It’s been about six weeks since the city announced the development team and overall concept for “Essex Crossing,” the mixed-use project for the former Seward Park urban renewal site. Time for an update.
First off, Delancey Street Associates, the entity created as an umbrella organization for the developers, now has a website. The home page calls the project an “unprecedented development comprised of 1.9 million square feet of residential, commercial, and community space.” There’s not much information available as of yet that wasn’t released when Mayor Bloomberg announced the deal in September but there is an email signup for people interested in information about retail/office spaces and affordable apartments (there will be 500 residential units set aside for low and middle income New Yorkers). Leasing, the site notes, is expected to begin in the year 2017.
Last month, developers made their first appearance before Community Board 3’s land use committee. See below for a recap.
Delancey Street Associates consists of: L+M Development Partners, Taconic Investment Partners, BFC Partners, the Prusik Group (an affiliate of Taconic) and Grand Street Settlement (the lead community partner). Lisa Gomez, an executive vice president for L+M, took the lead during the get-acquainted session. She described L+M as a 30-year-old “home-grown company” which builds some market rate developments, but is known primarily as an affordable housing specialist. “Where we think we can really bring value,” Gomez explained, “is (at) the nexus between the public and the private, mixing affordable and moderate and market rate housing.” You might be familiar with two L+M projects, Schaefer Landing and Northside Piers in Williamsburg.
Also present at the October community board meeting was Charlie Bendit, the co-founder of Taconic. “We are probably best known,” he said, for commercial office and retail development. One of the projects you probably know us for is the Google building.” The company sold the property to Google three years ago for nearly $2 billion. “We’re thrilled to be part of the team,” Bendit added. “Thank you for your faith in us.”
BFC Partners was represented by John Scott Johnson, who noted that the company has been around for about three decades and has its “roots in affordable housing.” BFC is probably most well known of the real estate firms on the Lower East Side. Most recently, its developed Jupiter 21, the residential building on the property that was once home to the beloved Mars Bar. Donald Capoccia, the firm’s managing partner, is an outspoken and controversial figure. Finally, Alan Bell of B&B Supportive Housing, the company that will be creating 100 units of low income senior housing as part of the Seward Park project, made brief introductory remarks.
Most of the session was consumed with a site-by-site briefing of the Essex Crossing project. Isaac Henderson of L+M noted that each of the nine parcels will include housing (including affordable units), ground-floor commercial and, in most cases, some kind of community facility. There will be three or four construction phases over a 10 or 11 year period, he said. Breaking ground in “12 to 24 months,” the first phase will include buildings on sites 1,2,5 and 6.
Using overhead slides during the presentation, he explained that more than 60% of the affordable apartments would be built in the first phase, as well as a park, rooftop urban farm, a new Essex Street Market building, a movie theater on site 2 and a 35,000 square foot grocery store to be located on Clinton Street. Phase 1 will also include a new Andy Warhol museum, a community facility run by Grand Street Settlement and a “dual-generation school” operated by Educational Alliance.
Officials with the NYC Economic Development Corp. reiterated that the city will continue to operate the Essex Street Market, which will take a 30,000 square foot space on southeast corner of Essex and Delancey streets. Julie Stein of the EDC also repeated promises made by her agency in the past that current market vendors will be able to make the move across the street. “The developers will pay for the relocation for those tenants and their rents will be in line with what their rents are at the time of the move,” she said.
The rental housing – consisting of 743 units – will be concentrated on sites 2, 3,4 and 5 and each building will include, more or less, the same numbers of market-rate and affordable apartments. The senior housing site, located on the far eastern boundary of the project, will be 100% affordable. Condo units, 157 of them, will be offered on sites 1, as well as the parcels north of Delancey Street. A total of 556 apartments are expected to be ready as the phase 1 buildings are completed.
