Hudson Yards: Transforming Manhattan’s Far West Side

In just over five years since groundbreaking,  Hudson Yards – a mega revitalization project in Far West Manhattan on old rail yards – is transforming the neighborhood with 18 million square feet of commercial and residential properties.

Hudson Yards megaproject at a glance

  • Its the area between West 30th and West 42nd streets, Eighth Avenue to the Hudson River, covering 33 acres.
  • The original plan included the continuation of the No.7 subway line via a 1.5 mile extension from the Times Square stop to a new station at West 34th Street and 11th Avenue.
  • It will include 100 retail shops, 14 acres of gardens and public spaces, and the Shed, a new arts center.
  • It is built over old Amtrak and MTA’s rail yards
  • Over 4,000 residents will live in the neighborhood, that also includes a new school and an Equinox hotel.

The area surrounding 30th Street near 10th Avenue to most die-hard New Yorkers (like myself) was considered no man’s land, for many years.  

It was situated above the Hudson Rail yards, where trains from New Jersey alighted into the city and LIRR trains were stored.  It was behind the U.S. Post Office building, in proximity to the Fashion Institute of Technology, close to the run-down New York Port Authority bus station, and filled with overgrown bushes and weeds where homeless people often slept.  

Now it has being transformed into the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project, called the largest urban revitalization in the U.S.  Call it gargantuan, dream-worthy, awe-inspiring, or monumental.

But what did it take to develop this multi-faceted vision and establishing a new neighborhood in the heart of midtown Manhattan?

Location, location, Location

The project encompasses 18 million square feet of commercial and residential space.   Constructed on 28 acres over a working rail yard, it will be built over two “platform” bridges that will rely on 25,000 tons of steel.  It also will include 100 retail shops with plenty of ambitious eateries, 14 acres of gardens and public spaces, the Shed, an arts center that will rival Lincoln Center, house 4,000 residents in mostly luxury apartments, and also include a public school.  

It’s contiguous with the High Line, an elevated park incorporated into a former railroad track, adjacent to the trendy Chelsea area, and in walking distance from the Meatpacking district.  Talk about location, location, location.

It will take 23,000 construction jobs to complete the task. And it may take 10 years to be fully constructed.

Did we say gargantuan?

A visit to Hudson Yards in this month (August 2018) reveals cranes galore, dump trucks, and construction crews abuzz.  Two major buildings are in place: one is a thriving commercial building at 10 Hudson Yards that already contains the New York corporate offices of Coach, SAP and L’Oreal.  

And also standing is a gleaming new 62-story glass residential tower, Eugene NYC, replete with personal concierges, rooftop terraces, a fitness center and basketball courts.  But living there doesn’t come cheaply; studios start at $3,700 monthly (with two free months offered) and 3-bedrooms $13,495. However, 20 percent of its residents will be tenants who qualify for affordable housing.

The New York City Department of City Planning laid out a plan for creating Hudson Yards in 2004. Given the city’s growing population, it requires an additional 111 million square feet of office space by 2025 to accommodate 444,000 new workers.  

Hudson Yards is defined as the area between West 30th and West 42nd streets, Eighth Avenue to the Hudson River, covering 33 acres.  The original plan also included the continuation of the no.7 subway line via a 1.5 mile extension from the Times Square stop to a new station at West 34th Street and 11th Avenue. It opened in September 2015 and cost approximately $2.1 billion to complete, according to the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

The new area of about 20 acres is built over the Amtrak rail road cut and the MTA’s Eastern Rail Yard, creating a new tree-lined boulevard, Hudson Boulevard between 10th and 11th avenues.

Creating the master plan

When Don Clinton, a partner at Cooper Robertson, a N.Y.-based architecture firm, was asked to participate in drafting the master plan of Hudson Yards back in 2004, he admitted that it was a tall order to accomplish.  Dan Doctoroff, the deputy mayor for Economic Development under former mayor Michael Bloomberg, said that the city was running out of Class A office space, so Hudson Yard was a logical alternative.

But Clinton described the area “as hopeless, filled with Lincoln Tunnel traffic, very difficult.”  One easing factor was there were no residents living there so tenants wouldn’t have to be displaced.  And when that master plan was being conceived, Mayor Bloomberg was competing to make New York City an Olympic site, so a stadium was also considered as part of the plan.

To pay for the decking and platforms, the new construction had to be large enough to finance the construction.  “It couldn’t be mid-range buildings,” Clinton observed.

When the neighborhood was being planned, the High Line was just getting off the ground.

“Now Hudson Yards is an extension of the High Line and Chelsea, and that changes the nature of the companies going in,” architect Don Clinton said. Coach, a fashion company, wants to be associated with what’s hip and trendy, like the High Line and Chelsea.

Mandatory Zoning Changes

In order to make Hudson Yards happen, Department of City Planning authorized several zoning changes.  

For example, it permitted high-density office development between West 30th and 33rd streets.  But it also permitted residential development, which enabled it to develop into a full-fledged neighborhood.  Some local businesses had to be bought out to make way for the new commercial projects but that was held to a minimum.

