Volume 20 Issue 6 | June 22 - 28, 2007


50 West St. plan should be rejected

Community Board 1 gave conditional support Tuesday to a troubling 63-story luxury condo and hotel project in Downtown’s most perilous pedestrian area, without any commitment for affordable housing from the private developer in this government-subsidized project, or much improvement to the area. The battle over 50 West St. now moves to Borough President Scott Stringer, a strong affordable housing advocate, and to the City Council and Councilmember Alan Gerson, who was far too accommodating in the early negotiations with the developer.

Julie Menin, C.B. 1’s chairperson, was right to try and get the board to take a “no, but” position, but she didn’t prevail. The board did attach many sensible conditions to its approval, but its “yes with conditions” position weakens its ability to influence the developer and the project. The developer, Time Equities, now can truthfully say the board endorsed the thrust of the plan. We hope members stay on top of this project closely so their views are not distorted.

Under the estimated $550 million plan, Time Equities will demolish a handsome 1912 building and buy 183,000 square feet of air rights from the city at an undisclosed price, allowing the firm to build the most lucrative condos at the tower’s top. The developer will also get state tax breaks under the 421–a program. Had the developer made this proposal a year from now, the firm would have had to invest some of the subsidies in affordable housing, assuming Albany amends 421-a this week as is expected.

Not only is Time Equities refusing to invest even one dollar out of the millions of its tax subsidies in affordable housing, Phillip Gesue, the firm’s executive, bluntly told C.B. 1 members to move to Brooklyn if Downtown rents were getting too high for them.

What does Downtown get? Laptop computers for I.S. 89, which will also allow the computer room to close in order to free up two classrooms for one of our crowded schools, P.S. 89. Time Equities will offer temporary tech support for four years. The hotel lobby or some other part of the project will have public art space of unspecified size. Tiny unknown Ward St., a narrow pedestrian throughway near the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and the West Side Highway would be widened with a public plaza that will also enable the developer to build bigger.

Almost five years ago, Mayor Bloomberg proposed transforming this pedestrian nightmare into a new residential neighborhood, Greenwich Street South, with new parks, and an easy walkway connecting the area to Battery Park City, along with residential buildings to help pay for the improvements. The idea has not progressed much beyond the pretty picture phase. Time Equities hinted about paying for a pedestrian bridge at first, but now is backing off. The city could presumably use the developer’s air right money to pay for the Greenwich idea, but none of that is clear.

What is clear is Time Equities has to offer a lot more in neighborhood improvements, specifically something toward affordable housing to justify receiving any public assistance. Stringer’s past record shows he understands these types of issues, and moments. Councilmember Gerson has also fought for affordable housing and we hope that his original enthusiasm for the developer’s offer is history. Gerson, Stringer, and the Council should either force dramatic improvements or tell Time Equities “No.”

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