Presented By: Partner Insights
New York City’s Neighborhoods
Business Improvement Districts: Spring 2019 Outlook
Business Improvement Districts are making great strides to ensure New York City and the New York metro area remains vibrant and full of opportunity. Within New York City’s five boroughs, 59 districts and hundreds of neighborhoods, BIDs are powerful voices for individual communities. The city has gone through many changes recently and these BIDs have made lots of changes to improve the city we live in, work in and play in.
The population in New York City has grown tremendously over the last few years, forging a new landscape of residents, commuters and travelers. In response, BIDs are working to design a city that is both beautiful and safe for community members.
The Garment District Alliance, Hudson Yards Hell’s Kitchen Alliance (HYHK) and Grand Central Partnership all represent communities seeking to enhance the economic vitality and quality of life for their residents and businesses.
Current State of the City
“What’s exciting in Midtown East at the moment are the development projects that are being announced more and more frequently now that the Greater East Midtown rezoning has taken effect,” said Grand Central Partnership President/CEO, Fred Cerullo.
Since the rezoning passed at the end of 2017, JPMorgan Chase has announced it will redevelop its global headquarters at 270 Park rather than relocate elsewhere in the city. RXR Realty, TF Cornerstone and MSD Capital have announced they are redeveloping the Grand Hyatt into a new, mixed-use building at the corner of Lexington and 42nd. And, most recently, the iconic Chrysler Building sold and could be converted into a hotel.
Even without rezoning, reinvestment and redevelopment make fiscal sense for many, including 425 Park and 390 Madison, both of which will soon re-open after complete reconfigurations of existing structure to meet the previous area zoning code. Also prior to Greater East Midtown rezoning, One Vanderbilt began construction after receiving approval to proceed under the Vanderbilt Corridor rezoning.
“There has also been a spate of announcements regarding upgrades, renovations and repositionings of commercial office buildings in the area that reflect the value of locating here in the Midtown East area,” Cerullo said. For example, Tishman Speyer’s announcement of a lobby renovation for the MetLife Building (200 Park), and the owners of 155 East 44th work creating a brand new lobby and new tenant amenity spaces in conjunction with rebranding the building as 10 Grand Central.
“Midtown East is as much a hotbed of development as it is the city’s power base,” Cerullo said. Case in point, space in One Vanderbilt is being leased well ahead of the property’s 2020 completion. East Side Access is scheduled to bring thousands of LIRR commuters to the heart of the Grand Central Partnership neighborhood when completed in 2022. And new, fully residential projects like 100 East 53rd are coming online with other neighborhood development plans likely to be announced any day, he notes.
The HYHK Alliance focuses on sanitation, horticulture and security for the park and the district. The BID has two maintenance teams that handle sanitation. Horticulture is maintained using a combination of in house staff and contractors. The BID also provides overnight security in the park and security in the district as well as marketing and programming to create awareness of streetscape improvements.
The Garment District Alliance is accelerating efforts to address the incredible amount of neighborhood growth. Over the past 10 years, 42 hotels have opened there with 12 more in the pipeline to accommodate a record 11.5 million visitors per year. Ground-floor retail has also been evolving over the past five years with huge pedestrian counts overwhelming roads and the sidewalks. “Right now, it is not working,” said Garment District Alliance President Barbara Blair.
Even in the last year, the city has made great strides to improve public spaces. A pedestrian corridor was added on the west lane of Seventh Avenue in the Garment District to increase pedestrian capacity and connect Port Authority, Times Square, 34th Street and Penn Station. “This has been an incredible release valve in terms of how we can manage pedestrians on Seventh Avenue,” Blair said. Public plazas on Broadway have added capacity for pedestrians, although Eight Avenue is still a challenge. In the coming year, the BID plans to work with the city and act as an advocate for better planning so that pedestrians, vehicles and bikes can coexist.
The Hudson Yards Hell’s Kitchen Alliance recently improved the streetscape on 37th Street. Adding a pedestrian safety element, a midblock crossing was added as well as a few neckdowns and a street seat. These elements incorporated offer additional pedestrian space in the roadway creating safe space for pedestrians. Planters were added as part of a pilot program. In 2019, the BID would like to incorporate more improvements on 10th Avenue, including more planters filled with green to beautify the area, according to HYHK Planning & Operations Manager Patricia Maltezos.
Creating Outdoor Spaces
Another project the Hudson Yards Hell’s Kitchen Alliance completed recently is the expansion of a public space called The Canoe, with planters as well as tables and chairs making the space much more user-friendly.
Grand Central Partnerships’ vision since its founding 30 years ago has also been the creation of new public space. The permanent pedestrianization of Pershing Square West is a direct outcome of that vision and the realization of the BID and its stakeholders’ long-held dream, according to Cerullo.
The Garment District has utilized horticulture and public art to activate the heavily traversed corridor that connects Times Square and 34th Street. For example, over the last year, the BID brought in Montreal-based Creos to install public art that is illuminated at night, allowing for greater use during winter months.
