Home 7 Line Extension Passing judgment on Hudson Yards years too soon

Passing judgment on Hudson Yards years too soon

by Benjamin Kabak

The lack of development around the 7 line in Queens shortly after it opened did not condemn the subway extension to failure.

In the annals of New York City history, the construction of subway lines has regularly spurred on the development and growth of the city. The elevateds brought people north in Manhattan, and the famous photo above shows Queens at the time the 7 line started to snake eastward. Development, though, can take years, but eventually, it will come. Patience is a virtue.

A recent study commissioned by City Council member Dan Garodnick and released this week by the city’s Independent Budget Office makes me think we’ve forgotten about patience. The study assesses the amount of money the city has so far received from Hudson Yards development against the amount it has invested in the project. With subway construction not yet completed, the city still rebounding from a deep recession and no completed development at the site, as you can imagine, the study found that, so far, taxpayers have invested far more than they’ve gotten out of it. Should we condemn the project? Throw in the towel? Not quite yet.

The report [pdf] is heavy on numbers as IBO reports are wont to be. Its origins grew out of the Bloomberg Administration’s plan to rezone Midtown East. Garodnick worried that such a rezoning would lead Midtown East to compete with the Hudson Yards for development opportunities and dollars. If the city had too much taxpayer money riding on Hudson Yards, Midtown East may not enjoy the same benefits until Hudson Yards becomes self-sufficient.

As astute observers may have already guessed, the report found that Hudson Yards has a long way to go before it repays the city expenditures and infrastructure investments. The short of it is that initial city estimates predicated $283 million in tax and fee revenues through 2012 but the total actually collected has hit just $170 million. The city is on the hook for the increased costs of the 7 line extension, and the IBO highlights the need to cut the key station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. Ultimately, TEPs, PILOT revenue and taxes will begin to increase, but the IBO doesn’t expect serious jumps in revenue until late this decade or early next when the high rises go up.

Garodnick didn’t have too much to say about the report, but he commented for a Wall Street Journal article on the study. “It’s clear that Hudson Yards is moving slower than anticipated.” he said. “The city is on the hook there, which is a point of concern as we consider other development issues”

But should it be? How can we pass judgment on a project that isn’t close to completion yet and in fact has barely passed the point of commencement? The subway doesn’t start running to the Hudson Yards for another 14 months, and buildings are starting to go up in the area albeit slowly. Were we in this much of a hurry to judge new development throughout the city’s past, extending the grid into what is now the Upper East and West Sides would have come under heavy criticism far too early in time to pass real judgment.

At this point, the city is still investing in development of the Far West Side. A collapse of the New York real estate market five years ago and a slower-than-expected recovery means that the city won’t recoup its costs quite as quickly, but in 15 years, we won’t even remember this discussion. The pace of work at Hudson Yards shouldn’t be a concern quite yet, and it shouldn’t slow down the Midtown East rezoning effort. While time may not be on the side of elected officials constantly running for office, the Hudson Yards area has all the time in the world, and it will one day meet those economic expectations.

You may also like


Walt Gekko April 26, 2013 - 12:29 am

Will people understand they have barely started any serious work at the site and they have to first built what will be the foundation the buildings will be built on top of? It’s going to take time to do all that. We are a LONG way off that being complete, but as it gets built, the changes will become noticeable.

Frank B. April 26, 2013 - 12:50 am

I believe this picture had been shown in an article a while back showing the benefits of “If you build it, they will come” or something to that effect; I believe this one was posted, along with one of the same Queens scene 20 years later with heavy development surrounding the el.

I’ve been trying to find that posting for a while; I was going to cite it in my thesis… Does anyone know the posting I’m referring to?

Regardless, the fact of the matter stands that Hudson Yards will hopefully be one day commended as a brilliant public-private partnership that started a reverberation of new investment and opportunity not just in the 5 boroughs, but nationwide… Perhaps that’s a tad optimistic, but a man can dream…

Erik April 26, 2013 - 8:04 am

My concern is that the public-private partnership model is the very thing that creates this sense of impatience.

When we say “public-private” partnership, the “private” is really real estate developers and their allies in finance. It’s a quid-pro-quo that they will help find funding for a project as long as it drives near-immediate development and money-making opportunities. That’s not meant to be read as a judgement; I think most of them would agree with that assessment and openly dismiss any plan that had a 20 or 30 year horizon for return as a bad use of funds.

