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City Council Unanimously Approves Union Square Tech Training Center

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

The New York City Council voted 45-0 yesterday to approve plans for the Union Square Tech Training Center, a 21-story complex at 124 East 14th St. The support of local City Council member Carlina Rivera was critical in clearing the way for the controversial tech hub.

The facility, to be built on a city-owned parcel that once housed a P.C. Richard & Son store, will be a partnership between RAL Development Services and the non-profit Civic Hall. The building will include a digital skills training center, flex-office space for startups and market rate office space for established firms.

Many local activists, especially those advocating for low-income communities of color, support the tech hub as a path to valuable skills training and high paying jobs for community youth. Others, including preservation activists, urged Rivera to vote “no” on the proposal if the city failed to add zoning protections to the blocks to the south of the development site.

Carlina Rivera in City Council chambers Aug. 8, 2018. Photo by Emil Cohen/NYC Council.
Carlina Rivera in City Council chambers Aug. 8, 2018. Photo by Emil Cohen/NYC Council.

Not long after yesterday’s vote, Rivera sent a lengthy email message to constituents and to supporters beyond the confines of her Council District 2. In the “Dear Neighbors” letter, she spelled out the results of her negotiations with the mayor’s office and city agencies to protect the surrounding neighborhood from more rampant over-development. These measures include:

  • An agreement to place 7 properties along the Broadway corridor on the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s calendar.
  • A commitment from the city to begin “the process of establishing a protective zoning measure” south of 14th Street to regulate commercial development.
  • Stepped up outreach by city officials to educate tenants in rent stabilized buildings about their rights. Residents of District 2 will, according to Rivera, “priority status” with the city’s new Tenant Protection Unit.
  • A commitment from city agencies to help protect Merchants House on East 4th Street from the effects of any development on the neighboring lot.
  • A monthly meeting with the Landmarks Preservation Commission to discuss neighborhood preservation issues.

In a statement released yesterday, Rivera explained:

After eight months of intense negotiations with City Hall, I am satisfied that we are achieving the two most important goals our community needed from this rezoning. I am voting yes today for a Tech Hub that will bring true community benefits, tech education, and workforce development services that will finally give women, people of color, and low-income New Yorkers access to an industry that has unfairly kept them out for far too long. And I am of course voting yes with the knowledge that we achieved crucial protections for the neighborhood that I have lived in my entire life and seen change so much over the last 15 years… I believe these protections for the neighborhood are the first in a string of victories that will allow us to develop sensible zoning for livable streets, establish landmarking of precious historical sites, and ensure the small businesses we cherish prosper

Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) was also quick to react even before yesterday’s unanimous Council vote. His organization has led a campaign, with other local groups, to link the tech hub with a rezoning on the blocks to the south of 14th Street. Here’s Berman’s statement:

The City Council’s deal approves the Mayor’s Tech Hub with just a fraction of a fraction of the protections the surrounding neighborhood needs and called for, and which Councilmember Rivera promised (as a candidate) to condition her vote upon. The approval of the Tech Hub will accelerate the transformation of the adjacent Greenwich Village and East Village neighborhoods into an extension of ‘Midtown South’ and ‘Silicon Alley,’ which many developers and real estate interests have already begun to call them.  We are seeing 300 ft. tall office and condo towers going up in this area and 300 room hotels being built, which are completely out of character for these neighborhoods, with many more to come.  It’s a shame that the Mayor is so invested in protecting his real estate donor friends that he would not consider real but reasonable zoning protections for the area that would have prevented this kind of unnecessary development, and encouraged residential development that includes affordable housing.  It’s also a shame that our local Councilmember caved to the Mayor and broke a promise she publicly made to ensure that these real protections were part of any final deal. They’re not, and the deal approved today will do very little to protect this neighborhood.  It will do a lot to accelerate the kind of development which will fundamentally change the character of our neighborhood, and accelerate the exodus of current residents and small businesses.  But of course, as always, the Mayor’s campaign donors got a very good deal out of this.

Rivera pointed out that Community Board 3 supported the zoning changes necessary to build the tech hub and spelled out a number of community benefits it wanted to see represented in the project. The Council member said she advocated for these measures, among others, during her negotiations. They include: the establishment of a scholarship fund, access for the local community to a meeting space 52 times each year and a commitment to set aside 25% of the workforce training slots for qualified District 2 residents.

CB3 Chair Alysha Lewis Coleman said, “Community Board 3 is very excited about the coming Tech Training Center. Our youth need and deserve training for good-paying twenty-first century tech jobs. We are appreciative that the City responded to the CB3 priority to have a business incubator for our emerging entrepreneurs. We are excited for this important project to become a reality for our community.”

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