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Posts from the Economic Development Corporation Category

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NYC Replaces a Parking Crater With Parking-Free Housing and Retail

One of Manhattan’s few remaining parking craters is going to be filled in with housing and retail — all without any car storage, despite the city government’s belief that the site called for up to 500 parking spots. Call it “Parking Sanity.”

The project, called Essex Crossing, is on the Lower East Side. It replaces surface lots formerly known as the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, or SPURA, which were cleared decades ago and formed a parking crater engulfing multiple city blocks. The development will add 1,000 apartments (including 500 subsidized units), park space, a grocery store, a public market, and other retail.

Earlier this year, the developers decided to drop parking from the project entirely, even though the city pushed for up to 500 parking spaces — above and beyond the parking maximums that would normally be allowed under the zoning code.

The city, which initiated the project before selecting the developer, saw off-street parking as an elixir to help the project go down smoothly with the neighborhood. But it was not economical to build that much parking, and the developer eventually chose to eliminate parking entirely because site limitations would have placed the garage in a problematic location.

Streetsblog and Streetfilms recently sat down with Council Member Margaret Chin, who represents the area. Chin has advocated for the city to replace parking garages with affordable housing in her district, and she thinks things will be just fine without parking in the new development. As she says, people have plenty of other options for getting around.

Construction on the first phase of the development is set to begin this summer.

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Industry City Developer Thinks Sunset Park Waterfront Needs More Parking

The owner of Industry City, in background, says Sunset Park needs more parking. Photo: Google Maps

The owner of Industry City says Sunset Park needs more parking lots. Photo: Google Maps

A Sunset Park developer wants to use city land for a giant new parking lot, in what’s shaping up to be a test for Council Member Carlos Menchaca and the NYC Economic Development Corporation.

Industry City, which has 6 million square feet of industrial, office, and retail space in 16 buildings across more than 30 acres on the Sunset Park waterfront, is owned by a group of investors led by real estate firm Jamestown. Yesterday, the group announced a $1 billion redevelopment plan to attract employers in media, technology, fashion, and small-scale manufacturing.

The developers are asking for zoning changes to allow academic facilities, additional retail, and hotel uses at Industry City, which is zoned for manufacturing. They also have their eyes set on adding lots more parking.

The area has decent transit access, but it could be better. Industry City is near the express subway stop at 36th Street and Fourth Avenue and is served by three bus routes, including the crosstown B35 to Brownsville. That route has been identified as a priority for Select Bus Service expansion. Industry City is also right next to the planned Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway route and is a potential candidate for ferry service, though it was skipped over in the ferry network Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last month.

What the developers are focused on, though, is parking.

Industry City sits across the street from the city-owned South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, which already leases parking space to its neighbors, including 450 spots to Industry City. The development’s owners are looking to carve out up to five more acres for car storage in a corner of the 88-acre terminal site. According to back-of-the-envelope calculations by The Brooklyn Paper, that area — equal to the size of four football fields — could result in as many as 750 parking spaces.

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Attention EDC: Big Development Projects Don’t Need Parking After All

Just one of Essex Crossing’s nine sites could have handled a parking garage pushed by EDC. Instead, the developer and members of the project’s advisory group decided against adding more traffic to Delancey Street. Image: Essex Crossing

During the Bloomberg administration, city officials spearheading a giant Lower East Side mixed-use development larded it up with parking above and beyond what’s normally allowed in Manhattan. Now, the company in charge of building the project says it’s going to go parking-free, and is hosting a public meeting on its plan tonight. This could be a huge victory for Lower East Siders who want more housing but not more traffic and dirtier air, and it should be a lesson for the NYC Economic Development Corporation with far-reaching consequences.

The story of Essex Crossing, formerly known as the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, or SPURA, goes back decades, but the latest chapter began a few years ago when the Bloomberg administration restarted the development process for long-dormant parcels near the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge. EDC hashed out a development proposal with neighborhood groups and Community Board 3 before securing permits from the City Planning Commission and selecting a developer to build the project.

