Scaling Up: Midtown East's Rezoning Plans Not Off the Ground Yet

Midtown East

Michael Bloomberg and members of the Department of City Planning are still trying to push through Midtown East rezoning plans, but they’re racing against the clock as Bloomberg’s Mayoral term fast approaches an end. The rezoning, centered around the Grand Central Terminal, would allow for a vast makeover of 73 blocks between 37th and 57th Street and 2nd and 5th Avenue. The Department of City Planning’s overview suggests that New York is in dire need of newer, taller commercial skyscraper developments to attract and facilitate the growth of business – lest we’re left behind by a growing list of progressive metropolises and commerce hubs that can accommodate: “The purpose of the rezoning is to ensure the area’s future as a world-class business district and major job generator for New York City”.

The plan to alter the city’s classic skyline is not without its opponents, though, as was made painfully evident during a recent Manhattan community board meeting to discuss the subject. Mayor Bloomberg planned to fund infrastructure and transit upgrades necessary to accommodate the increase of population and traffic in the area by selling air rights. Community Board 5 found this to be insufficient to cover the costs, stating that the price tag for the rights was too low at $250 per square foot. There was also concern over the possible inadvertent fall in demand for large-scale developments like the World Trade Center and the Hudson Yards Project (a few blocks from The Atelier), which have benefited from massive public investment – further reason to postpone the rezoning schedule.

Another key criticism was the lack of space allotted for residential use: “the public benefits just [do not] measure up to the private benefits”, said Lola Finkelstein, chairwoman of the joint community board organization evaluating the rezoning plan. As of right now, community boards 1,4,5, and 6 are all expected to unanimously reject the plan on July 1st. These are just a few examples of a growing voice of rebuke directed at Bloomberg’s rezoning plans coming from Midtown East and the rest of Manhattan. Some community members reject the increase in population of one of New York City’s densest areas, others simply don’t wish to have the views of the Chrysler Building obscured by the new commercial towers being promoted.

Shortly after the community board’s denouncement, Bloomberg brought together three development firms to work on the plan, now being called East Midtown Public Realm Vision Plan. The collaborative effort will consist of Jonathan Rose Companies, Gehl Architects, and Skanksa. Bringing together a sustainable development firm, an urban planning firm, and a global civil engineering firm (respectively) under the same roof is a direct response to testy critics of the Department of City Planning’s initial proposal.

From preservationists and long time residents, to political opponents, there’s a long line of critics who are staunchly opposed to the rezoning plans. Fortunately for Michael Bloomberg and proponents of the Midtown East rezoning, the economic benefits of a taller skyline are undeniable, and the gears are already turning. With a long vision,  a line of developers ready to build, and plenty of money and political support, Mayor Bloomberg’s plans may come to fruition yet – but not without putting some overtime hours in to get the DCP’s plans approved before he steps down from office.