The density of the zoning had to be sufficient to generate revenue, architect Clinton noted.  New York City, not the MTA, was going to finance the new subway extension, based on air rights and developer revenues.

Despite the complexity of the new neighborhood, “the new park that ran south from near 42nd Street was critical,” Clinton said.  “The neighborhood was grim. Part of the goal was creating an open space and an environment that was pleasant to be in,” he said.

Regarding financing, the city planned on tapping funds from the “incremental revenues from the new commercial and residential developments in the area to cover debt service on board, issued by the Hudson Yard Infrastructure Corporation, a local development corporation.”  But private industry provided the bulk of the financing.

MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast joins elected officials to dedicate the new 34 St-Hudson Yards station on Sun., September 13, 2015, which extends the 7 line to the West Side. Chairman Prendergast, Senator Schumer, and Mayor deBlasio.
(Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)

To make that vision come alive, it relied on a partnership between commercial interests and the city, explained Dan Biederman, president of New York-based Biederman Redevelopment Ventures, which advises on public spaces and parks and has served as a consultant to the Hudson Yard project.  Biederman gives considerable credit to Stephen M. Ross, chairman of the Related Companies, as spearheading the project, who already had experience developing the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle in New York. Several other executives in the Related Companies played invaluable roles as did deputy mayor Doctoroff.

Commercial interests drive Hudson Yards.  

Biederman said Related Companies “arranged the finances, managed architects including Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and KRP, negotiated with the unions, and did everything that a developer does to make a project happen.”  Doctoroff and Alicia Glen, New York City’s Deputy Mayor, played pivotal roles in turning Hudson Yards into a reality.

Private Sector Sets the Pace

Colin Cathcart, a professor of Urban Planning at Fordham University in New York, underscores that the Hudson Yards project is a throwback to the time when industrialists like Henry Ford created the city of Dearborn.  While he acknowledges that the city played an instrumental role in fomenting Hudson Yard, he said “this isn’t a product of public workshop or community design. This is corporate real-estate.”

The major impetus for making Hudson Yards viable as a neighborhood was “the construction of the decking above the railroad yards,” Cathcart explained.  It costs millions of dollars to accomplish that task, and that necessitated a real-estate developer taking charge.

To lure people to Hudson Yards as a destination, the developers are also turning it into a foodie haven.  

Chefs who have committed to open eateries there include Tomas Keller, David Chang, Danny Meyer and Michael Lombardo, a veritable collection of the best gourmet chefs in New York, if not the world.  Office workers can have lunch at Sweetgreen’s, the salad specialist and congregate for coffee at a variety of options including two Jack’s Stir Brew Coffee, Bluestone Lane, an Australian coffee spot, Maison Kayser, the French café, or Think coffee.  There will also be an Equinox Hotel to attract tourists.

Asked if another city wanted to take steps to replicate building a project equivalent to Hudson Yards, Biederman said it would likely happen in cities such as Los Angeles or Chicago the second and third largest metropolises, after New York, because of the complexity and depth of the project.  

Recreating Hudson Yards in another city won’t be easy.  Cathcart cautioned, “Don’t do it unless the values in your cities are in the $10,000 per square foot range.”

But what is required is the following:

  • a strong commercial developer like Related Companies that can spearhead the project,
  • a working partnership between commercial developers and governmental agencies,
  • enough large commercial tenants including law firms and financial services firms that can populate the office buildings,
  • a thriving upscale tenant market that can afford the rents.   

Since much of the housing in the project will attract upscale tenants, Biederman wonders “if the luxury residential market is still there?”  Will a project in midtown appeal to investment bankers, financiers, and entrepreneurs who can afford the high rents is yet to be determined.

What Hudson Yards did right was creating a multi-use neighborhood, not just commercial office buildings, explained Cathcart, the urban planning professor.  “Based on the writings of Jane Jacobs, if you have single use, 100 percent office, then what you have is a place that is extremely boring,” he said. Creating a multi-use area of restaurants, subways, coffee places, retail shops that attract residents and office workers, establishes a 24-hour, vibrant neighborhood.

Though it’s still under construction and just getting off the ground, Hudson Yard has been exerting a positive spiraling effect on New York City, explains Alex Snyder, a senior analyst at real-estate investment management firm CenterSquare, which has studied the project but wasn’t involved in its financing.  “More and more projects are springing up in the area, which build on the positive feedback loop—interesting things get built and more people want to be there,” he says.

Economically, Snyder points out, “office rents in Midtown South just eclipsed Midtown for the first time.  And from a landlord’s perspective, if you own one of the older buildings in Midtown, you’ve had to put massive amounts of capital into your assets because now these tenants have options for the first time in half a century.”

Hudson Yard’s ultimate goal is to create a new, thriving neighborhood, “a place where people will want to work, live and invest.” And it will include “open spaces, an inviting waterfront, new residential and office development, 24-hour activities and innovative architecture.”  

Architect Clinton noted, “It used to be an inhospitable place; now it’s inhabitable.”

Start typing and press Enter to search