Circling Hudson Square: Everybody Wants a Piece of the Last Untouched Neighborhood—Except for Those Who Just Want To Be Left Alone

If it's good enough for Jennifer Connolly, it's good enough for you.

Nothing but blue skies that I see. (gsz/Flickr)

On Monday Afternoon, the City Planning Commission certified a carefully crafted rezoning scheme furnished by Trinity Real Estate, the property management arm of the city’s oldest church, and once its largest landowner. Trinity’s holdings have been winnowed down over the years, confined largely to the plots it owns in Hudson Square.

For the past five years, Trinity has been devising a plan to turn a number of sites it controls in the area into housing, that most lucrative of New York City real estate ventures. Along the way, it has created the largest private rezoning in city history, twice the size of the massive 26-acre Hudson Yards development 40 blocks to the north, three times the size of Columbia’s new Manhattanville campus.

“Mixed-use communities, such as the Flatiron District and Union Square, which are attracting new businesses and residents, contribute significantly to the dynamic appeal and economic vitality of the city,” Jason Pizer, president of Trinity Real Estate, said in statement Monday. “The proposed rezoning would reinforce Hudson Square as a vital hub for the jobs which are so integral to the city’s future.” Trinity declined to publicly discuss the project until it goes before the local community board next month.

Will this effort really be able to transform the last untouched corner of Manhattan, to make it look, feel and behave like the rest? An earlier rezoning along Renwick Street a decade ago saw a spate of new condo projects that would portend much of the development that swept the city in the ensuing years. Philip Johnson’s last building is here, the Urban Glass House, completed after his death. His modern lofts were, until a few months ago, uniformly selling for less than the bankers and lawyers and foreigners had been paying when they first moved in a few years prior.

One of the most quietly beautiful couples in the entire city, Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany, traded Park Slope—Park Slope!—for Hudson Square. Now they are reportedly leaving, their West Street penthouse on the market for $8.5 million. Their neighbors include John Slattery, James Gandolfini and that other fabulous couple Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson. All have said they were drawn here because of the quiet of this unassuming neighborhood, so hard to find anywhere else these days.

“We’ve gotten pretty used to construction over the past decade,” Gary Lawlor, an Ear Inn bartender for twice as long, said. “That hasn’t changed anything, so I don’t think some more new buildings will, either.”

The question has become: How much say should any one entity have over an entire neighborhood?

Arguably (even inarguably) Mayor Bloomberg and his planning commissioner Amanda Burden have exercised the power to reshape the entire city during the past decade, but they were elected and appointed to the job. Carl Weisbrod has Hudson Square almost to himself.

A City Hall hand going back to the Koch administration, Mr. Weisbrod arrived at Trinity in 2005 to run the real estate division. He spent a good part of that time very astutely filling the former printing plants, but his big task was going beyond business. He was focused on the streets, not the C suites. Mr. Weisbrod, who left Trinity last year to become a partner at planning shop HR&A, certainly had the experience. He spent 20 odd years cleaning up Times Square followed by a decade in Lower Manhattan as founding director of the Downtown Alliance. Half that time was spent helping to rebuild after 9/11. Reshaping a neighborhood like Hudson Square would be nothing.

Circling Hudson Square: Everybody Wants a Piece of the Last Untouched Neighborhood—Except for Those Who Just Want To Be Left Alone