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Midtown Braces for Three of the Nation's Biggest Construction Projects

By DNAinfo Staff on August 30, 2010 2:11pm  | Updated on August 31, 2010 6:01am

Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MIDTOWN — After the City Council approved the construction of a skyscraper that will rival the Empire State Building, those who live at its feet are bracing for the consequences.

The new tower set to soar over West 32nd Street and Seventh Avenue, the site of the current Hotel Pennsylvania, is just one of three multi-billion dollar construction projects set to transform Midtown's 34th Street transit hub over the coming decade. And those who live near-by wonder if it's too much development for three blocks to handle.

"I feel like lying down in front of the hotel and letting them run over me with a bulldozer," said Bonnie Edwards, 57, a lawyer who has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years. "It's crazy. How do they expect people to be working in the midst of all this development?"

The James A. Farley Post Office.
The James A. Farley Post Office.
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AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

In addition to the skyscraper, known as 15 Penn Plaza, construction is already underway in New Jersey on the $8.7 billion Access to the Region's Core project — one of the largest transportation projects in the nation — which will bore two new train tunnels under the Hudson River to double capacity to Midtown. The project includes a new train station beside Penn Station, a handful of new subway entrances and the demolition of numerous buildings nearby.

On the other side of Penn Station, the James A. Farley Post Office is set to begin its billion-dollar transformation into the new Moyninan Station this fall. While the Empire State Development, which is overseeing the project, refused to provide details, the project will likely include at least one new 1 million-plus square-foot office tower, according to Friends of Moynihan Station.

Tom Smith, 34, who lives within two blocks of 15 Penn Plaza said the onslaught of development is just too much too fast for those who live and work nearby. Already, he said, there's dust in the air and jackhammers blaring "at all hours."

"It's obviously a disruption on multiple fronts," he said. "If you live in the neighborhood you definitely have to bear the cost."

At a subcommittee hearing before the tower was approved, Community Boards 5 district manager Wally Rubin urged the city to consider the long-term impact on the neighborhood, including how it will deal with added traffic on streets that are already painfully clogged.

Instead, the City Council's discussion focused mainly on cries from the owners of the Empire State Building that 15 Penn Plaza would block its view, the developer's commitment to minority hiring, and the estimated 7,000 new jobs and billions in economic activity the project is expected to bring.

A rendering of 15 Penn by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects.
A rendering of 15 Penn by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects.
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Courtesy of Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects

After the vote, Community Board 5 chair Vikki Barbero said she was "distressed and dismayed" by the fact that so little attention had been paid to their concerns.

But Nicole Kolinsky, a spokeswoman for Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who represents the area, said Quinn met with the community board multiple times, and that Vornado Realty Trust, the developer, modified its plans to address some of the community's concerns, including transit upgrades.

Some residents were resigned to the fact that chaos is part of life in Midtown.

"Seventh Avenue is busy enough as it is," Jason Herman, 33, a rabbi who has lived in the area for five years, said about the prospect of increased crowds being attracted by all the projects. "It's not going to be that much of a difference."

A detail of the ARC project sites in Midtown.
A detail of the ARC project sites in Midtown.
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Courtesy of the Port Authority