The least significant elements of the five new bids to develop Hudson Yards are the competing renderings on view at the MTA’s storefront on East 43rd Street. They are nearly fiction, because nobody believes any single builder will get the job.
Which goes to show how much is at stake. Together with Moynihan Station to the east, Hudson Yards is one of the largest land grabs in New York history. The idea of building a new wing of midtown atop the superblock where LIRR trains are stored and repaired has tantalized planners at least since the unsuccessful 2012 Olympics bid. And though Mayor Bloomberg also failed to move the Jets there, his zeal to get something built may be his legacy. The rezoning he secured put this giant swath of land—and 24 million square feet of new development—in play.
Right now, midtown office space is scarcer than ever. So the cash-poor MTA, which owns the yards, is looking to echo the creation of Park Avenue (which, built over the New York Central tracks, effectively created the midtown business district). The agency has turned to the private market to build the platform—and get all the added value. It’s a developers’ bonanza on the scale of Rockefeller Center, and it’s worth as much as $7 billion.
The MTA may choose one team, which in turn will carve up the 26 acres, thereby spreading risk. Or the MTA will split up the schemes itself. Either way, the bids with big tenants attached appear on much stronger ground than the others, and several of those tenants (News Corp. on Tenth Avenue, say, and Condé Nast over to the west) could well end up here.
The yards is not an isolated project. Any development there will have an impact on a planned extension of the 7 train, an expanded Javits Center, the north end of the High Line, the metamorphosis of the Farley Post Office into the much-anticipated Moynihan Station, and the adjectives applied to Bloomberg and Eliot Spitzer in the history books. Every bid includes a big residential component (one calls for 7,000 apartments) plus a school and a cultural center—the ostensible makings of a new neighborhood.
It won’t happen soon. The western half of the site requires further rezoning, meaning more opportunities to mess with (or kill) the plans. But even as battles are fought in the yard, alliances have formed to the east, where many of the same tycoons want to move trains, arenas, and towers around like Tinkertoys. Some of those men will get extremely rich. Read on to see which ones—and how.