The new landscape
In recent years, development — and typically community opposition to it — has been one of the leading stories. But, more recently, development had already been slowing down severely and then the financial crisis struck.
Today, the only projects getting built are those that were fully funded and well underway when the bottom dropped out. Commercial development continues at the World Trade Center, although the Port Authority’s director warns us this week that if bad times continue for too long, it could prompt a slow down in some of the work.
There are some sectors in the economy that are more recession resistant than others. You don’t see layoffs of municipal workers in downturns. That’s because we need police officers, firefighters and sanitation workers, or we’d really be in trouble.
Others that weather these storms better than most are health and educational institutions, such as, in the Downtown area, notably St. Vincent’s Hospital and New York University. Both are tremendous economic engines for the city and surrounding community.
St. Vincent’s is seeking approvals for a wholesale rebuilding and consolidation of its hospital complex. On the other hand, N.Y.U. — right now — is relatively quiet on the construction front. Though the university recently has been intensively brainstorming on how to add up to 6 million square feet in the future, the main development on the horizon is the rebuilding of the Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments. Although that project was strongly opposed by some residents, preservationists and Eugene O’Neill scholars — but supported by Community Board 2 — its impact won’t be egregious and may actually be positive. And the historic theater will be preserved.
While it’s reassuring knowing the hospital and university will remain economic anchors in uncertain times, our development concerns haven’t disappeared.
St. Vincent’s still has far to go in its approval process. C.B. 2 still must review the project’s zoning, and the Landmarks Preservation Commission must weigh in on the project as it relates to the Greenwich Village Historic District. As we’ve said before, St. Vincent’s can and must do more to make its plan acceptable within the historic district. We support the hospital’s attempt to adapt to the healthcare demands of the future.
As for N.Y.U., we await the full conclusions of its recent comprehensive planning process. We strongly believe the university’s future development in this neck of the woods should be confined, as much as possible, to its own property, such as its South Village superblocks, though even doing that would prove a challenge. And, as we’ve frequently stated before, the university must look to expand remotely. A positive move in this direction was last year’s merger with Polytechnic University in Brooklyn. The Bloomberg administration has encouraged N.Y.U. to consider Long Island City, and N.Y.U. could indeed help jumpstart that area’s growth.
So, while this economy might make us appreciate St. Vincent’s and N.Y.U. more, at the same time, we’ll be watching them more closely, all the while encouraging them to make the right development choices for this community.