Home 7 Line Extension Whither Hudson Yards, again?

Whither Hudson Yards, again?

by Benjamin Kabak

The Hudson Yards area, it seems, is doomed, and the MTA may suffer a financial hit because of this curse.

Last May, after months of public and private wrangling, the MTA saw its first $1-billion bidder pull out of the Hudson Yards project. Shortly after that Tishman Speyer deal for the rail yards died a painful death, Related Companies swooped in and signed a similar deal. The Related deal, it seems, may join the Tishman plan in the great Hudson Yards in the sky.

Erik Engquist of Crain’s first reported on this development earlier this week. He writes:

If the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Related Cos. cannot reach a deal on Hudson Yards in 10 days, the $15 billion project could end up being postponed indefinitely or never being built.

The authority and the developer have until Jan. 31 to sign a contract, which would trigger a schedule of payments that could ultimately bring close to $1 billion into MTA coffers. But the sinking economy and a paucity of financing are pressuring both sides.

Given the uncertain market, Related would like to avoid commitments of scope and schedule that threaten the profitability of the project. At the same time, the developer wants to move forward and not forsake the $11 million deposit it put down last May.

Both sides in the Crain’s article are saying the right things. “Hudson Yards continues to move forward,” Joanna Rose, a Related vice president, said to Engquist. “We remain focused on the various governmental and required reviews that continue to progress and are working closely with the MTA, the Department of City Planning and the community.”

But with MTA CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander calling the negotiations “very sensitive,” it’s easy to see a collapse in the near future. With this deal on the rocks — and the Atlantic Yards deal treading water for another year — the MTA’s capital budget may suffer. These mega-projects were to bring in over $1 billion, and if they both fall through, the MTA will have to scramble to replace the funds.

Meanwhile, as the Related deal teeters on the brink, the city’s commitment to the 7 line extension remains in place. No matter what happens, the city will fund the construction of the 7 line from its current Times Square terminus to 34th and 11th Ave. While there may be no development on the Hudson Yards area for a decade, at least the subway will serve the area. With more pressing projects on tap, that hardly seems like a good use of funds to me. This could turn into quite the boondoggle.

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Alon Levy January 23, 2009 - 1:04 pm

Just out of curiosity – is there any urban renewal project that didn’t destroy the area it was built in?

Benjamin Kabak January 23, 2009 - 1:12 pm

I don’t think this one does actually. There is literally nothing above the Hudson Yards right now so there’s nothing to destroy. Just about everything else, courtesy of Mr. Moses, did though.

Marc Shepherd January 23, 2009 - 1:32 pm

It depends on what you mean by “destroy.” There is no such thing as a construction project that does not remove some or all of what was on the site previously—even if the only thing there was dirt.

But if you mean “make worse,” then there have been plenty of successful projects. Is Lincoln Center worse than the Lincoln Square slum it replaced? I don’t think so. Is the United Nations complex worse than the decript buildings it replaced? I don’t think so.

Alon Levy January 23, 2009 - 5:29 pm

Jane Jacobs described Lincoln Center area as a place barren of any cultural attraction outside the complex itself, where nobody hung out on the street except “bums” (her word). Nowadays it is somewhat better, but it’s taken the area decades to recover.

I’m generally skeptical of monolithic development projects. They’re good for lobbyists, but nor for urban residents. The liveliest streets and neighborhoods tend to have mixed uses and mixed ownership, and evolve organically. You can see it especially when there’s a monolith right next to a more organic neighborhood. For example, in Morningside Heights, the busiest blocks are located away from campus; the streets abutting Columbia, Barnard, and St. Luke’s are pretty barren. Similarly, in East Midtown, First Avenue has little apart from luxury condos and embassies, while Second Avenue is teeming with stores.

Matt January 23, 2009 - 1:18 pm

Has everyone forgotten about the F Express Plan? Nobody has said anything about trying to fix that up. With federal money coming in (hopefully), shouldn’t the MTA focus on replacing the Viaduct (which a year ago they said needed to be replaced as soon as possible) and extending the G down to Church Ave? I would imagine that project would be less expensive than this pointless plan, if the development is to fail.

Marc Shepherd January 23, 2009 - 1:39 pm

There is no trade-off with the Culver Express Plan (to use its correct name), because the MTA hasn’t cancelled that. The Culver Viaduct is still being renovated. The only thing they scaled back was the esthetics of the station renovation.

