By Ananth Sampathkumar with Brian Pape
July 10 was a big news day for two important developments around Greenwich Village. The first breaking story was about the new Tech Hub being proposed at 124 East 14 Street. Back in February 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled the new design and programs for a 21-storey near Union Square. The Mayor has committed to creating 100,000 good paying jobs and the Tech Hub, with its promise of 1400 jobs – 800 in construction and 600 in the tech industry, fits well within that narrative. City Council held a hearing on July 10th on the development and evaluated the request for spot re-zoning which is required to fit the taller building. The project, developed by RAL Development Services and designed by David Brody Bond, brought strong reaction on both sides of the aisle.
The second piece of news came from Disney and its decision to move its headquarters from Uptown to 4 Hudson Square. Hudson Square extends from Houston Street on the North side to Canal Street on the South and 6th Avenue on the East side all the way to the West Side Highway. This area has been slowly transforming into a hub for media and creative industries. Formerly a printing district, its commercial mix now includes 27% Media and Communications companies, 18% Professional Service firms, 17% Architecture studios with the rest divided among printing, tech and food companies. Since the successful rezoning of the area in 2013, a number of bigger developments have taken shape, including 565 and 570 Broome Street by Renzo Piano Building Workshop and 550 Washington Street by CookFox Architects.
Advocates for taller developments, like the Tech Hub at Union Square, have been focusing on the high potential for job creation, both in construction and future tech positions. Greg David’s impassioned article in Crain’s titled “Union Square tech hubs pit the neighborhood against a crucial city priority” stressed on the urgency to set up a Manhattan based Hub to save aspiring graduates the long commutes to the Bronx. On the flip side, the opposition has been equally vocal, with the Greenwich Village Society Historic Preservation sounding the alarm on possible oversized commercial developments dwarfing the neighborhood scale, not by the 14th Street building, but by side street developments to follow. Critics are worried that the rezoning will set a bad precedent and open the flood gates to taller structures in both areas.
Ironically, the argument for and against rezoning seem to be rather weak. If the supporters for a new Tech Hub want to make these facilities accessible, would it not make sense to create local incubators in each borough, so that students of lesser means have easy access to them and avoid the commute to Manhattan? In the case for neighborhood protection and worries about oversize development, this Tech Hub sits on a wide street among several mid-rises of similar size; so the fear of another Hudson Yards in their backyard can be avoided if oversized commercial developments are disallowed in other neighborhood side streets. Similarly, Hudson Square has a number of large footprint buildings and the rezoning was designed to allow bigger buildings that still fit the height and character of the surroundings.
Both sides need to heed the others concerns. Given the immense pressure on land in Manhattan and the changing character of businesses and workforce, rezoning is inevitable. However, zoning protections for historic districts are important, so that taller developments surrounding these neighborhoods do not create a scale and shadow problem. A reconciliation of the two sides will ensure that new developments that address the changing times will be good neighbors and serve future generations well.