City Council Kills Midtown East Rezoning Plan With de Blasio’s Blessing

Midtown. (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

Midtown. (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

A plan to dramatically re-zone East Midtown has fizzled, members of the City Council announced this evening.

The plan–one of departing Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s most ambitious legacy projects–was aimed at transforming 73 blocks around the Empire State Building to allow the kind of modern, soaring skyscrapers that currently dot Lower Manhattan.

But today, officials announced that they had failed to reach a deal–despite fervent, last-minute efforts by the Bloomberg administration.

“Creating new jobs in East Midtown – and across all of New York City – is essential. We can and should do more with the commercial corridor around Grand Central … However, a good idea alone is not enough to justify action today,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and local Councilman Dan Garodnick said in a joint statement. “We should rezone East Midtown, but only when we can do so properly. After extensive negotiations, we have been unable to reach agreement on a number of issues in the proposed plan.”

The pair cited a list of concerns, including questions over the price and timing of air rights sales as well as the funding of infrastructure projects–both above and below ground–that community groups say would be needed to accommodate the additional rush of traffic the expansions would bring.

“The public realm plan is aspirational, and it is unclear at this point whether some of its most visionary improvements can even be executed,” they wrote, adding: “We want to see development in the area that is both responsible and encourages growth that keeps us competitive with other cities. But, with so many outstanding issues, there is no good reason to rush the proposal through.”

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio quickly praised the decision in a statement that closely echoed the pair’s–and vowed to present a revised plan for the area by the end of next year.

“For the sake of New York City’s long-term economic vitality, Midtown East should be re-zoned to allow the creation of a world-class 21st-century commercial district. But it needs to be done right,” he said not long after the decision was announced publicly, pointing to the same concerns about infrastructure and development rights.

“I applaud the City Council for pressing the pause button in order to ensure these concerns are adequately addressed,” he said, vowing to formulate his own vision for the city after he takes office on January 1st. “We must continue this process in earnest upon taking office, and I commit to presenting a revised rezoning plan for the area by the end of 2014.”

Some entities, including the New York Post, specifically lobbied Mr. de Blasio to back the plan–apparently without success.

Update (6:19 p.m.): Mr. Bloomberg reacted to the news with surprising optimism–but nonetheless noted the move would cost the area hundreds of millions of dollars worth of infrastructure improvements and $1 billion in lost tax revenue.

“The inability to reach a consensus on the plan’s details is regrettable, but it was encouraging that nearly everyone involved in the process recognized the need for the area to be rezoned to ensure that it remains competitive with other business districts around the world, and we appreciate the time that Speaker Quinn, Council Member Garodnick, and Council staff put into this issue,” he said in a statement. “We are glad to at least be leaving the next administration a blueprint for future action.”

View the mayor’s full statement below:

“Due to a lack of City Council support, we are withdrawing the application for the rezoning of East Midtown. This will unfortunately cost the area hundreds of millions of dollars in badly needed subway and street improvements and $1 billion in additional tax revenue – as well as tens of thousands of new jobs that would have been created. Throughout the lengthy and extensive public review process – which unfolded over the course of two years – we have worked with community leaders and elected officials to develop a modest proposal that would allow for a handful of sites to be redeveloped into modern office space, with developers paying into a fund that would support upgrades to the transportation network and open space in the area. We also worked closely with religious institutions in the area, and the proposal earned their support, providing them with a new funding source to maintain their iconic landmarked buildings. We have a financing agreement in place to pre-fund $100 million in mass transit and public space improvements before any new development could begin, but that funding was predicated on future development, which now will not occur. The inability to reach a consensus on the plan’s details is regrettable, but it was encouraging that nearly everyone involved in the process recognized the need for the area to be rezoned to ensure that it remains competitive with other business districts around the world, and we appreciate the time that Speaker Quinn, Council Member Garodnick, and Council staff put into this issue. We are glad to at least be leaving the next administration a blueprint for future action.”