EDC pushed for 500 parking spaces, replacing 400 surface parking spots and adding another 100 for good measure. Parking, you may have heard, is an obsession of car owners at community board meetings. To keep this constituency from going ballistic about its plans, EDC almost always proposes a net increase in the number of parking spots at its development sites, usually above what zoning requires or allows.

More parking leads to more cars clogging already-congested roads, but most community boards and elected officials eat up EDC’s parking-saturated plans in the mistaken belief that tons of off-street parking will make it easier for car owners to find free on-street spaces.

Early versions of Essex Crossing, which spans nine city blocks above the confluence of four subway lines, included a 356-space municipal garage on Ludlow Street. To keep that cheap parking intact, the project’s boundaries were redrawn in 2012 to avoid building over the garage. (Council Member Margaret Chin has since asked Mayor de Blasio to replace the garage with affordable housing.)

The nine parcels that remained in the six-acre plan included parking lots with 400 public spaces. The development’s environmental impact statement estimated that it would need a maximum of 257 spaces, and the city’s zoning code allowed no more than 345 spots. In the end, EDC got the City Planning Commission to sign off on a 500-car garage, above and beyond what zoning would normally allow for the project, which will consist of retail and commercial uses and 1,000 new housing units.

Soon after, EDC selected Delancey Street Associates LLC, a joint venture of L+M Development Partners, BFC Partners, and Taconic Investment Partners, to build the project. Earlier this month, the developer revealed that while it had permission to build a 500-space garage, the final project will be built entirely without parking, just like most of the rest of the neighborhood. To repeat, the government wanted to build 500 parking spaces, but now that the project has been handed off to the developer, the parking garages are gone.

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Will Michael Schlein Stop NYC EDC From Subsidizing Parking?

This morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the appointment of Michael Schlein as chair of the city’s Economic Development Corporation. Schlein, a Wall Street insider with close ties to the mayor, joins EDC President Kyle Kimball atop the agency’s leadership. EDC has a terrible track record of subsidizing parking garages and overseeing mega-projects with acres of excess parking. The contours of a new direction under de Blasio — perhaps one with less parking — are still taking shape.

Image: Accion

De Blasio’s nominee for EDC chair, Michael Schlein. Photo: Accion

In recent years, when EDC wasn’t financing parking construction directly, its projects often required builders to not only replace existing parking spaces as part of a new development, but also mandated more spaces than prescribed by the zoning code. The result: Gargantuan, pedestrian-hostile garages sit mostly empty in East Harlem and the Bronx, and increased development costs drive up prices in neighborhoods from the Lower East Side to Flushing.

Schlein hasn’t offered many hints about what he will do at EDC, but has said that New York should decrease its reliance on tax incentives, which EDC often uses to grease the way for parking construction. “I think we no longer need to use tax incentives to get companies and people to come to New York City,” he told the New York Times. “New York City is a magnet for talent and employees, and I completely agree with Mayor de Blasio’s view that we need to be more prudent in how we use that tool.”

Schlein replaces Victor F. Ganzi, former head of The Hearst Corporation, who has served as chairman since 2009. The board must approve all contracts and agreements, so as chair, Schlein can exercise oversight and help set the tone, but he will be less involved in day-to-day operations than Kimball.

Kimball, appointed EDC president by Mayor Bloomberg last August and kept on by de Blasio, took over from Seth Pinsky last August. “The worst thing we could do is create projects that create a parking need and then not provide that parking,” Pinsky told Streetsblog in 2010. Asked about EDC’s parking policy last year, Pinsky talked about transit without once mentioning parking.

EDC development requests in recent months haven’t included large-scale parking requirements, though it’s not clear yet if that indicates a shift at EDC or just the nature of the small lot sizes of its recent projects.

