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

Revealed: Herzog & de Meuron’s 357 West Street

357 West Street, image by Herzog & de Meuron/Ian Schrager

YIMBY has the reveal for the Herzog & de Meuron-designed 357 West Street, courtesy of a tipster; the building is the firm’s second Manhattan project to be unveiled in as many months, and both sites are being developed by Ian Schrager.

357 West Street

357 West Street, image by Herzog & de Meuron/Ian Schrager

While permits are lacking, the insider notes the building will have 88 condominiums, which will undoubtedly be priced astronomically. The building will stand 12 stories tall, and while the height is relatively short, 357 West Street will be located across from the Hudson River, guaranteeing permanent visibility. Previously disapproved permits listed the scope at 141,500 square feet, which would translate into an average of over 1,600 square feet per unit.

Given the site’s location in the West Village, the potential at 357 West Street would seem to exceed that of 215 Chrystie. While Pier 40 may be somewhat of an eyesore, NIMBYs have killed efforts to save the ailing structure, and it may soon sink into the Hudson River, leaving Schrager’s project with even better views.

357 West Street

357 West Street, image by Herzog & de Meuron/Ian Schrager

Herzog & de Meuron’s latest work is another pleasant departure from typical contemporary architecture. The building spans through the block, and its swooping form will contribute to both the skyline and the streetscape, given the expanded sidewalk along West Street. While facade specifics remain speculative, the exterior appears to be concrete, echoing both 215 Chrystie and 56 Leonard.

357 West Street

357 West Street, image by Herzog & de Meuron/Ian Schrager

The concrete facade has the potential for iconic status, and the material is gaining traction in New York City as many new developments — ranging from 57th Street supertalls to boutique mid-rises along The High Line — are now utilizing its brutal elegance. Slanted inset windows will distinguish 357 West Street from the other projects, with the building’s overall look appearing to draw from Marina City in Chicago — though Herzog & de Meuron’s take on Bertrand Goldberg’s classic is decidedly more human-scaled.

357 West Street

357 West Street, image by Herzog & de Meuron/Ian Schrager

No completion date for 357 West Street has been formally announced, but given the development’s journey through the Board of Standards and Appeals, construction would appear to be on the near-horizon, and the tipster notes 2017 as the likely opening date.

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Posted in 156 Leroy Street | 357 West Street | Architecture | Downtown | Herzog and de Meuron | Ian Schrager | New York | Renderings | Residential | Starchitecture | West Village

Construction Update: 150 Charles Street

150 Charles Street

Work on 150 Charles Street continues to make significant headway, and the project is rapidly approaching its imminent completion date. The Witkoffs are developing the building, and COOKFOX is the architect of record.

150 Charles Street

150 Charles Street

The remains of the former warehouse on-site — which was the subject of significant NIMBY contention during the approval process, despite its derelict and useless state — have been completely absorbed into the base of the new building. 150 Charles Street has subsumed its predecessor, though the ‘loft-like’ elements of the warehouse have translated into industrial-style windows along the first few floors of the COOKFOX creation.

150 Charles Street

150 Charles Street

Super-luxury residential product — which is the category 150 Charles belongs in — will normally be aesthetically appealing no matter the location, given the target demographic typically considers the external appeal of a structure before buying within. While that is not always the case, 150 Charles would have been nice with or without the old walls of the warehouse, and keeping them appears to have been an issue of semantics.

150 Charles Street

150 Charles Street

The windows lining the first few floors of 150 Charles Street are extremely large and expansive, though the building’s average price-point of $4,000 per square foot would suggest as much. Glass continues to climb along the rest of the structure, and the dark-red brick facade is now complete; the development looks perfectly at home in its West Village surrounds.

150 Charles Street

150 Charles Street & The Richard Meier Towers

While many preservationists bemoan contemporary architecture, the contrast between Meier’s buildings and 150 Charles is a major positive for the Hudson River waterfront, and the juxtaposition speaks to the benefits of mixing attractive glass towers with masonry-clad structures. The collective mass of development heralds a bright future for the edge of the West Village, as the riverfront completes its transformation from an industrial enclave to a vibrant residential neighborhood.

150 Charles is expected to be completed in 2015; the building rises fifteen stories and 176 feet.

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Posted in 150 Charles Street | Architecture | Construction Update | Cook + Fox Architects | Downtown | New York | Residential | West Village | Witkoff Group

Construction Update: 245 West 14th Street

245 West 14th Street

New renderings have been posted on-site at 245 West 14th Street, which has been dubbed ‘Village Green West’ by Alfa Development; the images are also up on the project’s website. Kutnicki Bernstein Architects designed the structure, which will soon stand 12 stories tall.

