It’s Time to Give West 14th Street the Rezoning It Deserves

The Apple Store

The Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, which laid out Manhattan’s iconic grid that sprawls beyond its chaotic downtown, designated 15 crosstown streets as major 100-foot-wide thoroughfares. The various major crosstown streets got subway stations and those below Central Park have developed distinct identities – home furnishing stores and chic apartments on 23rd, clothes shopping and tourism on 34th, office buildings on 42nd, ultra-luxury condos and world-class shopping on 57th.

By all rights, 14th Street should be just as grand. It sits above the L train, the city’s main vein of gentrification. Its adjacent neighborhoods have exploded in popularity, benefiting mightily from downtown’s ascendence.

Intersection of 14th Street and 9th Avenue

Intersection of 14th Street and 9th Avenue

But the crucial crosstown corridor, and especially its western half, has not fared well. The days of cheap apartments are long gone, but the cheap-looking tenements that once housed them remain, without any real character to speak of. Despite the exploding demand in the last decade or two, there’s been virtually no new construction.

Fourteenth Street had its first moment in the sun around one hundred years ago, as the city’s center was making its way uptown. Elevated trains, subways and a space crunch downtown were pulling Manhattan northwards, and tall commercial buildings popped up on Union Square and 14th Street around the turn of the century. But the center soon rocketed even farther uptown, first to 23rd Street and later up to 42nd and beyond, quickly leaving 14th Street behind.

The next building boom came in the 1950s and ’60s. Greenwich Village became very popular (drawing in, among others, Jane Jacobs) – along with the Upper East Side, one of the last places in Manhattan where new construction was still viable as the city was circling the drain – and builders met the new demand with massive, modernist brick buildings. The Victoria at 7 West 14th Street, by prolific white brick architect Philip Birnbaum, was the largest of these, providing more spartan and affordable accommodations than the grand pre-war apartment houses, but at a density more commonly found on the avenues of the Upper East Side.

It’s hard to say whether this sort of construction would have continued throughout the rest of the ’60s and into the ’70s, as the city’s desirability plummeted. But in any case, the zoning code did not allow it. Builders rushed to file permits before the new 1961 code took effect, after which the dense apartment blocks were no longer allowed.

But by the ’80s, demand for living on 14th Street had certainly reemerged (if it ever left). Development, though, was still not allowed. The Zeckendorf Towers on Union Square East were built in the late ’80s, but only after a politically fraught rezoning that was not to be repeated. Other than that, only one developer managed to assemble enough air rights out of the mid-rise tenements of West 14th Street to build a large scale project – Basile Builders and their Chelsea Verde at 125 West 14th Street, finished in 2001 between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.

Today, demand for new office space in the Meatpacking District is off the charts. The Meatpacking District, once the butt-end of 14th Street, has become a high-rent tech anchor. Google paid $1.9 billion for the old Port Authority building at 111 Eighth Avenue, and new office space in the area rents for well over $100 a square foot – prices more commonly associated with Central Park views uptown. The western end of the street has established itself as one of a select few submarkets in the city where new office construction pencils out without tax breaks. And the L train’s capacity west of Union Square is essentially unlimited, after the hordes from Brooklyn headed to destinations east of Broadway change for the 4/5/6 and N/Q/R.

Residential demand is similarly high. Condos at DDG Partners’s 345 Meatpacking have sold for upwards of $1,500 per square foot, with penthouses surpassing the $3,000/SF mark, and there’s likely much more room for upward growth in rents and condo prices.

To capitalize on this demand, the city should upzone West 14th Street and the broader Meatpacking District. Any rezoning would have to be carefully tailored to local conditions, as the area is ground zero for West Side NIMBYism, but compromises should be possible.

Old tenements

Old tenements on the north side of 14th Street

The lowest-hanging fruit is the north side of West 14th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. This strip is a solid block of some of the least attractive pre-war tenements in the city – largely denuded of their cornices and other frills, and nowhere near monumental or charming enough for such a key corridor. The whole block face could be upzoned to the highest densities possible (floor area ratios of up to 12 for apartment buildings, and 15 for offices), after which developers would gradually wait or buy out the tenements’ remaining residents and redevelop them.

