New Yorkers have gotten used to hearing talk of sweeping new visions for various underdeveloped parcels in the five boroughs. In Manhattan, of course, the Far West Side and the West Side rail yards have occupied the dreams of planners, developers and politicians for years now. And one of these years, assuming everybody remains on the same page, those underdeveloped sections will realize their potential.
Midtown has rarely factored into discussions of how to reimagine huge swaths of Midtown. That stands to reason: The business district is home to any number of iconic Manhattan buildings, and there is no blot like the West Side rail yards waiting to be transformed.
But that’s no reason to stop reimagining. At least, that’s how the Bloomberg administration sees it. During the mayor’s annual state of the city message earlier this year, Mr. Bloomberg hinted of big, visionary plans for Midtown. And now we’re getting the details. The plan is sweeping, visionary and absolutely optimistic about New York’s place in the life of the nation and, indeed, the world itself.
As The Observer’s Matt Chaban reported last week, the parameters of a truly spectacular reshaping of Midtown has made it to the community board level, the first step in what figures to be a long but hopefully productive discussion of what Midtown east of Park Avenue will look like by the middle of this century.
City Hall plans to redevelop large portions of the Midtown area from 39th Street to 57th Street east of Fifth Avenue, save for a portion of the northern regions of Lexington and Third avenues. Of course, not every building, not every block, will be redeveloped; provisions restrict sites to those that cover an entire avenue blockfront, and the site can be no smaller than 25,000 square feet.
The core of the rezoning plan covers the neighborhood surrounding Grand Central Terminal as well as the Park Avenue corridor between the terminal and 57th Street. It’s possible, according to city officials, that the Park Avenue of the 21st century will be lined with towers between 575 and 700 feet, and slightly taller around the terminal.
None of this will happen very soon—in fact, that’s the idea. No new construction under the proposed rezoning could begin until 2017, while the Hudson Yards project on the West Side takes shape. So why push for rezoning now? Why not? The Bloomberg administration has shown a flair for visionary proposals and has the necessarily credibility with the city’s real estate community. Mr. Bloomberg’s time in office is limited, and there is no assurance that his successor will be as committed to recreating and reimagining the city as he and his advisors have.
Ultimately, though, what makes this plan so exciting is its implicit confidence in New York’s ability to pull off such an astonishing makeover of nothing less than the heart of Midtown. This sort of project is not for self-doubters.
It is the sort of grand project that makes New York, New York.