New York’s City Council unanimously approved a rezoning plan for the Greater East Midtown neighborhood surrounding Grand Central Terminal.

Wednesday's vote culminated a five-year effort resulting in a plan in which developers will get more air space in return for public improvements, notably to transit infrastructure.

The project is designed to strengthen the city’s largest business district with more modern office buildings, protected landmarks, subway upgrades and more pedestrian space. The approved rezoning covers 78 blocks between the east side of Third Avenue and the west side of Madison Avenue, from East 39th Street to East 57th Street.

Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City, speaks during a forum with Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, not pictured, at LaGuardia Community College in the Queens borough of New York, U.S., on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016.
“East Midtown’s growth is now directly linked to real-time improvements in its public transit and public realm,” said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. Bloomberg

“East Midtown’s growth is now directly linked to real-time improvements in its public transit and public realm,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “In the years ahead, this neighborhood will see major upgrades to subway stations, more expansive space for pedestrians, investments in its iconic landmarks, and a new generation of office buildings that will spur good jobs for New Yorkers.”

Council member Daniel Garodnick, whose district includes the neighborhood, said the move would breathe “new life into New York's most important business district.”

Garodnick had opposed an earlier effort – citing the need for infrastructure improvements – forcing de Blasio predecessor Michael Bloomberg to rescind it in 2013. He and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer helped work on the new plan.

“Putting all the stakeholders around a table before the plan was certified meant we could forge consensus on a sound blueprint for East Midtown’s future," said Brewer.

City officials presented the latest plan to the council's land-use committee on June 20. It calls on developers to make public improvements around Grand Central -- which serves the Metropolitan Transportation Authority subways and Metro-North Railroad, with Long Island Rail Road service in 2022 at the earliest – in return for the extra air space.

A minimum contribution of $61.49 per square foot or 20% of air rights’ sale price will fund new public realm projects across East Midtown.

This “ensures that as development rights are sold to spur new development, the public reaps a steady funding stream to make commensurate improvements including shared streets, pedestrian plazas [and] thoroughfare upgrades,” de Blasio said.

The city will commit $38 million in capital funds for eligible public realm projects that a governing group will select.

According to the mayor, it will commit up to an additional $12 million to public benefits that include a shared street on 43rd Street between Lexington and 3rd Avenue; Pershing East Plaza; thoroughfare improvements to 53rd Street; turn-lane improvements to Park Avenue; and overall improvements to Lexington Avenue.

In transit improvement zones such as Grand Central, new buildings near transit hubs may exceed current floor area ratio provided they undertake important betterments to subway stations such as new and expanded entrances, escalators, elevators and stairwells, as well as full station rehabilitations.

Completion of improvements is necessary before new buildings receive certificates of occupancy for their increased space. The city struck a similar deal in its rezoning approval for the adjacent One Vanderbilt, a planned 58-story office tower.

The city consulted with the MTA on improvements to stations including Grand Central at 42nd Street; Lexington Avenue; Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street; Rockefeller Center; and 42nd Street-Bryant Park.

“This rezoning paves the way for the next generation of redevelopment and modernization of an aging portion of the city's central business district,” said Kathryn Wylde, president and chief executive of the business group Partnership for New York City.”

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Paul Burton

Paul Burton

Paul Burton is the Northeast Regional Editor for The Bond Buyer and the author of the book "Tales from the Newsrooms." He is a sought-after public speaker and has appeared on radio and TV shows, including former CBS News White House correspondent Sharyl Attkisson’s public-affairs program, “Full Measure.”