Guest Column

Spinola: On Midtown East Rezoning, Much to Agree On

Within days, the City Council will vote on the plan to rezone the Midtown East area of Manhattan. Like most major rezoning, there has been no shortage of opinions and ideas from many quarters. However, there are a few points on which everyone should be able to agree.

First, the building stock in Midtown East is outdated. The average age of buildings in the district is 73 years old, and 80 percent of all buildings are older than 50 years. Many of these buildings are also overbuilt in comparison to the current zoning. This discrepancy provides a disincentive for owners to redevelop this aging office stock into new buildings with column-free floors, greater floor-to-ceiling heights, energy-efficient features and world-class designs. The City Council must act now to ensure that New York City will have the Class A commercial properties necessary to stay competitive on a global basis as soon as possible. 

Second, Midtown East—with Grand Central Terminal, several subway lines and the forthcoming East Side Access—has some of the best public transportation in the city, if not the country.  While transit hubs are the most efficient place to build high-density buildings, it’s crucial that we continue to maintain and upgrade our system to the highest standards. There are much-needed improvements that must happen now, most notably upgrades to the 4/5/6 subway station at Grand Central. 

This raises the question of how to pay for these critical improvements. Through the rezoning, the city will create a fund to pay for area upgrades using contributions collected from developers who opt to build taller buildings. As a result, over time, hundreds of millions of dollars will be invested in the area’s public realm and transportation network. (It is important to note that, even without the rezoning, construction can proceed on several of these Midtown sites. The difference is that without the rezoning and the district improvement fund it creates the city will lose out on this money to invest in the area’s infrastructure.) The council must take this opportunity to create a funding source to improve our transit network.

Finally, and most importantly, the rezoning will create good-paying jobs for thousands of middle-class workers at a time when job creation is one of the main concerns among New Yorkers. The city’s proposal will incentivize redevelopment that will create tens of thousands of new construction, building service and hotel jobs. Considering the types of buildings being constructed, neighborhood hiring trends and the special permit required for hotels in the area, it’s fair to say that most (if not all) of these jobs would be good union jobs. 

As Senator Charles Schumer recently stated, “Office buildings create an entire ecosystem of well-paying jobs that support New Yorkers from every borough and every walk of life. That’s why rezoning East Midtown to allow for newer, larger and more modern office buildings must go forward. Simply put, it means more good jobs for New Yorkers.” Our current council members have the ability to create these good jobs at a time when they can truly make a difference for our city’s residents, and they should not pass up this chance.

Some have asked what the harm would be in delaying the plan and introducing the rezoning again under the next administration. On this point, I have to disagree. Those who have suggested delay have not pointed to a specific improvement to the plan that would result. Furthermore, it is not clear why any outstanding issues can’t be addressed in these final days of discussion and deliberation.

On the other hand, we have much to lose from waiting: We will delay (if not entirely lose) the opportunity to create thousands of good jobs, provide crucial funding for much-needed infrastructure improvements and construct modern, sustainable buildings that will continue to make New York City’s Midtown East the premier business district in the world. I urge the City Council to vote in support of this historic opportunity to improve our city and the lives of those who live and work here.

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