"We have great opportunities right now, and they're ours to blow, in the great New York tradition," says Kent Barwick, head of the Municipal Art Society. In today's tropical real-estate climate -- with hawkish community groups agitating for more parks and real-estate tycoons displaying expansionist tendencies -- blowing it hardly seems likely. The new Penn Station stands to open up the far West Side in midtown. The redeveloped Con Edison site in the East Thirties could mean a new neighborhood -- "mober" (midtown over by the East River), anybody? Columbus Centre, on the site of the old Coliseum, could reconnect lower Broadway to the Upper West Side. The city's waterfronts could be transformed by new subway lines, shuttling New Yorkers to parts of the city that have effectively been noncontenders for eons. And parks on a scale unheard of since the reign of Robert Moses could give the city's asphalt and concrete a sorely needed wash of chlorophyll. It's the largest land grab the city has seen in 50 years.
1. It's hard to gaze upon Con Edison's hulking Waterside electric-and-steam plant in the East Thirties and see Emerald City. But the giant 4.5-acre power plant and four parcels of land occupying nine acres along the East River recently inspired a fierce bidding war between developers. A partnership formed by the Fisher brothers (known for their high-end office buildings), residential kingpin Sheldon Solow, and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter won out -- for a reported $600 million. Whatever the price tag, it will be years before luxury condominiums rise from this dismal stretch of waterfront, which was a slaughterhouse district before Con Ed commandeered it. City-planning commissioner Joseph Rose says he's interested in seeing around 4 million to 5 million square feet of commercial and residential property, with buildings each "in the range of 40 to 50 stories." There should also be public access to the waterfront -- an esplanade, perhaps. Community groups are already demanding height limits in the plans.
2. Trump World Tower, at First Avenue and 47th Street, will eventually stand 90 stories high, making it the tallest residential building in the world -- and one of the most controversial developments in recent history. Urban planners and neighbors like Walter Cronkite took issue with Donald Trump's $360 million spire near the U.N. when he announced it a year and a half ago, but so far, the courts have said he is within his rights. A happy upshot of the ruckus could be a long-due overhaul of the city's zoning laws -- including a cap on the height of buildings throughout most of the city. "Trump World Tower is a good example of a developer seeing how far you can push the zoning ordinance until everyone says We can't let this happen again," says Bob Yaro, executive director of the not-for-profit Regional Plan Association. Still, not everybody's been boycotting the building. "I heard some ambassadors have bought there," says Elizabeth Stribling, head of Stribling & Associates. The 372 apartments are selling for between $700,000 and $13 million; the Trump Organization says the building is already 60 percent sold -- even thought it won't be fully finished until April 2001.
Brokers say the combination of Trump World Tower and Bridge Tower Place -- a 38-story luxury high-rise under construction at First Avenue and 61st Street -- should rev up the residential market along First Avenue in the Fifties. Designed by the same architect as Trump World Tower, Bridge Tower Place (a Brodsky Organization project) is shooting up right across the street from the new Bridgemarket under the 59th Street Bridge, where knowing East Siders are checking out the new Terence Conran shop and Conran-run restaurant Guastavino's. A Bed Bath & Beyond and Sports Club/LA nearby are under construction. Traffic brings more traffic, says Marilyn Harra Kaye, owner of Prudential MLBKaye International Realty and a local resident for 25 years. "Nothing was here a few years ago," says Kaye. "My daughter was never allowed to walk under the bridge alone. But now it's beautiful. Now foreigners want to be near Bridgemarket."
3. After 50 years of jawboning the issue to death, Manhattan may yet get its Second Avenue subway line, starting at 125th Street and ending at Whitehall Street in the financial district (with a fork near 14th Street that would stop in the East Village). "We have all these new high-tech and financial-services businesses here in the city," says the subway line's most vocal proponent, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. "The only way to keep them here is by expanding access to other parts of the city." The West Side has three lines serving it, but the East Side has just one, leading to chronic overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue line. The Lower East Side and the East Village, especially, have little access to mass transit.
One catalyst for a new subway is the $4.3 billion East River Access, the MTA project championed by Governor Pataki; in the next few years, a tunnel will connect the Long Island Rail Road to the Metro-North line, and both trains will pull into Grand Central Terminal. Long Island commuters will arrive at the train station and pour onto the Lexington line. That's where things get prickly; the MTA proposes that the Second Avenue subway run from 125th Street to 63rd Street, where it would merge with the N and the R lines. But Silver has said he'll hold up the state budget until the Pataki administration commits to building a full-length line. "East River Access means you're going to be bringing in 20,000 to 25,000 people during rush hour without giving some relief to the overcrowded Lexington line," says an exasperated-sounding Silver. "It's shortsighted, very shortsighted."