The Flushing Line extension is not pointless. With subway construction, you need to take a strategic view, because the work takes so long to complete. At this particular moment, there is no demand on the Far West Side, but the line wouldn’t be ready for several years anyway. Unless you believe the recession will last forever, you have to assume that the city will eventually be in growth mode again, and the opportunity there will again be compelling.

I do realize that some people thought the Flushing extension should never be built at all, but then you might as well come out and say that. Making the recession an excuse just obscures the real issue.

Benjamin Kabak January 23, 2009 - 1:55 pm

To me, it’s an issue of priorities. I fully understand the argument that development will follow transit. But I’d rather see the $2 billion from the city thrown to the Second Ave. Subway or other more pressing expansion projects. If this Hudson Yards deal falls through, we’ll have a 7 line extension for years during which few people will use it, and the omitted stop at 41st. and 10th Ave. becomes even more of an issue.

Alon Levy January 23, 2009 - 5:38 pm

There’s no reason the growth will occur on the Far West Side, not when both the neighborhood and the planned subway stop will be dominated by a convention center. Neighborhood revitalization doesn’t occur randomly. It can occur via spillover from a nearby area, but this won’t happen if the subway doesn’t connect the Hudson Yards area with Hell’s Kitchen. It can gentrify because of its low housing costs , but this requires old buildings, not new ones, which are not yet amortized. Its own residents can become richer, but the Hudson Yards area has no residents to begin with.

rhywun January 23, 2009 - 3:00 pm

> Is Lincoln Center worse than the Lincoln Square slum it replaced?

Ada Louise Huxtable thought so. Lincoln Center IS pretty awful, and represents mid-century planning at its worst (windswept plazas, segregation of uses). Also, Soho was a “slum” once too. And much of the west village. “Slum” is one of those words that gets thrown around way too loosely.

Marc Shepherd January 23, 2009 - 4:39 pm

It is not dispositive that you can name one or two people who thought Lincoln Center made its neighborhood worse. As far as I can tell, it’s not a commonly held view. Most people I know who were around at the time have no love lost for Lincoln Square. A counter-example would be the current Penn Station, which unlike Lincoln Center is widely considered inferior to what was there before.

Alon Levy January 23, 2009 - 5:43 pm

Penn Station is considered inferior for esthetic rather than functional reasons.

rhywun January 25, 2009 - 12:57 am

The excuse that “this is better than what’s there now” has been used to justify the most heinous examples of eminent domain over the years. The Atlantic Yards project is a recent example. These things go up because the people in charge claim that the land they want to grab is “blighted” (i.e. slums). The people who’ve invested their lives there might think otherwise.

Marc Shepherd January 26, 2009 - 8:14 am

Then I suppose nothing should ever be built for the public…right?

Alon Levy January 27, 2009 - 12:27 am

Marc, I’m not sure why, but every time someone criticizes a specific development idea, you make general points about slums and blight. It’s possible to redevelop areas without throwing people out of their homes or arbitrarily seizing land. This is what’s happening with most upzoning schemes in New York. Because they don’t destroy, they’re less controversial; even when they are, as with the 125th Street rezoning, the most vocal opponents tend to be not community groups, but power brokers who feel they didn’t get their share.

Projects like Atlantic Yards, Hudson Yards, and the Columbia expansion aren’t your typical “building things for the public.” That is why they’re causing so much uproar, and why the developers responsible feel they have to hire PR firms to engage in astroturf; in some instances, like Atlantic Yards, the PR people involved even establish their bona fides by opposing the controversial renewal projects that they’re not paid to advance.

rhywun January 23, 2009 - 3:14 pm

Not only is this extension a waste, it’s a form of corporate welfare. Whoever eventually buys the Hudson Yards is going to reap a vastly larger profit with the subway extension we’re giving them. Oh well, that’s par for the course in NYC.

JP January 24, 2009 - 10:33 am

Oh well. Better to have them bail out of the deal now, than sign contracts to move forward and then go bankrupt while in the middle of construction.

Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog » Blog Archive » » Will the stimulus save 7 extension stop? February 2, 2009 - 12:48 am

[…] To recap, the 7 line extension is a city-funded project that extends the 7 line from Times Square west along 41st St. and then south along 11th Ave. to 34th St. The planned development at Hudson Yards spurred on the city investment in this project, and while talks in the dealare scheduled for Monday, it is resting on unstable ground. […]

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