What few affordable apartments are left in this part of town wouldn’t last long anyway, as landlords can easily use vacancy decontrol rules to raise rents to market rates after the current tenants leave, so there would be no major loss of affordable housing. With mandatory inclusionary zoning, the number could even increase. Or better yet, the city could have developers pay into a fund that it would use to build an even larger number of below-market units in cheaper neighborhoods uptown and in the outer boroughs.

837 Washington Street

837 Washington Street

The Meatpacking District would be a bit trickier, since it has more attractive buildings and is a landmark district, but growth is possible there too. The area is ripe for a façadist building boom, whereby developers submit plans to build modern structures within and on top of the old low-slung warehouses. Their horizontality and large footprints, combined with attractive but not historic architecture, make them ideal candidates for redevelopment along the lines of Morris Adjmi’s 837 Washington in the Meatpacking District, or the Hearst Tower on West 57th Street.

But unlike 837 Washington, future façadist towers should be allowed to rise to much higher densities – two or three times the floor area ratio of five of the torqued Washington Street tower. Indeed, there’s plenty of pre-war precedent for these densities in this part of town. The gargantuan Port Authority terminal has an FAR of 13, while the circa-1930 tower on the northeastern corner of 14th Street and Eighth Avenue has an FAR of nearly twenty. If New York City is to rein in its spiraling rents, it cannot limit developers to densities that are a fraction of what was being built nearly a century ago.

Tower on the corner of 14th Street and Eighth Avenue

Tower on the corner of 14th Street and Eighth Avenue

The Landmarks Preservation Commission should also be told to ease up on height-related concerns, to avoid the time- and money-consuming back-and-forth that ensued between the developer and the LPC that resulted in a slightly bulkier building but little else.

The city of Toronto offers a compelling model here. All development is discretionary in Canada’s largest city, and in exchange for the right to build tall towers, the city often asks developers to preserve pre-war structures and integrate them into the bases of new buildings.

The desirability of West 14th Street and the Meatpacking District has soared, and now it’s time for the demand to be matched by new supply. With the area’s high design sensibilities, iconic architecture is virtually guaranteed, so long as the city allows it.

Just as 14th Street bloomed with new office buildings 100 years ago and new apartments 50 years ago, today’s demand should also translate into new construction. This corner of the city has already become popular with tourists during the day and bridge-and-tunnel clubgoers at night, and now it’s time to cater to New Yorkers who both live and work in the neighborhood.

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Posted in 14th Street Rezoning | 345 Meatpacking | 837 Washington Street | Architecture | Downtown | Greenwich Village | meatpacking | Midtown South | New York | Residential

New Renderings: 860 Washington Street

860 Washington Street's base, image via Property Group Partners

New renderings are up for 860 Washington Street via Property Group Partners’ website; the firm is developing the project along with Romanoff Equities, and the design architect is James Carpenter.

860 Washington Street

860 Washington Full Shot, image via Property Group Partners

Details on the site indicate the office building will total 114,535 square feet, and that it will stand ten stories tall. The original proposal would have been slightly larger, rising 215 feet to its pinnacle, but even that height would have been forty feet short of The Standard Hotel, which stands across the street from the future 860 Washington Street.

860 Washington Street

860 Washington’s facade, image via Property Group Partners

The base will have retail and showroom space, while the remainder will be office, keeping with several other new developments in the surrounding neighborhood.

860 Washington Street

860 Washington Street lobby, image via Property Group Partners

860 Washington will present a contrast from typical developments along The High Line, as translucent facades are losing favor to heftier materials. Still, the cladding will be light and airy, and the building’s form will interact positively with the pedestrian realm. As a collective, glassy buildings create a sense of architectural anonymity, but when they exist in isolation — like 860 Washington — they can appear distinguished.

860 Washington Street

860 Washington Street offices, image via Property Group Partners

Completion is expected in 2015.

