City releases long-awaited plan to spur office development in midtown east
The rezoning proposal would allow taller buildings to be constructed near to Grand Central Terminal
The city quietly published on Monday its plan to allow bigger and more modern office towers in midtown east—the first step in the formal rezoning of the neighborhood.
The long-awaited midtown east proposal would allow the tallest buildings to be erected right next to Grand Central Terminal, increasing the current permitted maximum density by about 30%.
“This would be the highest as-of-right density allowance in the east midtown subdistrict, reflecting the [city’s] planning policy of focusing density in areas with excellent access to transit,” wrote the Department of City Planning in documents posted on its website.
Though the rezoning has been a major focus of developers and planners for years, becoming at one point a priority of the Bloomberg administration, the planning department did not publicize the publication of its latest planning documents. It was unclear why that was the case, considering a rezoning would be worth billions of dollars in construction and real estate spending as developers knock down small buildings to erect soaring glass and steel office towers.
Buildings along Park Avenue and near subway stations farther north in the district, which encompasses the area bounded by East 39th and East 57th streets to the north and south, and Madison Avenue and Third Avenue to the east and west, would also receive a significant boost, while properties located on streets farther from transit would have smaller maximum densities.
The proposal would allow owners of landmarked buildings in the district to sell air rights across the district, rather than just adjacent to their properties, as currently allowed. Building owners who wish to achieve the maximum allowable densities would need to contribute financially to improving the area’s transit infrastructure or purchase air rights from landmarked properties in the area.
Over the coming decades, the city predicts the rezoning would result in the creation of 16 new towers, which translates into an additional 6.6 million square feet of office space with 26,507 workers. Currently midtown east consists of 70 million square feet of office space, less than 5% was built within the past two decades.
The planning documents, called a draft scope of work, are the first step in formally recasting the neighborhood. A public meeting to review the documents, which will then be used to study the potential effects of the rezoning on the surrounding environment, is scheduled for Sept. 22. The rezoning is the second attempt at promoting the development of new office towers in midtown east after a Bloomberg-era plan was killed in 2013.
Two years later, the city rezoned a handful of blocks west of Grand Central called the Vanderbilt Corridor, which is where SL Green Realty is currently building 1 Vanderbilt. That same year, a steering committee chaired by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Councilman Daniel Garodnick came up with recommendations on how to modify the rezoning in the rest of the district. Many of those recommendations made their way into the city’s plan released earlier this week.
“We need to ensure that east midtown continues to lead as a premier business district—and that means delivering better mass transit, pedestrian areas that are safe and welcoming, and high quality commercial space,” Garodnick said in a statement. “I look forward to working with the administration to achieve those goals in this plan.”