W. SIDE STORY
NEW PLAN FOR MTA'S RAIL YARDS
By TOM TOPOUSIS
May 9, 2007 -- Manhattan's West Side rail yard - once slated to host a football stadium - is now on track to become home to a new riverside development, including office towers, apartment buildings, shops and a green space as big as Bryant Park.
Guidelines for what the city and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority want for the 13-acre site were unveiled yesterday and will be used later this month to lure more specific plans from developers.
Developers will be asked to come up with proposals that include a minimum of 20 percent office space or 20 percent housing to be built around a park that would stretch east-to-west through the middle of the two-block parcel between 11th Avenue and the Hudson River.
The project, which could include as many as 4,500 apartments, would have to be constructed above the rail yards on a platform that would cost an estimated $400 million or more - making it an expensive as well as complex undertaking.
Ann Weisbrod, head of the city's Hudson Yards Development Corp., said the city's ultra-hot real-estate market makes this the right time to move forward with developing the rail yard, which has been an on-and-off effort for more than 20 years.
So far, five of the city's largest developers have reportedly expressed interest.
The guidelines developed between the city and the rail yard's owner, the MTA, don't describe a specific development plan. They are to show a prospective developer roughly where buildings and the open space would go.
One early sticking point for the project is the fate of a section of the High Line, the elevated railway that is being turned into a park south of the rail yard. About a third of the High Line wraps around the rail yard, and activists want to save that section as well.
MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said there has been no decision on what to do with the High Line. He said the request for proposals from developers would require alternate plans for building with or without the current High Line structure. "No final decision will be made before bids come in."
Joshua David, a co-founder of the Friends of the High Line, said including the track bed in any plan for the rail yard would save a piece of history and give the project an identity.
"This is an opportunity to have something to connect the rail yard with the history of the waterfront neighborhood," David said of the stretch of elevated railway that runs along 30th Street before turning north along the West Side Highway. "And we believe it's the most beautiful part of the High Line."
David said the success of the High Line in Chelsea and the Meatpacking District have dramatically boosted property values and would do the same for the rail yard.