August 2017
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MAS Weighs in on 125th Street Rezoning

apollo theater new york cityIn response to the city’s effort to spur new development along 125th Street in Manhattan, from Second Avenue to Broadway, the MAS has submitted comments on the scope for the required environmental review. The city’s rezoning proposal aims to strengthen the street’s identity as an entertainment and arts district, and encourage the development of affordable housing — goals that the MAS supports strongly. Click here to read more about the Department of City Planning’s plan for 125th Street. Cultural districts are critical to the city’s economy and its quality of life, and the city is right to create new opportunities for development. The city’s willingness to work closely with local stakeholder groups and residents has resulted in a proposal that is far more sensitive to local concerns and aspirations than otherwise would be the case. The specific strategies the city proposes aim to keep 125th Street active, unique and culturally strong. Requirements that seek to preserve active street life by locating banking space, office lobbies and other non-active uses away from the sidewalk level are commendable. Requiring that a proportion of space in larger developments be set aside for arts and entertainment uses will stimulate related construction, as will the creation of a density bonus for the arts. The scope of the rezoning should be expanded and refined in several essential ways. The environmental review should study how 125th Street will connect to the waterfronts at both ends and ultimately become a true river-to-river corridor. The city should act to preserve and encourage the small, locally owned retail that is threatened along the thoroughfare, and as a general matter, it should address the issue of local unemployment. The proposed strategy for generating affordable housing is inadequate and should be improved. The city should consider alternative tools to increase the effectiveness of the density bonuses for arts spaces, such as making subsidies available. Most importantly, the city should complete a full review of the historic resources in the study area and ensure that the necessary protections for its physical heritage are in place before the rezoning proceeds. As plans for the rezoning evolve, the MAS will be watching closely. The 125th Street corridor must remain a vital cultural district and its extraordinary heritage must be preserved.