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Posted in 860 Washington Street | Architecture | James Carpenter | meatpacking | New York | Office | Property Group Partners | Renderings | Romanoff Equities | The High Line

New Design: 414 West 15th Street

414 West 15th Street

Plans for a new hotel at 414 West 15th Street have undergone a major shift, and Stonehill & Taylor has been replaced by CetraRuddy as the site’s design architect. With construction now beginning, new on-site renderings offer the first glimpse at the building’s re-conception, and the departure from the initial design appears dramatic. The site’s developers are The Rockpoint Group, Highgate Holdings, and Meilman Family Real Estate, per The Real Deal.

Previous posts on YIMBY had reveals of the Stonehill & Taylor design, though none of the images came close to its depiction in today’s post on 430 West 15th Street, which incorporated the former vision for 414 West 15th Street. The old plan for the building was relatively demure, though any high-rise in The Meatpacking is going to draw some attention, given the neighborhood’s generally low-rise nature.

414 West 15th Street

Old version of 414 West 15th Street via Stonehill & Taylor

The CetraRuddy re-design of the site remains somewhat mysterious, and a simple profile is all that’s posted on-site, but the building’s form has undergone a relatively radical shift, morphing from a simple tower into a structure with staggered setbacks. Zoning diagrams are lacking, but it appears that the new concept’s base will be flush with the sidewalk, before the ‘tower’ portion retreats away from the street as it begins to rise.

Permits for 414 West 15th Street indicate it will stand 25 stories and 285 feet tall, with a total of 158 rooms spanning 108,979 square feet. The Schedule A reveals a host of occupants for the base, including a restaurant and several ‘drinking establishments,’ while the third floor will have several terraces; an additional event space will be located on the rooftop.

414 West 15th Street

414 West 15th Street — foundation work resumes

Completion of the project is expected in the summer of 2016, and partial job permits were issued in March; workers are now active on the already-poured foundation, and progress finally appears imminent.

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Posted in 414 West 15th | Architecture | CetraRuddy | Construction Update | Downtown | Hotel | meatpacking | New York

Revealed: 430 West 15th Street

430 West 15th Street -- image by A+I

On-site renderings are up for an office conversion and expansion at 430 West 15th Street, which is located in the heart of the Meatpacking District. The site’s developer is Atlas Capital, and the architect is A+I; the firm’s website has a slew of additional images — created by Neoscape — though the depiction of the also-unbuilt 414 West 14th Street is already out of date.

430 West 15th Street

430 West 15th Street — image by Neoscape

The converted garage will soon hold 69,522 square feet of commercial space, including a retail component on the ground floor, and the existing structure’s height will double to 121 feet. Zoning diagrams have additional floor-by-floor details.

The Meatpacking District is a highly desirable location for office space, and the neighborhood’s supply shortage is now manifesting in several ways; with so few vacant lots remaining, even parking garages — like 430 West 15th Street — are now evolving into commercial centers. Across 15th Street, Chelsea Market is also set for a major office addition, and the corridor is making a rapid transition into a technology hub.

430 West 15th Street

430 West 15th Street — image by Neoscape

Renderings of 430 West 15th Street are impressive, and A+I’s concept highlights outdoor elements, resulting in impressive terraces. Floor-plans will be open, and large floor-to-ceiling windows will allow for excellent lighting, while the converted base will maintain some of the garage’s pre-war feel. Metal accents will define the addition’s aesthetic, echoing the neighborhood’s industrial past, and the overall development will be perfectly contextual within its surrounds.

430 West 15th Street

430 West 15th Street — image by Neoscape

The Meatpacking District is high-end in general, but the slew of new projects will likely provide an impetus for continued price increases, as the corridor transitions from a peripheral commercial node into an established office district.

430 West 15th Street

430 West 15th Street — image by Neoscape

Residential buildings may typify new construction along the northern end of The High Line, but projects near 430 West 15th Street are predominantly office, including Morris Adjmi-designed buildings at 837 Washington and 450 West 14th Street, and the James Carpenter-designed 860 Washington, which is about to begin rising. The surge in similar developments signals a bright future for 430 West 15th Street, and on-site signage indicates the project should be completed by the summer of 2015.

