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East Side, West Side: “There’s Room for All of Us”

The original rezoning plan for the Hudson Yards district on Manhattan’s Far West Side was to “reinforce existing neighborhoods, while transforming underused areas into a thriving and desirable urban district.” Thanks to developers such as Brookfield and Related Cos., mission accomplished.

East Midtown could hardly be called underused, and it certainly is thriving, but its existing zoning laws essentially froze it in time in an era of projects such as Related’s Hudson Yards mixed-use development. Now East Midtown too has been rezoned, and JP Morgan Chase’s plan to tear down its headquarters at 270 Park Ave. and replace it with something much taller is the first manifestation of that.

To provide a look into the future that these rezonings will help make possible, leasing executives from Related and Brookfield joined other experts for a Connect New York panel titled “East vs. West: A Seismic Shift in Manhattan.” Although he wondered aloud whether the panel’s title was a misnomer and suggested that “Rebirth and Renewal” might be more appropriate, moderator James Wacht of Lee & Associates concurred that the changes wrought by the rezonings were momentous.

He cited Related’s project, which will total 50 million square feet when completed, including 30 million square feet of office. “We’re basically building Downtown Los Angeles on the West Side,” Wacht said. Or, to use the comparison made by Related’s Stephen Winter, building Dubai on the West Side.

The amount of office space that the East Midtown plan will add to the skyline is smaller: about 16 million square feet, and over a span of several years at that. However, Fred Cerullo, president and CEO of the Grand Central Partnership, said the rezoning would only enhance what is already there.

“One of the benefits of East Midtown is that there is no greater community with such a transit-rich environment,” said Cerullo.

He pointed out that Hudson Yards’ office component wouldn’t even equal the square footage within the East Midtown Business Improvement District: some 75 million square feet. Then there’s another 50 million square feet within the larger rezoned area.

“There’s room for all of us,” Cerullo said. “East Midtown is not going anywhere; it’s going to continue to grow.”

Although the Far West rezoning occurred in 2005, Brookfield’s vision for what it’s now building as Manhattan West has been marketed, in the background, for the past 40 years, said Brookfield’s Duncan McCuaig. In the interim, the firm redeveloped the World Financial Center in Lower Manhattan as Brookfield Place, and brought a number of place-making lessons learned on that project to Manhattan West.

One of those lessons was the importance of office and retail co-existing within the project’s footprint. And just as Brookfield Place and the larger post-9/11 revitalization of Lower Manhattan wouldn’t have been possible without a substantial increase in the area’s residential population, so Manhattan West and Hudson Yards will benefit from the influx of apartment dwellers on the Far West.

With gleaming new product comes challenges to owners of older properties. But those challenges also create opportunities, McCuaig pointed out: redevelopment, reinvestment and re-leasing.

And even as traditional big-block office occupiers move into the newer product, other users may take their places. Vicus Partners’ Andrew Stein noted that healthcare systems have begun to fill some of the large floorplates left vacant by financial services firms.

“It’s just a constant continuum of changes, and will all be positive in the long run,” McCuaig observed.

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About Paul Bubny

Paul Bubny serves as Senior Content Director for Connect Commercial Real Estate, a role to which he brings 13-plus years’ experience covering the commercial real estate industry and 30-plus years in business-to-business journalism. In this capacity, he oversees daily operations while also reporting on both local/regional markets and national trends, covering individual transactions across all property types, as well as delving into broader subject matter. He produces 15-20 daily news stories per day and works with the Connect team and clients to develop longer-form content, ranging from Q&As to thought-leadership pieces. Prior to joining Connect, Paul was Managing Editor for both Real Estate Forum and at American Lawyer Media, where he oversaw operations at both publications while also producing daily news and feature-length articles. His tenure in B2B publishing stretches back into the print era, and he has served as Editor in Chief on four national trade publications. Since 1999, Paul has volunteered as the newsletter editor of passenger rail advocacy groups (one national, one local).

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