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EDC: Phased East River Greenway Gaps Set to Be Filled by 2024

Support structures built in 2004 for a temporary roadway during FDR Drive reconstruction could be reused for the esplanade. This section could open as early as 2018, with other sections opening in 2015 and 2024. Photo: EDC

For years, the Hudson River Greenway has been the star of Manhattan’s greenway network, while usage of its East River sibling has been damped by a deteriorating pathway and gaps in the route. Now, with a renewed focus on the East Side waterfront, momentum is growing to complete the greenway, even though completion is more than a decade away.

One of the most important projects is filling the greenway’s gap through Midtown, currently under study by the city’s Economic Development Corporation. Sixty percent of the $5 million planning process is funded by the United Nations Development Corporation, and the remainder is from federal, state, and city funds. A deal between the city and the United Nations, brokered by state legislation, will enable the construction of a continuous waterfront greenway from 38th Street to 60th Street.

Last night, EDC hosted a meeting with the project’s community working group, and revealed some new information about the timeline for completing the greenway’s missing link.

To extend the greenway north from 38th to 41st Streets, $13 million from Con Edison would restore a deteriorating structure that the utility used for fuel deliveries, known as Waterside Pier, along a roughly 45-foot wide route that would open to the public in 2015. The greenway past the United Nations campus would be the last to open, in 2024, and the design would have to address security concerns likely to restrict access to First Avenue.

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Why the Next Mayor Should Reform the Parking-Obsessed NYC EDC

For an investigation published this weekend, the New York Times calculated that governments in New York state give away at least $4.06 billion in corporate subsidies every year. In New York City, the agency that oversees much of this largesse is the Economic Development Corporation. And when it comes to shaping city fabric, NYC EDC has a predilection for showering its subsidies on a specific type of project: the kind with tons of parking.

NYC EDC gave the politically-connected operators of this parking garage in Jamaica, Queens, a slew of tax exemptions. Photo: Google Street View

So when Comptroller John Liu suggested at a mayoral candidates forum last week that all business subsidies should be eliminated, along with the city’s Industrial Development Agency (the arm of EDC that oversaw the Yankee Stadium garage debacle, among other things), he struck on an idea that could do a world of good for NYC’s walkability.

EDC has a hand in many things, from training small business start-ups to encouraging the installation of solar panels, but its biggest imprint on the city comes from large-scale real estate development and financing deals that shape the built environment. EDC projects like the parking-saturated Gateway Center in the South Bronx are completely out of step with the Bloomberg administration’s professed intent to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

While NYC DOT has helped carry out the city’s sustainability goals by redesigning city streets to enhance walking, biking, and transit, EDC has continued to insist on a car-oriented development strategy that produces large volumes of parking and hostile streets for walking. “The worst thing we could do,” EDC President Seth Pinsky told Streetsblog in 2010, “is create projects that create a parking need and then not provide that parking.”

Because EDC’s primary focus is on brokering business deals, said Hunter College city planning professor Tom Angotti, it’s common for EDC’s goals not to align with other administration environmental or transportation priorities. “EDC operates relatively independently,” he said, and it “isn’t subject to the same kind of sunlight that other agencies are.”

So far, Liu is the only mayoral candidate seeking to end EDC business subsidies entirely. But even if EDC continues to offer development subsidies in the next administration, there are ways to better target the incentives so they meet broader goals.

City Council Member Brad Lander, who sits on the economic development committee, told Streetsblog that he wants more rigorous requirements — including transportation benchmarks — if the city continues to subsidize development. “The Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles has a whole series of criteria for sustainability,” Lander said. “I would like EDC to have similar set of standards and guidelines to what the CRA/LA has, including a broad set of transportation issues, such as maximizing use of public transportation.”

There’s a compelling case to be made that EDC’s eagerness to subsidize parking is harming the city, and that the next mayor should reform the agency. Take a look at this by-no-means-comprehensive list of how EDC has spent millions to build more parking, often for no other discernible reason than to distribute political spoils:

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Biz Students See Ripe Market for Bike-Share in NYC

NextBike.jpgA Nextbike kiosk in Tubingen, Germany. Image: Eldersign via Flickr.