Improvements for 2019
With strong improvements already complete, these BIDs have continued improvement plans on the drawing board for 2019. The Garment District is working with the DOT to close one of the blocks on Broadway during the winter to mirror the closures in the summer, activating the streets for public use in the winter months.
Coming up, the Hudson Yards Hell’s Kitchen Alliance would like to incorporate more improvements along 10th Avenue, including more planters. The area has large sidewalk space and the district would like to fill them with green to beautify the area and add additional bump outs and greenery.
More pedestrian and public space are planned along the crowded avenues in Midtown East, including Park and Lexington avenues, and along the stretch of 53rd Street that traverses the neighborhood east and west. And, as One Vanderbilt nears completion, a new plaza at 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue will be created, connecting the new supertall with Grand Central Terminal.
These proposed or planned spaces will join the over 100 publicly owned private spaces in Midtown East, many of which are already award-winning examples of urban oases. Recently redone spaces include the plaza at 600 Third Avenue, while the indoor publicly owned private space at 120 Park is currently being rethought for a potential future revamp, according to BID President/CEO Cerullo.
Beautifying the Neighborhood
The Garment District is considering a redesign for Fashion Walk of Fame, which has experienced “slipping” problems with the plaques on Seventh Avenue and throughout the district. Alternately, the BID will try to think of another way to express the neighborhood’s historical roots. “With the Hudson Yards [opening], we believe we will start to see more usage and we are building a new button and needle sculpture with a thread element included in it,” Blair said.
The Grand Central Business Improvement District, which just completed 30 years of service to its Midtown East neighborhood, has continually improved its tactics and strategies for improving the streetscape and area, remaining at the cutting edge of BID best practices and innovations, according to Cerullo.
After completely overhauling the streetscape through massive capital improvements such as a cohesive street furniture and lighting scheme, a few of the newest strategies the BID has deployed include a unified supervisory structure for its field staff and the use of the NYC Plaza Program, which enabled the BID to shepherd the Pershing Square Plaza’s conversion to a new public space to completion.
The Garment District is working with city government to find ways for the streets to function more rationally. At present, it’s chaotic, especially on Eighth Avenue. “We are almost immobilized with the volume of pedestrians, bikers and cars,” Blair said. The district, which is anchored by Penn Station and Port Authority, will receive more pedestrian traffic from developments like the new Vornado building rising in the area and Hudson Yards. “All of these developments will make the Garment District a central hub that all of these neighborhoods are traversing for one reason or another.”
The city has an opportunity to look at ways to mitigate the conflict that’s occurring on the streets and on the sidewalks in a way that’s unique to the central business district, Blair maintains. The city has engaged in special planning applications in the past as a result of a configuration or attribute that’s unique to a neighborhood. For example, following 9/11, there was an overwhelming number of vendors flocking to downtown to sell hats and t-shirts referencing the catastrophe and laws were put in place to ban vending.
Rezoning Effects on The City
In the year or so since the rezoning, additional new public spaces are beginning to pop up in Midtown East in conjunction with new development. Almost immediately after the rezoning was passed, Grand Central Partnership partnered with the Department of Transportation and contingent property owners to create a new, shared street concept on 43rd Street between Lexington and Third Avenue, the second of its kind in the city.
The Garment District, which is anchored by the transportation hub, is also the gateway to the Hudson Yards. In short, the rezoning will make the district appealing to tenants from all users to the area and place at the center of the city. In addition, ground-floor retail is expected to locate within the Garment District as a result of the rezoning.
The Garment District BID predicts two opportunities from zoning that was just lifted. The first is the misperception the neighborhood is only for the fashion industry. Now, many industries are coming to the neighborhood, including tech companies, business services, nonprofit organizations, and advertising and media companies and taking a place alongside the fashion industry, which still dominates. That means, for New Yorkers and public officials, the district will look and feel more integrated into the central business district and the neighborhood that has tremendous appeal for businesses.
The avenues now showcase large, Class-A office space. In the meantime, the side streets are still filled with classic, Class-B New York loft buildings that are desirable to many users given that no new Class-B office space is coming to the market. As of December 20th, the New York City Council voted to remove the Special Garment Center District Zoning Overlay that will release millions of square feet from regulatory restrictions. “The district will be looking to appeal all users while at the same time ensuring the fashion industry remains vibrant and resilient,” Blair said.
The Grand Central Partnership has implemented tech solutions that are helping increase operational efficiency. For instance, it uses technology to help it compile pedestrian and other traffic data and to track and map retail businesses. To streamline its process for maintaining its more than 3,500 streetscape assets (benches, bike racks, light poles, planters, etc.) around Midtown East, the BID built an app that creates a digital, map-based asset inventory and allows it to report and track the damage repairs.
It’s also working with a unique, vertical tech start-up at 335 Madison, to identify cutting-edge urban tech and to leverage the neighborhood’s streetscape assets by deploying tech solutions that bolster connectivity, making Midtown East a leader in smart districts. In the near future, the Grand Central Partnership plans to partner with the Urban Tech Hub to host a showcase of urban tech start-up solutions that will help it identify solutions it can deploy to foster a smarter streetscape in Midtown East.
