July 2017
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MAS Comments Regarding the Greater East Midtown Proposal, ULURP No. 170186 ZRM Manhattan, NY

Background

The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) has played an active role in the rezoning of East Midtown. In 2012, MAS engaged planning, preservation, and development practitioners to explore ways to maintain East Midtown as not only the city’s premier business district, but as a vital, working neighborhood. This effort culminated in the report, East Midtown: A Bold Vision for the Future, issued by MAS in February 2013, which laid out a framework for reinvigorating the area’s public realm, improving transit infrastructure, encouraging a vibrant mix of uses, protecting the area’s valuable historic resources, and fostering forward thinking sustainable design.

MAS and many other stakeholders found the 2013 East Midtown rezoning proposal to be deficient in achieving critical goals, and it was later withdrawn. Mayor de Blasio then formed the East Midtown Steering Committee, including MAS, to spearhead a stakeholder-driven effort. In October 2015, the Steering Committee issued its Final Report including recommendations that by and large frame the current Greater East Midtown Proposal.

MAS recognizes that the primary goal of the current proposal is to incentivize significant expansion of commercial office space to maintain the area’s viability as New York’s premier business district and retain its tax base. We also acknowledge the complexity of the project, as well as the effort by the city to foster and incorporate stakeholder input.

Public Realm Improvements

Mindful of the congestion in the area’s public transit stations and sidewalks, the limited open space in the area, and the expected incremental 28,000 workers, we find the proposed improvements under the Public Realm Improvement Concept Plan to be fundamentally deficient. MAS is also concerned about the role the Public Realm Improvement Fund Governing Group will play and that Privately Owned Public Space (POPS) have largely been ignored under the plan.

Public Realm Improvement Concept Plan

The current plan proposes over 300,000 square feet (sf) of ROW improvements under the Public Realm Improvement Plan, including, but not limited to, pedestrian plazas near GCT (i.e., Pershing Square, Park Ave West, East 43rd Street), pedestrian improvements along the Park Avenue median, and the inclusion of shared streets within the district. However, at present, these measures are not codified into the text amendment as the proposed transit infrastructure improvements have been. MAS urges that these improvements are included in the text to insure that they will be implemented.

Public Realm Improvement Fund Governing Group

The Public Realm Improvement Fund will be managed by a nine-member governing group, five of whom will be selected by the Mayor. The group has the responsibility of prioritizing improvements to be funded under the Concept Plan and would address the future public realm needs of the Subdistrict. MAS questions the precedent by which the group framework was conceived, particularly with regard to efficacy in executing and allocating funding, which is critical to the success of the proposal.

Privately Owned Public Space (POPS)

POPS account for 50 percent of the area’s approximately 39 acres of public open space. Although they serve as important retreats for area workers and visitors, POPS have not been considered in the current proposal. MAS remains steadfast in our advocacy for POPS as a viable option for increasing and improving open space in the project area. We ask the city to study the following recommendations:

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