Mixed Use

By Patrick Hedlund

While 2008 might be remembered as the year that New York City’s once-unstoppable development boom finally went bust — rendering prospects for the year to come questionable at best — Downtown continued to see vibrant growth and activity from Chelsea to Battery Park. Mixed Use asked a handful of the community’s movers and shakers to put together their holiday wish lists, as well as offer some resolutions for 2009 and reflections on the year that was.

“My wishes for 2009?” asked Liz Berger, president of the Downtown Alliance. “130 Liberty down, and the Fulton Transit Center up. More retail investment and no more unlawful street vending in Lower Manhattan. Lots of commercial leasing and not so much snow!”

In the wake of Wall St.’s ongoing turmoil, Community Board 1 chairperson Julie Menin hoped that Lower Manhattan’s neediest residents would not be forgotten. “Also at the top of my list is a new school Downtown, a new community center for the east side of the district and the building of affordable housing units particularly in Tribeca and in the Greenwich South area.”

Councilmember Alan Gerson echoed the call for “humanitarian values” in protecting Lower Manhattan’s most vulnerable populations with budget cuts looming, and he also hoped that President-elect Barack Obama would deliver funds for infrastructure health care, education and affordable housing in cities across the country. “We wish for New York City planning and development that respects neighborhood diversity and livability,” he said. “And we see a moment of great opportunity for culture to establish a formal role in the federal Office of Urban Policy so that we can finally begin harnessing the power of the arts to…revitalize our cities.”

Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and a long-rumored candidate for the City Council, unsurprisingly counted Downtown preservation efforts the South Village Historic District at the top of his holiday wish list.

Community Board 2 chairperson Brad Hoylman wished for a recuperating economy while citing that developer applications to his board’s Zoning and Housing Committee have dropped by more than 75 percent since last year. “As a result of declining city revenues, we are concerned about cuts to public education, senior services and public transport — namely, the M8 crosstown bus — as well as the continued health of our local small businesses,” he said.

In addition to spending more to build affordable rather than luxury housing, Assemblymember Deborah Glick also gave a nod to the small businesses struggling to survive in her ever-growing Downtown district. “I wish we could preserve the unique individual stores that create a neighborhood feel and serve everyday needs, rather than see them fall prey to impossible rent increases that can only be absorbed by large chains or enormously expensive shops that don’t serve the local community,” she said, stressing that the emphasis should stay local.

State Sen. Thomas Duane had a spate of issues on his wish list, including the push to repeal vacancy decontrol for rent-stabilized buildings; passage of legislation making buildings that opt out of Section 8 and Mitchell-Lama programs rent-stabilized; rezonings of Chinatown; and tax incentives and zoning changes to protect small businesses.

Powerbroker Faith Hope Consolo, chairperson of Prudential Douglas Elliman’s retail division, said despite all the doomsday predictions, things are still looking up Downtown. “From Chinatown to Chelsea, there has been solid activity,” she said. “In Meatpacking and Chelsea, alone, European retailers established a tremendous presence this year, especially in the immediate vicinity of W. 14th St.” While Union Square, Soho, Tribeca and the West Village also enjoyed typically robust activity, “Chinatown became an unexpected nexus for new retail business,” Consolo noted, with major names like Nike and American Apparel moving in. “Full-speed ahead is the direction of retail for at least the first two quarters of 2009, when many of the build-outs are completed,” she said. “The bottom line is that New York is still a city of shopaholics, but Downtown in particular has a unique crowd of dedicated retail devotees.”

Speaking of Chinatown, Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership, continues to think the neighborhood could use a business improvement district, although he avoided using the word “BID.” “Chinatown’s fate is intertwined with many other neighborhoods including Lower Manhattan, many of our community businesses need high volume in order to survive as they offer lower-cost alternatives, and one of these steady and predictable sources of business revenue will be from ground zero and its surrounding historical places,” he said. “We believe Chinatown can stand up and help itself by banding together to join the rebirth of Lower Manhattan and let the world see us in a different light.”

Friends of the High Line cofounders Robert Hammond and Joshua David will head into the first phase of a rebirth for the former elevated railway after years of work in getting the project realized. “We look forward to opening the High Line in 2009 and seeing all of our neighbors and community supporters enjoying the park they helped build,” they said.

Amanda Burden, commissioner of the Department of City Planning, called the High Line’s opening “one of the most singular and highly anticipated open spaces in the world.” She also looked forward to the planned redevelopment of the East River waterfront near the South Street Seaport in the spring, “which will create a spectacular and innovative waterfront experience.” She didn’t mention General Growth Properties’ Seaport redevelopment plan although we heard she was none too pleased when the Landmarks Preservation Commission sent the architects back to the drawing board last month.

Sean Sweeney, the firebrand director of the Soho Alliance, had one simple wish for his community in its continuing battle against Donald Trump’s condo-hotel, which enjoyed a tumultuous year of activity. “My New Year’s wish is to witness the sight of Donald Trump lying on his back at Varick and Spring Sts., gazing aloft at his ugly building, belly-up, both of them together,” he said.