Union Square Tech Center Faces Key Vote Before CB3 Tonight

Rendering of new Union Square Tech Hub. Image via NYC EDC.
Rendering of new Union Square Tech Hub. Image via NYC EDC.
Rendering of new Union Square Tech Hub. Image via NYC EDC.

There’s a key vote tonight at Community Board 3 concerning the city’s proposed Union Square Tech Training Center. The board’s land use and economic development committees meet to weigh a land use application necessary to build the 21-story tower on the current site of a P.C. Richard & Son store at 120 East 14th St.

The city says the project would create more than 600 good jobs and invaluable training programs for local youth. For several years, CB3 has been pushing to create a workforce center for low-income residents seeking career opportunities. But the proposal in its current form has faced strong opposition from local community activists. They fear it would unleash more out-of-scale commercial development in the blocks to the south of 14th Street.

The two perspectives were articulated in recent opinion pieces on The Lo-Down from Educational Alliance President & CEO Alan van Capelle and by Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP).

RAL Development Services hopes to build the 240,000 square foot project on a city-owned parcel near Irving Place. The non-profit group, Civic Hall, would operate six floors of the complex, establishing co-working spaces and meeting facilities. A number of other organizations would offer digital training courses. Five floors would be reserved for small tech firms in need of short-term leases, while the remaining seven floors would be rented as market rate office space.

Three years ago, GVSHP proposed a “contextual” rezoning of the University Place and Broadway corridors, which it believes would, “protect the scale of the area, reinforce its residential character, and encourage the inclusion of affordable housing in new developments.” The city has expressed little enthusiasm for the idea. In December, CB3 considered a resolution that would have endorsed the tech hub only if the city agreed to a rezoning. While a version of the resolution in support of rezoning was approved, the board stripped out language linking the two initiatives.  Some board members said they felt it was wrong to, as they put it, essentially hold the tech hub hostage over the zoning issue.

Now the project has entered the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). The community board has an advisory role before the borough president, City Planning Commission and City Council weigh in. This evening, local activists will once again be pressing the board to, as GVSHP puts it, to  insist that (zoning) protections be provided as a condition for (the mayor’s) Tech Hub” plan.

While the community board has an advisory role to play, only the City Council has real leverage in these types of land use issues. Since the Council must approve the ULURP, newly elected Councilmember Carlina Rivera will have a lot to say about the fate of the tech hub. [The Council typically defers in land use use votes to the local representative.]

During last year’s City Council campaign, Rivera said she would only support the tech hub if the city agrees to a broader rezoning in the area. We asked Rivera about her current thinking on the issue during a reporter roundtable held earlier this week.

She expressed confidence that both community priorities — establishing a workforce center and enacting zoning protections — can be achieved through negotiations with the de Blasio administration.

First off, said Rivera, she wants to make sure there are very specific guarantees that the center will serve local low-income residents. “I feel like a lot of people in our communities,” said the District 2 Councilmember, “do not have access to these (tech) jobs. They need resources. They needs skills training. I want to make sure we do it the right way. A person that I see walking down Avenue D is going to be taking advantage of the opportunities in that building.”

As part of the land use process, Rivera said she considers it a priority to build in incentives for affordable housing construction in the area. “I’m trying to work with stakeholders, and of course the mayor’s office,” said Rivera, “to ensure that we have two parallel projects running, and make sure that it works out for everyone.”

Asked specifically whether she’s willing to withhold support for the tech hub unless the city endorses a rezoning, Rivera said, “I don’t think it’s going to get to that. I’ve been having a lot of conversations with different people… I don’t think it’s going to be necessary to play that card. I think the city is looking at real community concerns. There are hundreds of people who have been showing up at these meetings in the past few months with concerns about hyper-development. My responsibility is to represent all of these concerns, and I think it’s coming from all different parts of the district. They can’t ignore that many people.”

Tonight’s meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. and takes place at Henry Street Settlement, 301 Henry St. If you would like to read the ULURP application, it’s available here.