Sunnyside Yards may look like just a long stretch of train cars and tracks, but it represents a tremendous opportunity — one that will be realized only if NYC officials navigate the route ahead thoughtfully and cautiously.
The city’s goal: To build a deck over much of the 180-acre yard to create an entire neighborhood of housing, retail and community services.
In a feasibility study this month, NYC officials focused on 70 acres they called the Core Yard, where they said they could build up to 15,000 apartments, about a third of which would be affordable, along with schools, retail, open space and more. The price tag: $10 billion.
The plan has big potential, but city officials are only at the beginning. They need to start with town halls and community gatherings so residents can share concerns. Mayor Bill de Blasio attempted this last year when he introduced his proposed streetcar from Astoria to Red Hook, but residents came away with misinformation and unanswered questions. The stakes are bigger for the Sunnyside project. A knowledgeable team of city officials willing to listen and explain the importance of this development is key to getting residents, as well as local and state officials, on board.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other officials have been critical of the idea. Some worry about its size and scope, while Cuomo has noted that the MTA might need the yard for other purposes. But city officials now are focused on tracks controlled by Amtrak, and say they’re working with Amtrak to address its needs. And there have been rail yard development successes; just look at new construction over the Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s West Side.
Eventually, the city will have to select a master planner and developer to create a project that makes sense for everyone. Public-private partnerships and players like Amtrak will have to play roles.
Yes, developing Sunnyside Yards is a massive, expensive, long-term undertaking. Yes, it will come with extensive infrastructure needs. Yes, it’ll require the right mix of private partners, city leaders and community support. But first, everyone has to be willing to try.