However, the picture above shows what can be accomplished when loner time horizons are acceptable. Of course, this was build by a private IRT, so that’s another interesting question. For the IRT it made more sense to keep building along their right of way regardless of what was there yet. To do it piecemeal would be prohibitively costly over time. But when the “private” is real estate ventures, then possibly the “success” comes too ties to the accompanying developments, which ripple outwards from the core more slowly.

Or, perhaps the overriding issue is that in the early 20th century there was a level of optimism for the future and surety of the destiny of the city that we would find astonishing today. Of COURSE you should build the infrastructure out into the middle of nowhere! The city will need that in due time! That’s also the audacity of the commissioner’s plan for the street grid. The city was mostly wild lands and farms above 14th street, yet they envisioned what it would be like 50 – 100 years later. We have lost that skill.

W. K. Lis April 26, 2013 - 1:23 pm

Didn’t the City of New York build the subway infrastructure and then LEASED it to the private companies?

Think twice April 26, 2013 - 1:55 pm

The building of it was also contracted out to the private sector. It’s like a DBOM contract today, except the City did the “D”esign part in-house.

al April 26, 2013 - 1:58 pm

Many of the legacy IRT and BRT lines were completely private. They had a structure somewhat like the present day private electric utilities. The changeover happened in the 1900’s with new construction, and reconstruction of legacy lines.

David Brown April 26, 2013 - 10:07 am

You can basically write a book with the length of “War & Peace” on this subject. That said, the phrase “If They Build It They Will Come” comes from the film “Field Of Dreams.” Keep in mind the very definition of Economics is “The Study Of Scarce Resources And How Best To Allocate Them.” The key words are scarce and allocate. Public/Private Partnerships go to the heart of this. The very reason why both are needed, is there is simply not enough capital to do everything that is needed. They can work if, and this is the BIG if, the location is right, and more importantly, major bad decisions (Either political or economic) are not made. For example: There is a bill under way in California, that would give the homeless the right to sleep on the streets wherever they want. There are some people (perhaps most), who think that is “Compassionate and humane.” However, that is incredibly stupid and short sighted, because this will really hurt businesses such as restaurants (I certainly do not want to be panhandled (Or worse, smell the stench of the homeless if I am eating), so I would avoid those places). Why is it so bad? These businesses are the ones who generate tax revenue that can (and are) being used to fund such programs that are partially used for you guessed it to assist the homeless. Basically you can build the Taj Majal, but if people (Particularly those with families), do not feel safe and comfortable, and do not have the ability to get where they want to go,with realitive ease, comfort, and economic affordability (referring of course to the basis of this blog, transportation),they are not coming, they will choose somewhere else.

Carl Z. September 21, 2013 - 10:22 am Reply
Chris Miller April 26, 2013 - 1:07 am

definitely shouldn’t codemn. Any progress is progress. But they’re not building out into pastures anymore. They’re not speculating anymore. They’re working on existing info in so many places. Hudson Yards and the deep west side can bear fruit as a rare underinhabited area in Manhattan, absolutely. Now it’s time to work on serving the underserved , rather than who might be underserved years from now. 2nd Avenue, and God forbid, something past that.

Justin Samuels April 26, 2013 - 3:08 am

There has been massive construction in the Hudson Yards area, in part because of things like the high line, and in part because of both the Hudson Yards project and the 7 train extension. So city investment has already made huge changes in the area. Investment of any sort does not mean instant returns, particularly before the project is complete! But in terms of development and overall perception of the area, NYC investment in that area has already paid of.

Nyland8 April 26, 2013 - 7:31 am

I find the whole notion that the development of the Hudson Yards is somehow mystically tied to the 7 Line extension to be totally devoid of any basis in reality, and it surprises me that so many New Yorkers have bought into this delusive mantra. The Hudson Yards area has never been lacking in transportation availability – ever!

The Hudson Yards is only 2 blocks from the A,C,E.
The Hudson Yards is only 3 blocks from the 1,2,3.
The Hudson Yards is a whopping four blocks from the B,D,F,M,N,Q and R Lines – and the Port Authority Bus Terminal is an even shorter walk to the Hudson Yards than Herald Square is!

The Hudson Yards is only a few blocks from NYPenn Station!

The Hudson Yards is stumbling distance to its own ferry terminal – and has been for more than a generation. It is served by cross-town busses. My god, it even has its own heliport!

The notion that what was lacking in its development – the missing piece of the puzzle – was a direct link to Flushing, is something I find to be more bizarre every time I’m confronted with that idea.

There are political reasons for its historic lack of development – just as there are political reasons for its pending development – but transportation availability has nothing to do with it.

