Union Square: Tech firms are driving area’s commercial growth

A rendering of the planned “tech hub” slated for the former P.S. Richard & Son space on E. 14th St. between Fourth and Third Aves. Local preservationists, politicians and residents are demanding that, if the tech hub is built, the city must at least rezone the University Place / Broadway corridor south of Union Square to protect against overdevelopment.

New York City’s population of technology, advertising, media and information a.k.a. TAMI companies is on the rise — and Union Square is where they’re headed.

According to New York City’s Economic Development Corporation, the Big Apple’s tech ecosystem accounts for more than 291,000 jobs and more than $124.7 billion in economic output. The city’s famed tech sector continues to grow each year, and Union Square is cementing its reputation as that community’s hub.

“With the area’s unrivaled transportation access and its vibrant mix of shops, restaurants, fitness studios and other amenities around Union Square Park, the district holds a lot of appeal for individuals who work in tech and creative industries,” said Jennifer Falk, executive director of the Union Square Partnership Business Improvement District. “New companies are also attracted to the area’s vibrant community that includes a veritable who’s who of the tech world.”

Perhaps the biggest announcement in Union Square’s tech scene this year was around the city’s plans for 124 E. 14th St. In February, Mayor Bill de Blasio revealed the city’s new $250 million hub to support New York’s thriving population of tech and innovation start-ups. The development is a key part of the mayor’s commitment to spurring job growth and providing a gateway to digital skills and training for New Yorkers — ultimately creating a strong, inclusive tech ecosystem in New York City.

E.D.C. has selected Robert Levine’s RAL Development Services to build the 258,000-square-foot project. The anchor tenant will be Civic Hall, a collaborative work and event space advancing the use of technology for the public good. Designed by Davis Brody Bond, the building will offer classroom and meeting spaces, a digital training hub and flexible office space for early-stage companies. All told, the facility is anticipated to generate 600 tech jobs and facilitate digital training for thousands of New Yorkers.

“Since its beginning, Union Square has offered New Yorkers a crossroads not only for transportation, culture, business and health but also for political discourse and free speech,” said Andrew Rasiej, founder and C.E.O. of Civic Hall. “Now with the planned new Civic Hall, Union Square will be able to also offer every New Yorker, regardless of background, gender, age, race or physical ability, access to digital skills, jobs and a renewed sense of civic engagement in the 21st century.”

With Union Square at the epicenter of New York’s thriving tech scene, it’s no wonder that the district was chosen as the prime location for the tech hub. Midtown South, which encompasses Union Square, is considered one of the country’s most desirable office submarkets, capturing more than 50 percent of all Manhattan tech leasing for the sixth consecutive year, according to Colliers International.

Union Square has become the home of some of the tech industry’s biggest names, including Dropbox, Hulu, Mashable, Compass and eBay. Facebook recently moved into its 200,000-square-foot space at 225 Park Ave. South, where media giant Buzzfeed’s offices are also located. Both companies, combined, bring more than 1,200 employees commuting into Union Square each day.

Several existing TAMI tenants are also expanding their footprint in Union Square. Compass took more space at 90 Fifth Ave., where it now occupies 115,000 square feet. WeWork leased three co-working locations around Union Square, including its headquarters at 115 W. 18th St. Between the three locations, WeWork has the capacity to host more than 3,000 co-working members. IBM recently signed a landmark membership deal for all of WeWork’s space at 88 University Place. The co-working company’s space, which occupies eight floors covering about 70,000 square feet, will soon house up to 600 IBM employees.

With Union Square office space in high demand, local property owners are taking steps to modernize spaces to lure new TAMI tenants. The historic restoration and modernization of Tammany Hall, at 44 Union Square, is well underway. The iconic property, leased by Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, will transform more than 75,000 square feet of retail and office space, bringing new life to this historic landmark. This past winter, the project secured a $57.5 million loan for the redevelopment’s construction.

“A sign of a healthy city is activity in strong growth industries — and New York’s tech industry is certainly alive, well and growing in Union Square,” Falk said. “As Union Square’s community of tech, advertising, media and information companies has continued to grow, the district is leading the way in driving 21st-century job creation for New Yorkers.”