UPPER EAST SIDE — The City Council Tuesday unanimously approved Rockefeller University’s plan to build a 160,000-square-foot research facility that will extend out over the FDR and East River Esplanade.
The development includes a multimillion-dollar investment in the esplanade and a number of other community benefits secured by local community leaders and elected officials, according to local Councilman Ben Kallos.
“This section of the esplanade is long overdue for improvement, and the plans we have developed in collaboration with the community call for it to be made structurally sound, and to incorporate new amenities,” said George Candler, Rockefeller’s associate vice president for planning and construction, in a statement. “Although this will be an important amenity for the neighborhood in its own right, we also hope it will serve as a model for what could be done on other sections of the esplanade in the future.”
The new building, which will house modern laboratory space, will extend over the esplanade from north of 64th Street to 68th Street. While the expansion plan was not as controversial as those from other large institutions in the area, community members did express concerns about the impact of the development on the esplanade when Rockefeller presented the idea to Community Board 8 last summer.
After getting the university to agree to some community benefits, CB8, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and the City Planning Commission approved different versions of the proposal earlier this year.
Kallos continued negotiations with the university as it moved toward the final steps of the city’s approval process.
The final agreement includes several community improvements promised by Rockefeller University. Most significantly, the university agreed to invest $8 million in a stretch of the esplanade near the campus to repair its weakened sea wall and add amenities such as a bike lane, benches and landscaping to the area.
Rockefeller will also create a $1 million endowment for ongoing maintenance of the esplanade, a big gain over the two-year maintenance program the school originally agreed to support.
“I was very proud to work with Rockefeller University to move away from this idea of years toward the idea of being a part of the community and supporting the esplanade in perpetuity,” Kallos said.
The school will also make a one-time contribution of $150,000 to Friends of the East River Esplanade, a local conservancy group focused on restoring the stretch from 60th to 120th streets.
With Friends' approval, a member of Rockefeller University will serve on the group's board of directors to encourage the neighborhood’s other institutions to get involved with the esplanade.
Finally, the school has agreed to increase its public programming by 20 percent, giving community members more access to the campus’s open space, a concession secured by Kallos.
The councilman said the final plan was the result of non-contentious collaboration between Rockefeller and community leaders.
“I think that this deal and deals like it have often gone through with very few community benefits,” Kallos said. “This could set a precedent that an institution like Rockefeller can go through this process without a lobbyist, which is historical, and work closely with the community and councilmember to bring about real benefits.”
Construction on the project is expected to begin in mid-2015 and be completed by the end of 2019, according to the school.