430 West 15th Street

430 West 15th Street — image by Neoscape

430 West 15th Street

On-site rendering

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Posted in 430 West 15th Street | A+I Architects | Architecture | Atlas Capital | meatpacking | New York | Office | Renderings

Permits Filed: 414 West 15th Street

414 West 15th Street's vacant site -- image via Google Maps

New plans have been filed for a hotel at 414 West 15th Street, which will become one of the most prominent buildings in The Meatpacking District; the latest iteration will stand 24 floors tall. Evidently CetraRuddy has taken over the site’s designs, given permits list the firm as the architect of record; the developer is The Legacy Group.

The site’s previous plans — which included renderings — were by Stonehill & Taylor. CetraRuddy’s schematics should end up somewhat similar, as the project’s massing seems to have undergone minor changes. 414 West 15th Street is ideal for boutique hotel development, and its location is at the heart of the Meatpacking, across the street from Chelsea Market.

414 West 15th Street

Old version of 414 West 15th Street via Stonehill & Taylor

Proximity to Chelsea Market is interesting for another reason, as that site saw significant NIMBY opposition to expansion plans that were approved in 2012. Contrasting the two developments highlights the oddities of City Planning, and why so many developers take an ‘as-of-right’ route; 414 West 15th Street will stand 264 feet tall, yet it has met no neighborhood opposition, while the relatively meager height of the Chelsea Market addition was a major point of contention.

All told, 414 West 15th Street will have nearly 110,000 square feet of space, with 225 rooms. The Schedule A reveals two penthouse suites to be located on the 24th floor, while a rooftop bar and lounge will also be located on the 23rd and 24th levels.

No completion date has been announced — and the site has been stalled for years — but with momentum increasing along The High Line, it looks like construction is finally about to begin, especially given the new permits.

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Posted in 414 West 15th | Architecture | CetraRuddy | Chelsea | Chelsea Market | Hotel | meatpacking | Midtown | New York | Stonehill and Taylor

Excavation Begins: 860 Washington Street

860 Washington Street

Machinery is on-site and digging has begun at 860 Washington Street, which is the latest project to begin construction adjacent to The High Line. The 10-story and 175 foot tall building is being developed by Romanoff Equities, and the architect is James Carpenter.

860 Washington Street will be primarily office, with retail occupying the first two floors, keeping in character with its pedestrian-oriented surroundings. The project’s approval process took several years; ultimately, the height was shortened to the current version, which will contain 116,000 square feet of space.

860 Washington Street

860 Washington Street

Comparing 860 Washington to its surroundings – which include several new buildings – offers an interesting take on city zoning and historical districts. The Morris Adjmi-designed 833 Washington was also height-chopped, though the initial version of that structure was actually shorter than the final design of 860 Washington; the reasoning behind arbitrary planning decisions seems unsound when it cannot be applied consistently.

Though Romanoff used The High Line as an excuse for 860 Washington’s height, as it bisects the lot, the developer should have been allowed to build the initial, 215-foot version. Indeed, the Standard Hotel is across the street, and it stands 261 feet tall; the ‘preservation’ of the ‘historic’ Meatpacking District is, at best, a hodge-podge of non-commitment.

860 Washington Street

860 Washington Street

Indeed, the buildings that are supposedly ‘historic’ are anything but; they were literally warehouses used for slaughter and the sale of live produce. Low-slung structures of significance are certainly worthy of preservation, but that is not the case for most of the Meatpacking District, which is under-utilized despite excellent transit accessibility.

Buildings like 860 and 833 Washington represent a natural transition for the neighborhood, but they should be built to sizes that can actually satiate demand. Instead of preserving aesthetically unfortunate warehouses that were never meant for enjoyable human occupation, the neighborhood should become a vibrant and dense node of modern, forward-thinking architecture that enhances the city, and contributes to its growth.

860 Washington is certainly a step in this direction, though it is a shame that the site is not being built to its full potential. Completion is expected in the summer of 2015.

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Posted in 860 Washington Street | Architecture | Construction Update | Downtown | James Carpenter | meatpacking | New York | Office | Romanoff Equities

Construction Update: The Whitney Expansion

The Whitney Expansion

The Renzo Piano-designed expansion of the Whitney Museum is making continued progress, with much of the building’s cladding now in place. The facade is simple and modern; some have criticized it as Soviet-esque, but the open windows and generous floor plates inside The Whitney definitely contradict that observation – the chief point of the new building is the display of art, not exterior aesthetics. While the new Whitney fails to compare with contemporary rivals in Abu Dhabi, it will make for an adequate and prominent end-point to The High Line.

