By Mathew Katz and Billy Figueroa
HELL'S KITCHEN — An economic crisis that halted construction throughout much of the city was bad news for the Hudson Yards project, a sprawling set of new skyscrapers and development envisioned for the far west side of Hell's Kitchen.
But where construction once stalled, the city-backed project to develop the last bits of prime land in Manhattan has begun to move forward again.
At least one developer is gearing up to start construction in early 2012, and several others are actively courting anchor tenants for their massive new projects.
DNAinfo has put together a map of the ever-evolving Hudson Yards project, which is much more than a development over a rail yard, to provide an interactive glimpse at what the area might look like within a decade.
A New Neighborhood
The Bloomberg administration sees the far west side of Manhattan as the "one last frontier" available on the island. The largely industrial area between West 30th Street and West 42nd Street, from Eighth Avenue to the Hudson River, is primed to become a sort of new Midtown with gleaming office towers, high-priced condos, and chic hotels.
Much smaller is Related Companies' Hudson Yards development, a proposed plaza of 16 skyscrapers built on top of what's currently the West Side Yard. Related, along with the Oxford Properties Group, has leased the rail yard from the MTA for a period of 99 years. The plan is to build a deck over part of the yard, and towers on and around that.
While numbers and statistics about the project have long been in flux since major work on it got underway in 2005, the city's Hudson Yards website anticipates the area at its full capacity could provide up to 26 million square feet of new office space, 20,000 units of new housing and 2 million square feet of retail space.
The area's gotten major city and state support. By the end of 2013, the MTA expects to finish a project extending the 7 Train to West 34th Street and Eleventh Avenue.
The area also had to undergo extensive rezoning, with one section approved by the City Council in 2005, and the other in 2009, to transform the area from an industrial yard to a vibrant mixed-use district.
The city's help hasn't entirely pushed the project forward, but it has provided huge financial incentives to developers and property owners that help spur construction.
Sweetening the Deal
The city has set up two agencies to both attract and finance development. The Hudson Yards Infrastructure Corporation, set up in 2007, is the primary lender for the project's infrastructure, issuing bonds that will help pay for the massive undertaking of building what's essentially a second Midtown.
The Hudson Yards Development Corporation was established to administer the mind-bogglingly complex set of financial incentives open to developers, the largest of which is a massive property tax discount. Applying to the entire Hudson Yards area, property owners can get 15 to 40 percent off their property taxes for 15 years, depending on where and when they build.
"The idea is to incentivize developers to build quickly," said Peter Wertheim, the development corporation's Vice President for Financial Development. "Once the first 5 million square feet is built, the discount is ratcheded down to 25 percent, and so on — early actors get the best deals."
Weirtheim said a significant amount of developers have taken advantage of some of the incentives, including one that allows builders to exceed the existing zoning's floor-to-area ratio — basically, how many floors a building can have based on its footprint — by contributing into a district improvement fund that will help build much-needed new infrastructure for the area.
The end result: many of the planned new buildings will significantly alter the Manhattan skyline, topping out at 50 or 60 floors.
Will They Build It? Who Will Come?
Developers are largely optimistic that major work on the project will get underway soon, though only one has confirmed that construction is imminent. In January, Brookfield Properties is set to begin constructing Manhattan West, a three-building, six-acre complex bordered by West 31st and 33rd Streets and Ninth and Tenth Avenues.
"Occupancy for the first of the new office towers is planned for 2015," wrote Melissa Coley, a spokesperson for Brookfield, in a statement. "We are currently in discussion with a broad range of potential tenants, from media-tech firms to financial services companies."
That lot, at Ninth Avenue and 33rd Street, is currently both a parking lot and a hub for discount carrier Megabus. Megabus has been asked to leave the area by January 2012.
Along with Related and Brookfield, Sherwood Equities owns several other large lots in the area, and plans to eventually build them up into gigantic developments, including a 2.4 million square foot building on the west side of Tenth Avenue, between West 34th and West 35th Streets.
The building would also stretch west to Hudson Boulevard, a new tree-lined park and street running from West 42nd Street to West 30th Street, between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues.
Several developers could not give specifics on their projects, but a number of them said they are waiting for Related to begin work on their large-scale development before beginning major work on their own projects.
The West Side Yard is still surrounded by placards announcing Related's Hudson Yards project, and the developer noted that the already-delayed project has picked up some steam. Joanna Rose, a spokesperson for the company, said that the resurgence of the construction economy, along with tax incentives, have made the marketplace respond to what Related is offering.
"We are currently in talks with several large-scale users and have seen great interest in the commercial space at the yards," she said.
Rose was optimistic that construction could begin in mid-2012, though it's unclear how much of the project would be underway by that point, if it begins at all.
Change In The Air
The prospect of adding thousands of new offices and apartments to what's currently Hell's Kitchen is a daunting one. Many residents questioned how the development would be able to provide the social and technological infrastructure for so many new people.
In recent meetings to rezone the city's School District 2, several parents and community leaders voiced their concerns about where families moving into the development would send their children to school.
"With all the development in Western Chelsea and Hudson Yards, it seems just crazy to not look at that and take that into consideration," said Community Board 4 chair Corey Johnson at a rezoning public input session put on by the District 2 Community Education Council.
The part of the project that falls within District 2, below West 34th Street, is currently zoned for P.S. 33.
Related's Hudson Yards plans currently involve the construction of a new 750-student school to serve the area. It's currently unclear how that school would be zoned, and if it would be completed before families begin to move into new condos and apartments in the area.
Others in Hell's Kitchen are resentful that their residential neighborhood could soon incorporate the tall buildings and commercial bustle of Midtown.
"I think it's a terrible, terrible deal for us, and we got absolutely screwed on it," said Kathleen Treat, who chairs the Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood Association.
Treat also said the development needed to be more residential and, in particular, have more affordable housing, to be viable. But with all of the delays on the Hudson Yards projects, Treat was confident that changes would not be happening in her neighborhood anytime soon.
"There's so much we don't know right now, a lot of people are under the impression that this whole Hudson Yards thing is never going to happen," she said. "It’s just too much money."