Ned April 26, 2013 - 8:01 am

But it’s all relative, right? When you consider midtown below 42nd, you have a subway trunk line under 8th, 7th, 6th, and 4th (Park) Aves, plus Broadway as it snakes from 4th ave to 7th. When you think about it, that’s incredible. No surprise, that’s where density is also highest (surely a correlation) and people have many easy transit choices. Sure, the yards might be 2 (LONG) blocks from 8th — therefore the access equivalent of 2nd Ave (2 blocks from Park)– but the choices are also more narrow. What if the A/C/E don’t get me where I want to go? Or it means a 3-seat ride somewhere? With the 7 I can connect with every other N/S trunk line on 42nd. The crying shame is the loss of the 10th Ave station they cut.

I see what you’re saying, but it’s a little hard to take your post seriously when you sarcastically refer to “a whopping four blocks” to 6th Ave from 10th. Those 4 Avenue blocks are the equivalent of 1 mile and almost half the width of the island at that location…

Ned April 26, 2013 - 8:03 am

Sorry, 0.8 miles.

John-2 April 26, 2013 - 8:55 am

While Eighth to 11th is only slightly longer than, say, the First-to-Lex trek East side residents have made at last since the Third Avenue el came down, for Hudson Yards on major psychological/visual barrier over the years has been the Lincoln Tunnel and its access roads between 30th and 42nd streets.

The glut of cars, trucks and buses negotiating the area between Ninth and 10th avenues to either get into or out of the tunnel has made it over the years an uninviting place to walk, which in turn has lowered real estate values and kept the area from being much more than just industrial/warehousing. The Hudson Yards station creates a way for people to get past that barrier both figuratively and mentally, by allowing them to avoid the worst of the tunnel’s portal access congestion and get to the area between 10th and 12th avenues where it’s less of a problem.

BruceNY April 26, 2013 - 12:02 pm

That’s right…four LOOOONNNG blocks, which in January or the middle of July is certainly nothing comparable to walking the four blocks from 34th to 38th St. And as a resident of York Avenue, I can tell you how the scarcity of East-West transit in Manhattan can be a time consuming burden.
The Javits Center has always been one big pain in the neck to get to. Why discount the benefit of connecting this area to our subway network? The only shame is that they eliminated the 10th Avenue stop, and lacked the foresight to add one more station where the tracks stop at 25th St. (platform would extend to 23rd St.) to connect the Chelsea Piers.

Bolwerk April 28, 2013 - 8:53 am

Most remaining problems with intra-Manhattan crosstown service could be fixed with considerably cheaper light rail. It’s only in cases that the outer boroughs need to be connected, and there are some, that subway should be considered.

Nyland8 April 28, 2013 - 12:37 pm

Are you suggesting surface transit light rail on dedicated crosstown streets? Or are you suggesting they share crosstown streets with cars, trucks, busses, taxis, etc?

Bolwerk April 28, 2013 - 3:09 pm

I would prefer dedicated ROWs, if not dedicated streets, but it can be managed well in mixed traffic. It would be best to just get a foot in the door for now.

Nyland8 April 28, 2013 - 12:35 pm

“Why discount the benefit of connecting this area to our subway network?”

Why indeed? I never have. I’m an advocate of expanding the subway system – including the 7 Line.

I’m simply stating the fact – and it is a FACT – that the Hudson Yards is certainly NOT a LOOOOONG distance from any mass-transit.

I work in a small midtown office where not one, but TWO of my colleagues commute from Westchester County into GCT. They both walk to-and-from there a greater distance than the distance from Herald Square to the Yards. According to the line drawing tool on Google maps, they walk a full mile minimum.

I likewise have not one, but TWO fellow employees that walk from PABT – just under .7 of a mile.

In both cases, those 4 people could get closer to work by taking the subway. They choose not to because they don’t think it’s worth $1,300+ a year to get on a subway just for a few stops. And their experience, I have NO doubt, is repeated by tens-of-thousands of others who enter Manhattan every day by way of PABT, GCT or Penn Station.

Now you could argue that during a blizzard, they might break down and go out-of-pocket for a subway connection – and you’d probably be right. And on the rare occasion that they might be transporting something large or heavy, they might hail a cab. In an ideal world, I suspect that many folks would want to have their own rickshaw and coolie. Convenience is definitely an asset.

But by any reasonable standard, the Hudson Yards is accessible to mass transit, even without the 7 Line extension. That is the point of my post.

