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Mega-Tower Watch: Starrett Corp. Plans 62-Story Building at 259 Clinton St.

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Rendering by Perkins-Eastman.
Rendering by Perkins-Eastman.

The final piece of the puzzle fell into place this evening in an ambitious transformation of a stretch of the East River waterfront that will include more than two-million square feet of mixed-use development and over 2,700 new apartments. The last of three developers, Starrett Corp., briefed residents of a neighboring building tonight about their vision for a 62-story tower at 259 Clinton St.

Starrett, L+M Development Partners/CIM Group and JDS Development Group are building separate projects. Since they’re all coming together at roughly the same time, the teams agreed to take part in a joint environmental review in the Two Bridges area. The first meeting in that process takes place Thursday evening.

Last week, we sat down with Josh Siegel, president of Starrett Development, and Larry Cohen, a consultant and advisor on the project, for an early look at their plans. Starrett has been a player in the Two Bridges area for many years and has built some major New York City landmarks, including the Empire State Building, the Javits Center, Stuyvesant Town and Starrett City (Spring Creek Towers) in East New York.

In early 2015, the firm sold the housing complex known as Lands End 1 at 257-271 South St. to L+M and Nelson Management Group. But it kept a development parcel alongside the building. This is the site now being activated with a 724-foot tower encompassing 732 apartments and ground floor retail.

Like the other developments in the Two Bridges area, 25% of the apartments (183 units, according to preliminary projections) in the Starrett tower will be designated for permanent affordable housing. Noting that the company has a long history of creating affordable projects, Siegel said his mandate is, “to revitalize that tradition and to bring back the affordable housing development and other opportunities in the Starrett portfolio.”

Referring to Mayor de Blasio’s signature initiative, Siegel said, “We’re really trying to answer the mayor’s call for affordability. That’s what this project is aimed at. We are trying to answer that call to increase affordable housing, which as we all know, is always desperately needed in New York City.”

Rendering by Perkins Eastman.
Rendering by Perkins Eastman.
Rendering by Perkins Eastman.
Rendering by Perkins Eastman.

The building is being designed by Perkins-Eastman, an international architectural firm. The renderings you see here are preliminary representations of the building set to begin construction in 2018.

The tower will be built on a two-story podium, a design feature encouraged by the Department of City Planning. The first couple of floors are to be built extra high in order to clear the FDR Drive ramp directly in front of the development site. The lobby entrance will be on Clinton Street. There’s a setback on the third floor (and a terrace). The city also requested ground floor retail.

The building will be constructed about one-foot above the floodplain, with retractable flood gates in front of the retail establishments on South Street. There will be holding tanks to store excess storm water. The design will include ample landscaping in front of the building, as well as in the back of the property, where a garden is planned.

The commercial spaces will cover about 2,500 square feet. While noting that “market forces will dictate” what’s possible, Siegel said the hope is to attract retail businesses to support the local community, as an “amenity both for our residents and the residents of the area.”

259 clinton st. 2

The building will be located between Pier 42 to the north, which will one day feature a large park, and Pier 35, another long-delayed recreational space to the south. Developers hope the commercial tenants in the front of the building will help activate the South Street corridor (a restaurant or other food-oriented business is envisioned). “We thought it very critical,” said Siegel, “to improve and expand the retail presence along South Street. It’s a little bit quiet. We obviously want to try to enliven that a little bit.”

To put it mildly, residents in the Two Bridges neighborhood aren’t exactly overjoyed about the large-scale development hitting their once-sleepy corner of the Lower East Side. Construction problems at Extell Development’s 80-story One Manhattan Square are still fresh in their minds. Now they face the prospect of three more projects under construction at the same time. They are all three to four times taller than anything currently in the neighborhood. The L+M/CIM Group project would top out at 69 stories and include 1350 apartments.  JDS’s tower would be 79 stories with 660 residential units. All of the development teams are well aware of the local sentiment and they’ve tailored their presentations to address the local worries.

Starrett's development site is on the right side of this image, with lands End 1 on the left.
Starrett’s development site is on the right side of this image, with lands End 1 on the left.

During our briefing and again tonight, Starrett emphasized the creation of 165 affordable apartments and mentioned that some of the units (about 100) will likely be set aside for low-income seniors. They also pointed to resiliency measures, improvements being made to protect the immediate area from future flooding. Siegel said Starrett will do its best to limit disruptions during construction, keep the lines of communication with the local community open and to help qualified locals apply for the affordable units when the time comes. While the firm will be hiring a general contractor (it got out of the construction business long ago), it’s pledging to hire local workers.

“We don’t want to build just within the community.,” said Siegel. “We want to build with the community. We want to work with the local community — the elected officials, local stakeholders. We want to be seen as a good citizen. That’s very important to us.”

As we have reported, the city rejected a request from City Council member Margaret Chin for a full-scale land use review in the Two Bridges area. That request for a ULURP would have given the community some measure of control because City Council approval would have been required before the projects were approved. Instead, the city and the developers consented to the joint environmental review. Siegel said he believes it’s the first time this type of process has taken place in any New York City neighborhood in the absence of a rezoning.

“It’s a process,” said Siegel, “that will allow the community to both understand and be informed about the Environmental Impact Statement and then, when and if there are mitigations, for us to understand what (the community’s) priorities are so that we can respond.”

Cohen said he is passionate about the new project. In spite of skepticism about the area (see, “A Luxury Condo in a So-So Setting“), he believes Two Bridges’ time has come.  “Looking at the three projects holistically, when you think about adding this number of units (to the neighborhood), density is rather low. There’s relatively little connectivity between the neighborhood and the waterfront.”

“We think that bringing more people to this neighborhood… is probably a good thing to make (the area) more vibrant, while completely respecting the character of the neighborhood and completely respecting the residents who live there. We view this as a positive. We’re trying to add something to the community.”

Starrett expects work on its tower to take about three years.

All three developers will present their plans at a public meeting Thursday at 6:30 p.m. It will be held at Gouverneur Health, 227 Madison St. Tomorrow, we will have a complete wrap-up of tonight’s meeting, including reaction from residents of Lands End 1.

UPDATE 12/13 See reaction from local residents here.

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