The Mayor’s Very Big Plans for Midtown East

It turns out a one-liner in Mayor Bloomberg’s State of the City may indeed be one of the biggest development proposals of the waning days of his administration. Last Thursday, the mayor declared, “In the area around Grand Central, we’ll work with the City Council on a package of regulatory changes and incentives that will attract new investment, new companies and new jobs.”

At the time, this could have meant any number of things, from tax incentives to a rezoning. The latter would be the most ambitious, but also the most complex, given it would require the demolition of some of the most built-up real estate in the world. According to a spokesperson for the Department of City Planning, the city is studying exactly what the best approach would be for the area, and expects to have the results by the spring, but according to The Journal, a major rezoning, stretching as far north as Central Park, may well be in the works.

The plan, still being hashed out internally, would likely involve a major rezoning of arteries such as Park and Madison avenues, the people said. The new regulations would allow owners to erect larger, modern towers in what officials hope would be an incentive to knock down buildings that no longer draw A-list tenants.

[snip]

Privately, city officials have said they expect to complete a study of eastern Midtown—running between about East 40th and 57th streets and Fifth and Third avenues—by the spring, according to people briefed on the plan. Should the city go ahead with the concept, officials intend to bring it before the City Council for approval before the end of Mr. Bloomberg’s term next year.

A statement from City Planning spokeswoman Rachaele Raynoff underscores the challenges such a plan presents:

DCP is undertaking an important study to ensure that, over time, East Midtown continues to maintain its stature as the world’s premier office district, home to a quarter of a million jobs, 13 Fortune 500 companies, and more than 70 million square feet of office space.  The area is characterized  by a distinguished building stock, urban design excellence, a vibrant pedestrian realm and an extensive and soon to be enhanced transit network.

Preservationists, current tenants, hoity toity private clubs—the list of entrenched constituencies runs as long as the 220 streets of Manhattan. Still, for the right price, and with enough room to build, any deal makes sense. Look no further than Harry Macklowe’s decision to demolish the Drake and build the tallest residences in the Western world in its place.

Does this mean anyone will be tearing down Lever House or Seagrams, or even a non-landmark like 345 Park? At that scale, probably not, but some of the avenues smaller building could be behind the wrecking ball sooner rather than later. Though later seems to be the case.To assuage fears this could compete with the development of the Far West Side and the World Trade Center, real estate insiders tell The Journal any Midtown rezoning would work itself out gradually.

Kind of like both the Far West Side and the World Trade Center, come to think of it.

mchaban [at] observer.com | @MC_NYC