Preservationist groups call out lack of transparency in Union Square tech hub development

Posted On Mon, May 6, 2019 By

Posted On Mon, May 6, 2019 By In New Developments, Policy, Union Square

Rendering via NYCEDC

The city’s plans to create a tech hub at 124 East 14th Street near Union Square have been embroiled in a preservation battle since they were first announced. Community organizations like the Cooper Square Committee and Village Preservation have advocated for the past year that any rezoning should come with protections for the adjacent neighborhood, which is largely residential. As the Daily News reported, Village Preservation recently criticized the city for its lack of transparency in the development process, while claiming that it gave out a “sweetheart deal” based on political alliances and campaign donations.

124 East 14th Street, union square, tech hub, GVHPS, preservationistsImage via Google Maps

The project is being developed by RAL Development Service at the current site of a P.C. Richard & Son store. According to the Daily News, RAL will pay $5 million for the first three years it occupies the city property (which comes out to roughly $1.6 million a year) and $2.3 million annually for the following five years. P.C. Richard and Son, which occupied a mere two-story building, paid $1.7 million in annual rent—a stark contrast to the relative bargain RAL will be getting for a 21-story tower.

“The Mayor’s Tech Hub upzoning was approved by the City Council over widespread community opposition, based upon the choice of a developer who insisted an upzoning was needed—other bidders did not ask for the controversial upzoning which has increased development pressure on the surrounding East Village and Greenwich Village neighborhoods, resulting in increasing demolition and out-of-scale new construction,” Andrew Berman, executive director of Village Preservation, told 6sqft in an email.

He also noted that there are no records indicating how the city came to its decision to select RAL as the developer. Stephanie Baez, a spokeswoman for the Economic Development Corporation stated that it is “typically the case” that agency staffers would discuss potential bidders orally, without necessarily creating written documentation of their deliberations.

The paper trail that does exist, however, is one that shows a history of campaign donations from stakeholders in the project, including at least $10,000 given by RAL to de Blasio’s now-defunct non-profit Campaign for One New York in 2015.

Betsy Gotbaum, executive director of Citizens Union, said “a pattern” of favoring campaign donors has emerged since de Blasio became mayor, adding that the EDC’s response above is “not above board.” “It’s not that anyone is objecting to a tech center,” she said. “It’s the manner in which it was done.”

“It’s a rotten deal which was always guided by rewarding the Mayor’s donors rather than anything involving the best interests of the people of the City of New York, or the surrounding neighborhoods which are so affected by this plan,” Berman said.

In a statement to 6sqft, a spokesperson for RAL said it “worked diligently with all stakeholders on a compelling proposal that went through a rigorous review process and was approved.” The statement continues: “GVSHP and Andrew Berman continue to surprise us with their creative attempts to slander the project and its process.”

[Via NY Daily News]

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Neighborhoods : Union Square

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