Excavation is well underway, and permits for construction were approved this past December; 245 West 14th Street will total slightly over 47,000 square feet. 500 square feet will be dedicated to a community facility, while another 3,802 square feet will be used for commercial space; the remainder of the property will be divided between 27 residences, translating into an average of  over 1,500 square feet per unit. Per the project’s website, the top four floors will have one penthouse each.

245 West 14th Street

245 West 14th Street

Aesthetically, the renderings paint a pretty picture; the cladding will be dominated by brick, and the overall design will be superior to the site’s 14th Street surroundings. The thoroughfare is seeing a gradual trend towards more attractive developments, with DDG’s 345 Meatpacking leading the way; in terms of form, scope, and targeted clientele, 245 West 14th Street will be similar, and the project is aiming for LEED-Gold certification.

245 West 14th Street

245 West 14th Street

While the developments rising along 14th Street are promising, the corridor’s potential is vastly underutilized, even with the new buildings. The neighborhood’s transit accessibility is fantastic, as it is located at the confluence of the A, C, E, 1, 2, 3, and L subway lines; despite this, zoning is prohibitively low. At 12 stories, 245 West 14th Street will be short by Manhattan standards, but visually, Village Green West will dominate its surrounds; while that is not a problem in and of itself, it shows how much potential 14th Street has, and how it is currently wasted on low-rise structures.

A comprehensive re-zoning allowing dense residential and office developments for the transit-rich neighborhood would be most beneficial, though it will be very difficult to achieve, given the prevalence of NIMBYs in the vicinity. Nevertheless, the rise of buildings like 245 West 14th Street and 345 Meatpacking — both of which are significant improvements over their neighbors — shows the corridor is ripe for additional density.

Completion of Village Green West is expected in August of 2015.

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Posted in 245 West 14th Street | Alfa Development | Architecture | Construction Update | Downtown | Kutnicki Bernstein Architects | New York | Residential | West Village

Permits Filed: 151 Mercer Street

151 Mercer Street -- image from Google Maps

Construction permits have been filed for 151 Mercer Street, which will soon become Tory Burch’s five-story flagship store. Demolition on the site’s old building is imminent, and the development has completed its navigation through landmarking. O’Neil Langan Architects is designing the project.

The store will measure nearly 10,000 square feet, and the building will feature a rooftop terrace. 151 Mercer Street will have a historically-minded design, which also explains how the project flew through landmarking without any hitches; within the traditional design there will be subtle contemporary flourishes, including “weathered steel cladding with blackened steel trim.”

151 Mercer Street

151 Mercer Street — image via the HDC

The Historic Districts Council’s website has a rendering of 151 Mercer Street — obtained during the landmarks’ approval process — and the building will look completely contextual with its SoHo surroundings. At five stories, it won’t make an impact on the skyline, but the presence of a new flagship store will certainly add to pedestrian activity.

Completion of the new building is likely by 2016. The first round of permits were denied approval on January 30th, but the hold-up is likely a simple technicality.

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Posted in 151 Mercer Street | Architecture | Construction Update | Downtown | New York | Retail | Tory Burch

Construction Update: 525 Greenwich Street

525 Greenwich Street

A new 19-story hotel at 525 Greenwich Street, in the emerging neighborhood dubbed ‘Hudson Square,’ is just about complete. The building stands 166 feet tall, and has 122 rooms; signage indicates a possibly tentative title of ‘Soho Hotel.’

525 Greenwich Street

525 Greenwich Street

The site’s developer is Morris Moinian, CEO of Fortuna Realty, which developed the Indigo Hotel in Chelsea. The neighborhood’s ‘Hudson Square’ moniker is a recent invention, and 525 Greenwich’s vicinity is just beginning to come into its own, with Trinity Church driving the major changes.

Nobutaka Ashihara is listed as the project’s architect, and the end result breaks the street-wall, but the cladding is not bad – especially when compared to 6 Platt Street, which the firm also designed. Considering the property is adjacent to a garbage garage, the outcome could have been worse. Upper rooms will have Hudson River views.

Fortuna’s website has additional renderings of 525 Greenwich Street, and it is expected to open in June of 2014.

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Posted in 525 Greenwich Street | Architecture | Construction Update | Downtown | Hotel | New York | Nobutaka Ashihara

Construction Update: Hudson Square Garbage Garage

DSNY Garbage Garage

The Department of Sanitation’s new garbage garage in Hudson Square is nearing completion, concluding a saga that began in the 2000s with fierce neighborhood opposition. The structure spans five floors and comprises 340,000 square feet of space, and the builder is De Matteis, which has a page on the project.

