Testimony of the Real Estate Board of New York on the Vanderbilt Corridor Text Amendment and the One Vanderbilt Special Permit

MEMORANDUM IN SUPPORT

 

 VANDERBILT CORRIDOR TEXT AMENDMENT

ONE VANDERBILT SPECIAL PERMIT

 

CITY COUNCIL COMMITTEE ON ZONING AND FRANCHISES

APRIL 13, 2015

The Real Estate Board of New York, Inc. (REBNY) is a broadly based trade association of over 16,000 owners, developers, brokers, managers and real estate professionals active throughout New York City.  We have been long time advocates for the rezoning of East Midtown and support the proposed Vanderbilt Corridor Text Amendment and the Special Permit Application for One Vanderbilt. The Proposed Actions will strengthen East Midtown and New York City’s economy and we hope will be the beginning of the rezoning of the greater East Midtown area.

The East Midtown business district is critical to the City’s tax base and economy. It is the city’s most prominent commercial district and regional transit hub with approximately 70 million square feet of office space and numerous commuter transit connections into Grand Central Terminal. However, to retain its position as a preeminent global business district, the City needs to address the problems of its aging office buildings and of its insufficient office development. 

The Department of City Planning has developed a sound proposal along the 5-block Vanderbilt Corridor to encourage modern commercial development by allowing more flexibility in the transfer of landmark development rights.

The proposal to create a mechanism to link new development to much needed infrastructure and public realm improvements in the Grand Central area is important and the only realistic source of funding in the foreseeable future.

In addition, the new buildings along Vanderbilt Avenue will reflect modern ideals and set new standards in sustainability and design. This proposal provides the most appropriate way to ensure that meaningful transit improvements are fully integrated into this plan so that all five blocks can take full advantage of Grand Central, especially once East Side Access is completed.

Relatedly, the Proposed Action would permit SL Green to construct an approximately 1.8 million gross square foot mixed use office building (“One Vanderbilt”) with an enclosed public space at ground level. One Vanderbilt is exactly the type of dense, transit-oriented development that belongs immediately adjacent to Grand Central Terminal. We think this building will be a model for the type of development we can look forward to on Vanderbilt. Designed with careful attention paid to the needs of modern tenants, One Vanderbilt will feature open and efficient floor plans and will be a LEED-certified, Class A building. SL Green will finance, facilitate and complete the construction of all public improvements, including enhanced transit connectivity and new public spaces. In fact, the applicant has worked diligently with the Community Board and Borough President’s Office to further improve urban design elements that may impact public space.

In total, SL Green will invest $210 million in transit infrastructure and public realm improvements and complete this work as a condition of occupancy of their new building.  We want to stress the significance of the commitment to complete this work as a condition of occupancy. Below ground transit work is costly, uncertain and prone to overrun. This investment will immediately improve pedestrian circulation in and around Grand Central Terminal.

Additionally, One Vanderbilt is projected to create 5,200 construction jobs, 190 permanent union building service jobs, and approximately $50 million in annual tax revenues.

There is general agreement that East Midtown’s existing zoning is an impediment for the necessary modernization of its aging building stock and that the Grand Central transit network is in desperate need of improvement.

It is important to note that the 30 FAR proposed by City Planning is the best opportunity to maximize the needed transit improvements while at the same time affording an opportunity to utilize the unused air rights in this district. SL Green’s blend of transit improvements and utilization of air rights is a model for future development. This model will make substantial and needed public realm improvements and better addresses the long simmering problem of the transferability of development rights from a landmark.

The Vanderbilt blocks also offer unique and unparalleled conditions that justify 30 FAR, such as the proximity of these blocks to the superior transit connections at Grand Central Terminal that would offer a direct indoor link at Grand Central Terminal to East Side Access and the network of subway lines; and full blocks sites that would permit a new development to front on four streets that would improve and enhance pedestrian flow.

The higher FAR serves as a catalyst for new development that allows owners to embark on a challenging and unique opportunity to improve urban design, make an important architectural statement and fund needed transit improvements.  Lastly, new development that uses the higher allowable FAR along the Vanderbilt corridor will go through a special permit process.  If there are legitimate and compelling reasons to lower a project’s FAR, it should be done at that time.  We should not prematurely preclude the opportunity to maximize the transit improvements which are much needed in this area as well as maximize the opportunity for the transfer of unused landmark development rights which has been a contentious point in this process.

The Proposed Actions are an important effort to strengthen East Midtown, to enhance its competitiveness locally and globally and to provide for the critical transit investment needed to make these objectives a reality.

We urge the City Council to approve these actions that will strengthen our city’s economy.