Finally, the BID is part of a pilot study at New York University that has deployed smart tech into its neighborhood to monitor noise. The tech uses machine learning to identify noise trends for the purpose of better understanding noise-related issues, and, ideally, to identify beneficial practices for mitigating them in the urban context, according to Cerullo.
Creating a Sense of Community
The Midtown East neighborhood is on the cutting edge of innovation when it comes to connectivity and community building. Despite its incredible density of people, the neighborhood is welcoming and easily navigable. Employees, residents, visitors, and others form a community of people drawn by the ease of getting there, the destinations located in the area, and the access the neighborhood provides to nearly anything desired.
On top of ensuring that Midtown East is clean, safe and beautiful, the Grand Central Partnership’s tourist greeter staff and its weekly e-newsletter, social media accounts, website and other regular communications to neighborhood audiences all serve to knit the community together around discovering the best experiences there.
Special events, like Grand Gourmet restaurant showcase and Summer Solstice Music Festival, a one-day outdoor concert series in the heart of the neighborhood, go far in creating an even greater sense of community in the area, bringing thousands of individuals together to experience what it means to be in Midtown East.
These Grand Central Partnership-produced events supplement efforts by individual buildings and stakeholders such as the Cool Music for Warm Summer Days concerts at 345 Park. The nonprofit also partners with neighboring BIDs to present a forum for the retail community on how to reach the tourist demographic and how to produce events geared toward attracting various international shopping audiences.
Incorporating Safety into Streetscapes
The opening of the Eastern Rail Yards this month will expand the services of the Hudson Yards Hell’s Kitchen Alliance. With the entrance of the 7 Train the public will be able to enter into the park the BID maintains and operates. The BID will also include seasonal programming this summer the public can participate in activities such as yoga, music for kids, a film festival as well as rotating art installations.
While the city does use bump outs, most BIDs don’t utilize bump outs and street seats like on 37th Street, which is home to multiple installations that both beautify the streetscape and provide pedestrian safety and amenities. At present, the Hudson Yards Hell’s Kitchen Alliance is looking to provide pedestrian managers, which are contracted workers that help pedestrians cross the street safely. The BID also is looking to improve pedestrian safety throughout the park by adding crosswalks to the district as well as a pedestrian improvement on the edge of the park that would reclaim roadway space for pedestrian use.
Every day of the week three contractors complete manual sweeping in the district. Two contractors are dedicated to sweeping the park for a total of five contractors. The BID also has a field manager and pays to have two dedicated NYPD enforcement officers to ensure the park is safe. The city allows BIDs to hire off-duty officers in full uniform that are stationed at a fixed post at the Canoe location during the warmer months in the middle of the day when the space is most heavily in use.
The Garment District has an annual budget of over $4 million in sanitation and maintenance to maintain the area with the volume of people in the area using the space. To get the job done, the BID employs a full maintenance staff, which increased by 12 people last year. With the new public spaces comes added maintenance for all of the tables and chairs, planters, light poles, tree pits with rod iron fencing circling the district painting, sticker removal, and maintaining street furniture.
Each neighborhood has unique infrastructure. Hudson Yards Hell’s Kitchen, for instance, is next to the Lincoln Tunnel as well as the Port Authority, HYHK President Robert Benfatto notes. The area is designed to move buses from one state to another, that move right through the heart of the district and create maintenance challenges.
The Canoe was formerly a parking lot used by the Midtown South police department. The community came together to turn the parking lot into a plaza, which is owned primarily by the Port Authority, however, the city is a partial owner as well. The community started improving the area by planting trees after cars were no longer allowed to park there. The BID placed tables there and planted more trees and installed planters to create a more public space. It also worked with businesses to implement restaurant ordering, enabling patrons to order food to be delivered to the Canoe on 9th Avenue and 36th Street.
The bridges present another area for improvement, according to HYHK Vice President of Operations Daniel Scorse. “Last year, the BID was able to paint the bridges in the district as well as include murals to beautify the area working with the city,” Scorse said. The Triangle is another area the BID has been working to improve, taking a challenged area and seeing an opportunity to improve the space and create a sense of community.
BIDs as Partnerships
Collaborating with the city and other entities like Port Authority to ensure our neighborhoods are safe and clean, these BIDs are improving the areas where we live, work and play.
For example, a park in the HYHK neighborhood owned by the city is primarily maintained by the BID, which has a maintenance and operations contract with the city giving it almost full responsibility for what happens in the park. The BID works with Port Authority to identify issues and ascertain that repairs in the area such as sidewalk cracks are completed. The Garment District and Grand Central Partnership also work with the city to ensure their neighborhoods are well maintained.
These partnerships will continue to evolve as neighborhoods become more dynamic and welcoming to residents, businesses, and visitors as we look toward a bright future in 2019 and beyond.