Trinity says it’s time for residential in Hudson Square


By Lincoln Anderson  

Calling Hudson Square’s zoning “outmoded,” Trinity Real Estate wants to rezone a major portion of the district to allow residential use.

With the change, Trinity expects 3,000 to 3,500 new residential apartments over ten years would be added to the neighborhood — not counting the district’s few existing legal residential units.

The plan’s centerpiece is a new, 429-foot-tall, residential tower at Duarte Square, on property owned by Trinity. Helping alleviate local school overcrowding, a 420-seat, K-to-5 public school would be included in the tower’s base. Trinity would build out the school’s raw space for the Department of Education.

Currently, residential use and schools are not allowed in Hudson Square’s M1-6 (manufacturing zoned) district. Neither are cultural uses currently permitted.

Tonight, Thursday, Trinity Real Estate will present the rezoning concept plan to Community Board 2’s Land Use and Business Development Committee. Three days earlier, Trinity gave The Villager an exclusive advance presentation.

Trinity officials who showed the plan asked not to be quoted by name in this article.

In short, Trinity feels there’s “a strong desire” for some residential use in the district.

In addition, Trinity is seeking height caps for new construction in Hudson Square. The caps are being described as “a modest downzoning.”

Along wide streets, like Canal, Hudson and Varick and Sixth Ave., there would be a height cap of 320 feet, or 32 stories. For commercial use, the maximum floor area ratio, or F.A.R. (which determines how much square footage can be built.) would be 10, with current bonuses for including public plazas and arcades eliminated.

On these wide streets, residential F.A.R. would be 9, which would get a bump up to 12 F.A.R. with the inclusion of 20 percent affordable housing.

Currently, the whole district’s F.A.R. ranges from 10 to 12. Plus, there’s no height limit — which is how the Trump Soho condo-hotel could be built to 490 feet, equivalent to 49 stories, by acquiring air rights from adjacent buildings and using a plaza bonus.

On narrow streets, like Greenwich and Spring Sts., and other east-west streets, the height cap would be 185 feet, about 18 stories, and on mid blocks the F.A.R. would be lowered from the current 10 to 6.5, but could rise to 8.5 with affordable housing included.

On Broome and Watts Sts., however, the F.A.R. would be even lower, 5.4, but could rise to 7.2 with the affordable-housing bonus. The height cap would be about 12 stories.

The tower Trinity hopes to build at Duarte Square — at the wide-streets intersection of Canal and Varick Sts. and Sixth Ave. — at 429 feet would be taller than other new construction. The public school in it would occupy four stories and be 100,000 square feet, and would not count toward the project’s F.A.R. Trinity would build out the school’s core and shell — and then give the space to the city for free — and rent free, for perpetuity.

Trinity is also obligated to build a park on part of the property at Duarte Square as part of the development.

A prime concern of Trinity is to preserve the jobs of current commercial tenants. Under the scheme, existing buildings of more than 50,000 square feet could not be residentially converted. If a commercial building of more than 50,000 square feet were demolished, then there would have to be a “1-to-1 replacement” in the new building — meaning it would have to have at least 50,000 square feet of commercial space. Buildings less than 50,000 square feet could be residentially converted, and the expectation is that many would be. According to Trinity, under the rezoning, about 90 percent of the existing square footage in the neighborhood would be preserved as is.

Also, under the proposed change, new nightclubs would not be allowed to open in Hudson Square. Big-box stores would be banned, as well, with an exception for supermarkets.

Bounded by Sixth Ave. on the east, the Hudson River on the west, Houston St. on the north and Canal St. on the south, Hudson Square was formerly known as the Printing District. Located west of Soho and north of Tribeca, it lacks both those neighborhoods’ renowned cachet. Yet, in recent years, as new businesses have moved into the area, Hudson Square increasingly has become an energetic and hip, media and creative hub. Foot traffic — at least during the day — has shot up.

Trinity Real Estate wants to increase, not only residential occupancy, but also retail in Hudson Square. Right now, the neighborhood turns quiet with empty streets at night and on weekends. Lunch options are few. Trinity would like to make it a “24-hour community.” Residential use would increase foot traffic, helping sustain retail. However, luring chain-store-type or high-end retailers is definitely not the goal.

Specifically, Trinity is seeking a rezoning for the area north of Canal St., east of Sixth Ave. and Varick St. over to Hudson St. and then across Spring St. over to Greenwich St. and up to Houston St.

Trinity is, unquestionably, the area’s major stakeholder; it owns 40 percent of the neighborhood’s built space and closer to 50 percent if the land Trinity leases to others is included. (The Saatchi & Saatchi building, at 375 Hudson St., for example, is on Trinity property but is owned by Tishman Speyer.)

Meanwhile, Hudson Square’s retail vacancy rate, 30 percent, is very high, despite having one of the lowest retail rents in Manhattan. Other areas, like the World Trade Center and the Hudson Yards, have commercial subsidies, but Hudson Square does not. As a result, property owners are turning to hotels — a number of nondescript ones having recently popped up in the neighborhood, along with the towering new Trump Soho condo-hotel at Spring and Varick Sts. Yet, hotels generate a lot of traffic, which is a concern of Trinity Real Estate.

In addition, Trinity had a bad experience with a hotel project on one of its own properties: The planned Viceroy hotel, to be built atop the gutted shell of a warehouse at 330 Hudson St., never panned out. At great expense, Trinity itself had to seal up the vacant shell.

And SEIU is reportedly having trouble finding a buyer for its former union headquarters building at Sixth Ave. and Grand St. Without residential use, converting the building into another hotel might be the only option.

Under the proposed rezoning, a special permit would be needed for new hotels with more than 100 rooms.

Trinity doesn’t want to attract so-called destination retail — like Soho’s glitzy boutiques and the large stores lining Broadway. Rather, Trinity hopes to attract small and mid-sized retailers and restaurants — mainly to service its own commercial tenants and the increased number of residential tenants that would populate the neighborhood due to the rezoning.

Currently, Hudson Square’s residential occupancy is about 4 percent. With a rezoning allowing residential use, Trinity hopes to boost this figure to 25 percent. Two mixed-use neighborhoods that Trinity sees as comparable to Hudson Square, Park Ave. South and the Flatiron District, have residential rates of 38 percent and 29 percent, respectively.

All of Trinity’s profits go to support Trinity Church as well as Trinity’s charitable mission throughout the city, focused on neighborhoods like Chinatown, the Lower East Side, Harlem, the South Bronx and the Upper West Side. Except for its actual church building, Trinity pays property taxes on all its real estate holdings.

With reporting by John W. Sutter