With bike-share systems launching in three major American cities this year, the question naturally arises: Does New York have an appetite for bike-sharing?

Patricia Bayley and Martin Mazza say yes. Students at Barcelona's IESE, one of Europe's top business schools, Bayley and Mazza intend to open a bike-sharing company in New York City.

Along with a third student, Adrian Lui, Bayley and Mazza were recently selected as finalists in the "NYC Next Idea" business model competition. Sponsored by the NYC Economic Development Corporation, the competition invited graduate students from around the world to compete for seed money and free space in one of the city's business incubators.

Though their team didn't win the competition, the feedback they received encouraged Bayley and Mazza to pursue their plan. If they can secure venture capital for the project, they're ready to start working on it full-time come graduation day.

At this point, they aren't ready to tip their hand about many details, such as where bike stations would be located. They do intend to use a subscription model fairly similar to those in other cities, and their submission called for eventually installing 40,000 bikes across all five boroughs, an ambition they will scale back. "One of the critiques from the judges was to start smaller and see how the consumer reacts," said Bayley.

Both Mazza and Bayley are veteran New York City cyclists. While studying in Barcelona, they've had ample time to observe Bicing, Barcelona's bike-share program. They think they can do better. "We can learn from their mistakes," said Mazza. Added Bayley, "One of the big problems here in Barcelona is that the city is on a hill. People are renting them at the top and dumping them at the bottom." Inspired by both the success and the shortcomings of Bicing, they see a market in American cities, especially in flat, tightly-knit New York.

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Infrastructure Bigs: To Compete, NYC Needs Congestion Pricing, Tolls

Holland_Tunnel_tolls.jpgTolls at the Holland Tunnel. Now the Port Authority is looking for the next financing model. Image: Library of Congress.

At a panel put on by the New School last week, some of New York's biggest players in transportation and planning came together to discuss the future of the city's infrastructure. They all seemed to agree: The city can't keep up with its global competitors without new sources of revenue.

Christopher Ward, the executive director of the Port Authority, framed the stakes: "We have to ask, what builds wealth?" The other panelists concurred: New York's health and economic dominance won't continue without consistent investment in its infrastructure, particularly its transportation network.

Seth Pinsky, the president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, put it more directly. "We have spent the last 20 years trying to get our infrastructure back to pre-1970 levels," he said. Without moving further, "We will not be able to compete with other world cities."

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Visualizing a Car-Free Bedford Avenue

Emil Choski has given his Car-Free Bedford Avenue project a serious face lift. The 22-year-old freelance graphic designer and community organizer's new web site includes a three dimensional "flyby" visualization accompanied by some very un-Williamsburgy classical music. With apologies to the Meatpacking District and Ninth Avenue, Emil's project has to be my favorite grassroots livable streets initiative going right now. When is Dan Doctoroff going to wake up and give this kid a job at the Economic Development Corporation?! Choski writes:
The plan calls for the complete banning of automobiles on the stretch of Bedford Ave starting at Metropolitan Avenue and passing through and ending at McCarren park. The cross streets would be left open to cars and trucks in order to allow for necessary deliveries. The current traffic as well as the B61 bus will be rerouted to parallel avenues including Driggs Ave and Berry St. Emergency vehicles will continue to have access to Bedford Ave. What will replace the cars is a thriving pedestrian community, more outdoor seating for restaurants, islands of greenery, public sculpture, and anything else that makes the community more alive and beautiful.
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EDC’s McDonald a Leading Candidate for DOT Commissioner

From today's Crain's Insider:

Insiders say Joan McDonald, senior vice president of transportation for the city's Economic Development Corp., is the leading candidate to replace Iris Weinshall as transportation commissioner. McDonald has a broad resume, having worked for Jacobs Engineering Group, the city Department of Transportation, the Assembly Ways and Means Committee and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Mayor Mike Bloomberg's office would not comment on her candidacy. Weinshall is leaving the job in mid-April to take a vice chancellor's post at CUNY.