A controversial “tech hub” bound for the East Village has won the Borough President’s stamp of approval– but only if certain conditions are met.
Activists have protested the proposed 21-story building, bound for the former PC Richards site at East 14th Street and Irving Place, as a sign that the East Village is turning into “Silicon Alley.” But BP Gale Brewer’s report says the project– which would include market retail space for local vendors and commercial office space for tech companies– would bring valuable jobs and training programs to the neighborhood, which still has a poverty rate higher than the national average.
“Technology jobs are well regarded as the profession that provides the most opportunities with high salaries,” Brewer’s report notes. Her recommendation doesn’t come without limitations, however; the report reveals that Brewer “shares the community concerns” in regards to the rezoning and redevelopment that would come along with the project. “There is a need to take a holistic approach in addressing land use issues in this area to ensure stability and affordability while allowing for growth and economic opportunity for the community at large.”
Brewer’s recommendation comes with a set of conditions for the development. For instance, while most of the job-training services will be free of charge, for-profit companies must offer 20 percent of tuition income as scholarships (prioritizing underrepresented groups in the tech industry like women, people of color, and disabled people) for their programs. In addition, event spaces must be available for community events, the market space should emphasize local merchants, and “the administration should commit to actions to address building heights and affordable housing needs within the immediate vicinity of the development site.”
The Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation has been vocal about their concerns for the proposed tech hub and other such developments in the East Village, which they claim would eradicate affordable housing and quintessential neighborhood character. Responding to Brewer’s recommendations, Andrew Berman, executive director of the GVSHP, said today that “Greenwich Village and the East Village are more than willing to be home to a Tech Hub on 14th Street, if it is not a catalyst for more woefully out of place development in our neighborhoods.”
Calling the development “out-of-scale” and “out-of-character,” the GVSHP had requested that the borough president include neighborhood protections in her official recommendation. Now, they continue to urge Mayor Bill de Blasio to implement these “reasonable protections” should the plan be approved.
De Blasio has been behind the project since the beginning, contending that it would provide “thousands of New Yorkers” with the resources they need to get a job in the lucrative and fast-growing tech sector.
Brewer’s recommendation is part of the ULURP process that requires certain city agencies to sign off on rezonings. In February, Community Board 3 voted to approve the tech hub, so long as the Mayor provided requested protections to the surrounding neighborhood. As a result of the borough president’s recommendation, the application will now move to the city planning commission; with members appointed by de Blasio, it is expected to approve it. From there, the plan will need the approval of the city council; Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, who represents the area, has said she will only support the tech hub if it includes reasonable attempts at neighborhood protection.
The Mayor has yet to address how, if at all, he will include these requests for neighborhood protections in plans for the tech hub; his press office had not yet responded to our inquiry at the time of this story’s publication.
Update: A spokesperson for the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which is overseeing the project, tells us: “We appreciate the Borough President’s recommendations on the tech training center. We will review them, and are excited to deliver a project that will help communities around Union Square access good-paying jobs in the tech sector.”
What do I think? I think this is the first of such fights Ove seen that actually includes a project that has substantive economic development. It’s a much different conversation than say, rezoning whole neighborhoods with condos instead of a business hub being the centerpiece, but I’ll admit I’m generally allergic to luxury high rise development.
With so many empty storefronts in NYC, let’s not forget that commercial real estate and retail go hand and hand. When downtown Manhattan redeveloped commercial real estate into residential, the impact to local businesses was so dramatic and negative you’d have to be blind to miss it.
I feel deepl admiration and respect for the stalwart leaders off our best preserved and looked after neighborhood, The Village, but I still find this project refreshing in its place to make NYC’s future the brightest and most secure it can be.
Whatever the future holds here, I hope all sides represent their interests faithfully and fairly in accordance with the best intent of the letter of the law.