While NIMBYism is generally awful, in this case, it was somewhat justified; the location of the facility is completely inappropriate. Given the desirability of Hudson Square, the city should have sold the land for condominiums or hotel development, as either use would have been higher and better than what has ultimately been built; using prime Manhattan real estate for trash collection is clearly an inefficient allocation of land and resources on the city’s part.

DSNY Garbage Garage

DSNY Garbage Garage

Though the garage should have been built elsewhere, its ultimate appearance is not exactly awful, though the random placement of vents along the building’s facade is a definite negative. Besides that issue, the project is defined by what amounts to a casement curtain wall, and the windowed grid breaks up the monolith’s monotony.

Completion of the garbage garage is expected in 2014, and work on an adjacent salt shed will soon follow.

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Posted in Architecture | Construction Update | Department of Sanitation | Hudson Square | New York

Construction Update: 150 Charles Street

150 Charles Street

The Witkoff Group’s 150 Charles Street is almost topped-out, and the brick facade is now rising. The Cookfox-designed 15-story structure has a total of 91 condominiums, and stands 176 feet tall.

From the Hudson, the building is semi-prominent, with its massing negating most of the visual impact; the bulk of the structure is set back from the waterfront, and in this regard, it’s certainly scaled correctly. NIMBY opposition to the project hinged on the ‘historic’ warehouse formerly on-site, and its exterior walls were incorporated into the new iteration of 150 Charles, though one would have no idea this was the case.

150 Charles Street

150 Charles Street

Viewed from adjacent streets, 150 Charles is barely noticeable, and fits into its surroundings perfectly. The building is a natural evolution for the West Village, which is now dominated by super-luxury construction, and its brick facade will contrast nicely with the Richard Meier-designed towers to the north.

Completion is slated for 2015, and Streeteasy has additional information on pricing; active sales listings average nearly $4,000 per square foot, and a penthouse has already sold for $34 million.

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Posted in 150 Charles Street | Architecture | Construction Update | Cook + Fox Architects | Downtown | New York | Residential | West Village | Witkoff Group

Construction Update: The Greenwich Lane

St. Vincent's Redevelopment

Rudin Management’s redevelopment of the old St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village is proceeding quickly, with deconstruction of the former eyesore leaving a gaping hole in the street-scape. The remnants of the old building will be incorporated into several new structures, the tallest of which will rise 17 stories and hold 200 units. Though the project’s scope is large for the Village, which is a hotbed of NIMBY opposition to new development, it’s nothing close to major.

Delivery of the St. Vincent’s redevelopment – aka The Greenwich Lane – is expected in 2015. The shift to residential space in the highly desirable neighborhood represents yet another step in the area’s recent gentrification. Demolition has already resulted in a marked improvement of the pedestrian experience, as the old St. Vincent’s was hulking and unfriendly, sustaining a sizable and now-absent transient population.

Adjacent to the St. Vincent’s redevelopment is the new memorial for victims of the HIV/AIDS crisis, which is also under construction. The minimalist design, by Studio a+i, will convert the diagonal wedge – located at St. Vincent’s Triangle –  into a pedestrian-friendly plaza, with ample shade. The corner was formerly occupied by an unofficial tribute to 9/11 victims, with a fence dominated by hand-made memorabilia; visually, the 9/11 tribute’s replacement will be markedly less emotive, but the addition of new public space is more important. Completion is expected in 2014.

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Posted in Architecture | Construction Update | Downtown | New York | Residential | St. Vincent's Redevelopment | The Greenwich Lane

Construction Update: 150 Charles Street

150 Charles Street

The Witkoff Group’s 150 Charles Street is about to emerge from the old exterior walls of the warehouse that used to occupy the site. Zoning warehouses for protection in the first place is generally a misguided approach, but the ‘integration’ of the old facade into the new structure is a complete joke, as it is barely visible.

That being said, renderings of 150 Charles – designed by CookFox – are promising, with the project set to cascade down towards the Hudson River. The building’s concrete is now at the third level, and it will eventually stand 15 stories tall. The development will likely command premiums similar to the Richard Meier buildings just to the north; the exemplary design and open layout of the project, which incorporates extensive greenery and a water feature, speaks to the ultra high-end market.

Per the latest permits, 150 Charles will have a total of 97 condominiums. Completion is expected in 2015, and the official website has additional information.

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Posted in 150 Charles Street | Architecture | Construction Update | Cook + Fox Architects | Downtown | New York | Residential | Witkoff Group

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