SL Green, City Planning Detail 1 Vanderbilt Transit Upgrades


1 Vanderbilt
A rendering of 1 Vanderbilt next to Grand Central Terminal. (Kohn Pedersen Fox)

Officials with SL Green Realty Corp. and the Department of City Planning outlined a detailed rebuttal today to claims by executives with Grand Central Terminal landlord Argent Ventures that the developers pursuing a rezoning to build the 1,350-foot 1 Vanderbilt tower across the street from the terminal haven’t made the necessary public-benefit commitments to build 528,900 square feet above the Midtown East site’s existing zoning restrictions.

SL Green presented local Community Board 5 with a 68-page report that aggregates the $210 million in transit upgrades for the planned 67-story structure at 317 Madison Avenue that the company says it negotiated over 17 months of talks with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

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And DCP Manhattan office director Edith Hsu-Chen sent a letter to the Midtown East steering committee that’s exploring the larger Midtown East rezoning that failed last year in order, she wrote, “to correct any misimpressions” that resulted from arguments by Midtown Trackage, the entity composed of Argent and two other investors that own Grand Central.

“What Midtown Trackage is really suggesting is that there should be no alternative for a developer to obtain greater density in the Grand Central area other than a purchase of development rights—at whatever the cost—from Midtown Trackage itself,” Ms. Hsu-Chen wrote in a letter yesterday. “This would be a radical departure from long established zoning policy which has provided developers with a variety of avenues to achieve greater bulk, including but not limited to as-of-right bonuses, purchase of air rights, zoning lot mergers, and special permits.”

1 Vanderbilt transit hall
A rendering of the enclosed transit hall on the ground floor of 1 Vanderbilt. (Kohn Pedersen Fox)

Both DCP and SL Green officials, with the support of transit advocates, have maintained the transit upgrades provide the necessary public benefit for the rezoning, and SL Green executives delivered the cost assessments to the Community Board last night before releasing them to the media this morning. The company’s presentation spells out problems such as crowding, difficult-to-find subway entrances and inconvenient routes and introduces solutions like a new sidewalk subway entrance carved out of the ground with 13 tons of structural steel and a corridor leading from one section of the station to another dug out from rock 50 feet below the street near active train tunnels.

The developers would scoop out over 4,400 cubic yards of fill and rock below 42nd Street and the terminal while constructing over 39,000 square feet of new pedestrian areas and more than 14,000 square feet of renovated space around the landmark train station and surrounding buildings like the Grand Hyatt New York, the Chrysler Building and 125 Park Avenue over a five to six-year period, according to the report compiled in consultation with Tishman Construction and the Stantec engineering company.

The subway station for the 4,5,6 and 7 trains would receive more than $139.2 million in improvements, with SL Green committing to spending over $47.2 million on a mezzanine-level circulation area and upwards of $37.3 million on connecting stairways from the Hyatt, according to the presentation. The developers would also spend more than $16.5 million on the Long Island Rail Road‘s East Side Access project, over $15.7 million for the shuttle train service between Grand Central and Times Square, $10.7 million for a pedestrian plaza outside the proposed building and $9.8 million for a 4,000-square-foot enclosed pedestrian area on the structure’s ground floor.

Mezz level circulation
A rendering of the mezzanine level circulation area for the Lexington Avenue subway line. (Kohn Pedersen Fox)

But even with the planning department and SL Green rejecting both the argument that the benefits are insufficient and that the upgrades don’t constitute $210 million worth of improvements, representatives for Argent Ventures vowed to continue fighting the proposal that they say threatens landmarks’ ability to sell unused air rights by creating a lower standard for public benefits in the area’s rezoning. The Grand Central landlords have threatened the city with a $1 billion lawsuit over the proposal and even offered to buy the property from SL Green for $400 million, and Argent Ventures spokesman Eric Soufer expressed “every confidence” that the community and elected officials would reject “SL Green’s effort to generate hundreds of millions of dollars of profit at the taxpayer’s expense” through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

“SL Green is getting far too much bonus for far too little work,” Mr. Soufer said in a prepared statement. “As expected, SL Green’s estimate includes numerous on-site ‘public improvements’ that would substantially increase the value of its own property and that we believe would be required under existing zoning, without the city offering a huge new bonus.”