AG April 29, 2013 - 9:29 pm

you left out the part that walking is actually good for their health.

alen April 26, 2013 - 10:19 am

long blocks

the ROI would never work out if they had to settle for less rent than they can charge with the subway downstairs.

AG April 26, 2013 - 7:39 pm

In reality it has been more about zoning than anything else over the past 2-3 decades… but having a subway at the doorstep does help. Then in the past few years – the economy tanking without question delayed some of the development.

Henry April 29, 2013 - 6:59 pm

The problem is that the walk is extremely inconvenient, and quite frankly discouraging – the area is about as pedestrian hostile as Manhattan gets.

The only similar parcels in Manhattan that don’t have super-high levels of private development is the LES, and a big factor is the location. (That, and the fact that there are barely any free parcels in the area that don’t have public housing on them.)

David Brown April 26, 2013 - 7:41 am

It is far too early to make an accurate appraisal of Hudson Yards, but I certainly believe it will be a success. One thing that is a given is there is more construction going happening on the West Side of Manhattan than anywhere else in the Country. World Trade Center, former Meatpacking District, 57th Street developments, High Line Phase Three, various Transportation projects, and perhaps 550 Washington Street (1.3 million square feet, taking up 4 city blocks ), 50 West Street, and 111 Washington Street get finished within 5 years as well. Even the Westside “Gentlemen’s Club” (on Clarkson between Washington and West) and the stores next to it), are heading for the wrecking ball. A key part of this will be to see if Hudson River Park gets finished ( in my opinion it will). After 9/11 no one could have predicted the Wall Street area would be the 24/7 Community it is today ( it never was before). So lets wait about 2 years after the 7 train expansion, the Fulton Street Complex, and the PATH Station are open, and some of these projects (as well as others), are heading for completion or are well underway, before playing Monday Morning Quarterback. If Interest Rates remain low (important for construction costs), I believe most if not all, will be in good shape, that includes Hudson Yards.

AREADER April 26, 2013 - 8:33 am

This is a good as anytime to post this. For those who haven’t seen this before, this website http://gis.nyc.gov/doitt/nycitymap/ has historical aerial survey compiled together to basically for Google Satellite views on New York 1924, 1951, 1996, and the 2000’s. At the top click the camera button to switch to aerial photos, then select the year from the slider. The most interesting by far is the 1924 version. Anway, it is related to this post because you can see the 7 Line and the lines in the Bronx already built out and running through fields which will soon be developed. It is a little sad to look at this map which is almost 100 years old and see that essentially every subway line is already built. Actually, they have more subways in the 1924 map, since alot of the els are still there.

Larry Littlefield April 26, 2013 - 5:04 pm

“In 15 years, we won’t even remember this discussion.”

In 15 years the only people the politicos really care about will be dead, retired or in Florida. And most of those who make noise don’t really care about those coming after, either.

AG April 26, 2013 - 7:43 pm

In real estate is is absolutely ridiculous to expect a payback in a few years. Some of these politicians have to justify their existence so they come up with “duh” studies. How many real estate developments in the country have proved as successful as they thought only 6 years ago? The fact there has been a handful of buildings even started there shows that in the depression that just passed – this project could already be called a success.

David Brown April 27, 2013 - 9:07 am

The reason why there are so many “Studies” is because politicians and developers alike know that there will be some people and (or) groups that oppose whatever they do, and quite likely this will end up in court, so they better be prepared to answer the complaint(s), otherwise nothing will be done.

Frank McArdle April 27, 2013 - 9:44 am

The question to be answered is where the ridership for the extension will come from. In my view, as there has been no increase in the number of trains that can be pushed through the Steinway tunnel, and thus no additional ridership in from Queens, the extension is likely just to redistribute the flows of subway users coming into the midtown core. It will thus be just a very expensive alternative to an improved bus system or a light rail loop around Midtown..

It was suggested to Deputy Mayor Doctoroff on more than one occasion that improving the tunnel throughput from Queens was the first step, but no action was taken.

The far West side was not undiscovered, just underutilized. The reason for its ‘underdevelopment’ can best be seen from New Jersey, where one can clearly see the skyline profile of Manhattan, which follows the profile of the good Manhattan schist on which to build tall buildings. If there was an unmet need for more commercial space in Manhattan, it probably would have been more prudent and less costly to remove the obstacles to a full redevelopment of the buildings in the Garment District into 21st century office space. Then the #7 extension money could have been invested in capacity-adding projects like Nostrand Junction modernization.

Alon Levy April 27, 2013 - 6:15 pm

Thank you.


Leave a Comment