oriented complex would be built by L+M Development Partners, BFC Partners, and Taconic Investment Partners. They’re paying the city $180 million for the site and investing a total of $1.1 billion to build the new community at the base of the Williamsburg Bridge over the next decade. Groundbreaking is expected in the spring of 2015; the first buildings are projected to open in the summer of 2018. The architectural team is being led by ShoP Architects and Beyer Blinder Belle.
The developers and city officials are expected to provide Community Board 3 with a full breakdown of the plan next month. Here’s what we know so far:
- 1000 apartments, half of which will be permanently affordable to low and middle income families and individuals.
- Approximately 155 apartments will be condos located in four buildings, most of them north of Delancey Street.
- 20% of the condos will be available to middle income residents (maximum income about $94,000 for a family of four)
- There will be 580 apartments built in the first phase of construction (completion expected Summer 2018)
- 316 of those apartments will be designated as affordable
- Grand Street Settlement will develop supportive housing for low income seniors on Site 6, east of Clinton Street. There will also be a preschool for special needs students and a community center.
- Educational Alliance will operate the nation’s first dual generation school on Site 5 for 100 kids and 200 adults. We wrote about this program earlier today.
- Also on Site 5, the city is setting aside space for a new public school, if the Department of Education decides the LES needs one.
- A 20,000 square foot annex of the Andy Warhol Museum will open on Site 2, at Broome and Essex streets.
ESSEX STREET MARKET
- The market will be moved to a new 30,000 square foot facility on the south side of Delancey Street, doubling its size. it’s expected to open in 2018 and will include all of the vendors in the current market who wish to make the move, plus quite a few new ones.
- An adjacent concourse called the “Market Line” will run from Essex to Clinton Street and will include 40 “micro” retail stalls as well as a culinary incubator and a version of the Smorgasburg, which is part of the Brooklyn Flea. The Market Line will be big, consuming 90,000 square feet.
- A large grocery store
- A movie theater
- A bowling alley
- 250,000 square feet of office space
- An enhanced pedestrian plaza on Delancey Street
- A rooftop urban farm
During today’s press conference, Mayor Bloomberg noted that the project will create 4400 construction jobs and 1600 permanent jobs. He said Essex Crossing would respect and complement the Lower East Side’s history and traditions. Like many other speakers today, he asserted that — after 45 years of failed development efforts — progress was finally being made because the city made “one basic decision… letting the community take the lead in shaping this proposed development.” The basic contours of the plan closely follow a Community Board 3 compromise that was hashed out during three years of painstaking negotiations.
The three real estate developers have formed a firm called Delancey Street Associates to build Essex Crossing. First up at the podium today was Ron Moelis, CEO of L+M Partners. He praised the community’s collaborative process and said the new project would “shape the next chapter of one of New York’s most historic and significant neighborhoods.” Moelis said he’s looking forward to continuing to work with the community and added, “it is a life goal of mine and I think my partners to do this kind of community work… I hope it will be a model for other communities.”
Charles Bendit of Taconic Investment Partners made reference to his own family’s immigrant roots on the Lower East Side, adding, “this is an incredible chance to create a 21st century addition to an historically significant and diverse neighborhood, bringing both amenities that the residents need and attractions that will bring visitors from throughout the city and the country.” Noting that entrepreneurship had “thrived for generations” in the neighborhood, he promised, “Essex Crossing will transform one of the city’s few remaining underutilized spaces into an incubator for economic growth.”
In his remarks, the mayor thanked Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, among other elected officials, for helping to bring the project to fruition. For years, Silver was seen as an impediment to developing the former urban renewal site, but got behind Seward Park redevelopment after the Community Board struck a deal. During today’s event, City Council member Margaret Chin said, “people put aside their differences and were willing to compromise.” Referring to protests from some community groups, she said, “Mr. Mayor people were criticizing me because we asked for 100% affordable housing and we only got 50. 50% permanent affordable housing I think it’s very good!”
Chin also called on Bloomberg to support the community’s campaign for a new school on the Seward Park site. Although space is set aside for one, the School Construction Authority insists there’s no need for more classroom seats on the Lower East Side. And addressing the developers she raised the issue of union labor to build Essex Crossing. “I expect you to work with the labor unions because the jobs we’re going to create here, I want to see those as middle class jobs, good paying jobs for the neighborhood,” she said. “So I challenge you, sit down, work with our community.”
Later, during a brief question and answer period, Kyle Kimball, head of the city’s Economic Development Corp., said there’s fair labor language in the contract signed by developers this week, covering jobs within the project once it is built. Ron Moelis of L+M Partners added that “it’s our intention to engage as soon as possible with the (trade unions)… This is really a collaborative effort with the community and with government and we would hope to collaborate with the trades to (create)… fair and good middle income wages.”
Union representatives were present at today’s news conference. While they might be somewhat encouraged by what they heard, a statement landed in our in-box this afternoon questioning the commitment of the development team to fair wage jobs. The statement from the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York and 32BJ SEIU, read, in part, “we have serious concerns about the labor records of the developers selected… It’s bad for all New Yorkers that a developer that pays substandard wages was selected over three other experienced developers that have a proven track record of commitment to creating good jobs.”
Other speakers today included Margarita Rosa, the executive director of Grand Street Settlement, the lead community partner. The longtime LES social service agency will be involved in creating 100 units of low income housing, providing training programs and for running a special needs school on the site. During her remarks, she said, “we really believe the Essex Crossing Project is reflective of the values that we hold dear: inclusiveness, a belief in the value of diversity, an understanding that a diverse community made up of immigrants and others is what America is all about… and I’m very appreciative to Mayor Bloomberg’s commitment to that vision of the city.”
Gigi Li, the chairperson of Community Board 3, praised the city for collaborating with LES stakeholders to come up with a plan most constituencies could accept. She thanked, Dominic Berg, her predecessor as chair, who guided the Seward park process until last year. He was instrumental in creating a community task force, which helped city planners choose the development team. Li also thanked David McWater and Linda Jones, the co-chairs of CB3’s land use committee.
As he began the news conference, Bloomberg said it would be hard to find anyone against the Seward Park plan. Later on, a reporter questioned this assertion, noting opposition among several groups, and she asked whether Bloomberg could be sure the project would not be derailed by the next mayor. In response, he said:
Everything is a compromise. People want different things. Everybody gets something. I guess if any one person gets everything we didn’t try hard enough but I think this is exactly the right thing for the neighborhood. There’s enormous support for this in the neighborhood and we’ve signed contracts so this is a done deal… It really is a wonderful thing that was done here and I think the community board and everyone else who is here deserve an enormous amount of credit.
The community task force will continue to be involved in the planning process. The developers have agreed to meet with them at least quarterly.