As for retail, the development team confirmed their commitment to follow the community board’s wishes as far as limits on big and medium box stores. During years of negotiations, CB3 pushed for an emphasis on small-scale retail at Seward Park. The grocery store and movie theater will be the only spaces over 30,000 square feet. There will be no more than three retailers taking over 18,000 square feet, and those stores could not be located on the ground level. Andrew Katz of the Prusik group talked about the retail vision:
Our principal tenet of developing retail is that you focus on the community that you’re developing retail within. When we looked at this site, we were very lucky because we had a (community) task force that had outlined what they wanted to see. So we took a step back and we said, ‘how can we meet these objectives?’ The two things we noticed right away is that this community could use a strong supermarket and entertainment… All of our other tenants are small, streetscape, urban tenants that you would see if you walked down any street in New York City… Our focus was on meeting your goals. So the retail you’re going to see as you walk down Essex, down Delancey, down Broome Street will be your small retail tenants — your soft goods, your restaurant, the stuff that you want to see in your community.
Katz said the plan also focuses on “the entrepreneurial aspects of retail,” creating commercial spaces consuming as little as 50 square feet for start-up businesses. The Market Line, a 90,000 square foot space that will stretch across three parcels and include a dramatic streetscape. “We connected these sites sub-grade below Norfolk and Suffolk Street,” Katz said, “and created… a 60 foot high wall. That’s intended to mimic the better markets you see anywhere in the world.” He said the Market Line is meant to complement the Essex Street Market, which he called a stalwart of the community. “We saw this as an opportunity to expand beyond that and make sure the Essex Street market remains viable for years to come,” he added.
The team also explained plans for a 60,000 square foot tech incubator on site 4 and another 190,000 square feet of office space on sites 3,4 and 6. When Essex Crossing was unveiled, 3rd Ward, a Brooklyn-based creative coworking space, was included in the project plans. The organization has since folded, and there was no mention of the company at last month’s briefing (we’ll follow up to find out the new plan).
Officials with the firms, as well as city officials, said they remained committed to working with the community board as plans progress. SHoP Architects and Beyer Binder Belle will likely be joined by other architectural firms. When the design team is in place, the companies will begin to engage CB3 on plans for the 15,000 square foot open space to be built on Broome Street.
Following the presentation, there was a question and answer session. One public member of the land use committee, Harriet Cohen, expressed a frequently heard concern — that Essex Crossing might be composed of lots of glass and steel and feel “out-of-context” on the Lower east Side. “It’s really important that it reflect the community and the historic roots of the community,” she asserted. In response, Lisa Gomez of L+M noted that the buildings have not yet been designed. “We presented concept sketches as part of the RFP,” she said. “We’re absolutely open to listening. To be upfront I can’t say we will make everybody happy, but we are open to listening, hearing, taking in feedback about building something that feels more contextual.”
Cohen also voiced worries that the new supermarket could potentially hurt the current Essex Street Market vendors and also that the developers would lease spaces to chain stores — the types of retailers that have moved in on Delancey Street in greater numbers in recent years. Katz said the development team has high aspirations and did not “design this type of project to put a Dunkin’ Donuts in. We have a greater vision for what this is going to be.” Officials said the grocery and the Essex Market were intentionally sited at opposite ends of the project to address potential concerns about competition from any full-service food retailer.
Another public member of the CB3 panel, Val Orselli, asked how the city would make sure the developers honor their commitments to the community. An official with the EDC responded, “we are not walking away. We have very strong milestones for the developers, we have very strong agreements.” In explaining the city’s continuing leverage over the project, the official said, “we are not closing on the sites, so they don’t have ownership of the sites until about a month before construction starts.”
There were other questions that were raised, including the fate of several residents living at 400 Grand St. a city-owned building on the Seward Park site. In 2011, the community board urged the city to find new homes for the tenants of the building. A lawyer from Manhattan Legal Services expressed frustration that the residents still don’t know where they are to be moved. Linda Jones, chair of CB3’s land use committee, reiterated the board’s commitment to the tenants, and city officials acknowledged their situations. Relocation services could not be offered, they indicated, until the Seward Park project, actually became a reality.