Completion of the new Whitney is expected in 2014, and with the current state of progress, it would seem that most of the remaining work is on the inside. The 50,000 square foot outpost will energize the southern end of The High Line, offering a natural conclusion to the elevated park, which is already sprinkled with high profile art pieces. In addition to the ample street-graffiti featured on The High Line, the Whitney expansion will offer 13,000 square feet of outdoor exhibition space.

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Posted in Architecture | Construction Update | New York | Renzo Piano | The Whitney Expansion

Construction Update: 837 Washington Street

837 Washington Street

837 Washington Street has topped-out, and – while far from prominent – the twisting, metallic structure will be a fixture on The High Line walk. The building, designed by Morris Adjmi Architects, will feature 28,000 square feet of retail on the first two floors, while the upper stories will have 27,000 square feet of office space; 837 Washington’s website has all the figures, along with additional information.

The project’s developer is Thor Equities, and 837 Washington is part of the larger boom surrounding The High Line, though most new construction is residential rather than commercial. The building is in a prime Meatpacking District location, and – accordingly – the design had to go through the lengthy Landmark Preservation Commission approval process, which resulted in the loss of its top three floors.

Despite the height reduction – which was ridiculous given the development’s proximity to the significantly taller Standard Hotel – the building is a pleasantly subdued modern addition to the historic neighborhood, even integrating the site’s former warehouse, which will hold the retail space.

Posted in 837 Washington Street | Architecture | Construction Update | Downtown | meatpacking | Morris Adjmi Architects | New York | Office

Construction Update: 345 Meatpacking

Construction is wrapping up on 345 West 14th Street, which has been dubbed 345 Meatpacking by the developer and architect, DDG. The tower is a great addition to the neighborhood; its Kolumbia brick facadefrom Denmarkcompliments its historic neighbors, while bronze-cladding on the upper floors adds a distinctive flair uncommon to New York.

345 Meatpacking even looked great during construction, as the project was covered in a shroud designed by Yayoi Kusama. Luckily something did emerge from the polka dots, and the final product is excellent. The building contains a total of 37 units, and should open this year.

345 Meatpacking
345 Meatpacking

345 Meatpacking NYC
345 Meatpacking

345 Meatpacking NYC
345 Meatpacking

345 Meatpacking NYC
345 Meatpacking

Posted in 345 Meatpacking | 345 West 14th Street | Architecture | Construction Update | DDG | meatpacking | New York | Residential | Yayoi Kusama

Construction Update: The Whitney Expansion

The Whitney’s expansion is entering the final stages of construction, and the first elements of the project’s facade are now visible. The Renzo Piano-designed building marks the beginning of The High Line, and will anchor a section of the Meatpacking District that’s still fairly dead during daylight hours.

One highlight of the expansion is the enormously high ceilings, which give the new Whitney a much larger presence than a typical seven-story building. Per The Whitney’s website, “Mr. Piano’s design takes a strong and strikingly asymmetrical form—one that responds to the industrial character of the neighboring loft buildings and overhead railway while asserting a contemporary, sculptural presence.”

That assertion looks valid, given the elements of the project that have already been completed. The exposed concrete will remain—it’s above the white facade in the below photos—definitely harking back to the Meatpacking’s industrial past. The Whitney expansion epitomizes the ‘industrial chic’ aesthetic that architects in the neighborhood are striving for, but it’s already obvious that Renzo Piano’s touch lends the project a uniqueness that will be very hard to mimic.

In short, the new museum will be iconic.

The project will open in 2015, the same year as the Culture Shed, twenty blocks to the north. The West Side is about to get much more cultured.

The Whitney Expansion
The Whitney Expansion

The Whitney Expansion
The Whitney Expansion

The Whitney Expansion
The Whitney Expansion
The Whitney Expansion
The Whitney Expansion, Image via The Whitney from the Renzo Piano Building Workshop in collaboration with Cooper, Robertson & Partners

Posted in Architecture | Construction Update | meatpacking | Renzo Piano | The High Line | The Whitney Expansion

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