The New York City Council voted to rezone about 78 blocks of east Midtown Manhattan, enabling an aging building stock to be replaced by newer, larger and taller office towers.
The proposal, recommended last month by council subcommittees, was approved Wednesday by a 42-0 vote. With the changes, about 6.5 million square feet of new offices could be built in the area, which is anchored by Grand Central Terminal and home to employers including JPMorgan Chase Co., Blackstone Group and MetLife Inc.
The aim of the rezoning, in the works for five years, is to make New York more competitive with other global financial capitals, such as London and Tokyo, which have done better in modernizing their office spaces. Midtown East “is one of the most important commercial office centers in New York City and perhaps the world,” yet the average building is 75 years old, brokerage Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. said in a blog post Wednesday.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has already said he supports the initiative. In a statement last month, he called it an “ironclad promise” to the workers of Midtown East to increase the area’s job-creating potential while at the same time raising money to expand its subway stations, create more sidewalk space for pedestrians and maintain its landmarks, which include Grand Central and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Among other changes, the rezoning will allow landmarks to sell their unused development rights anywhere in the district, rather than just to the properties in their immediate vicinity. On such sales, the city would collect either $61.49 a square foot, or 20% of the total cost of the air rights, whichever is higher, to go into an account to fund pedestrian and transit improvements for the area.
The district has about 3.6 million square feet of landmark air rights, including 1.2 million tied to Grand Central and another 1.1 million controlled by New York’s Catholic Archdiocese due to St. Patrick’s, according to the city Department of City Planning. St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church and the Central Synagogue also possess air rights that may become more valuable in trade.
Councilman Daniel Garodnick, whose district encompasses much of the rezoning area and who co-chaired a committee guiding the process, said at a press conference before the vote that the action will represent “a new day” for the district.
“It’s a plan that will re-establish east Midtown as the crown jewel of our business districts, as an economic engine for our city, and will strengthen its future for many more years to come,” he said. “For too long this area has been stuck in outdated zoning rules that have kept growth from happening.”