BY ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH | Members of the Village’s leading preservation group protested the 14th St. Tech Hub, during its groundbreaking ceremony earlier this month.
Village Preservation has repeatedly decried the development of the Union Square Tech Training Center, at E. 124 14th St., arguing that promised protective measures should have been implemented and that the project is an extension of “Midtown South” and “Silicon Alley” into the Village. The preservation society is also calling for an investigation into what it calls a “sweetheart deal” for RAL, the project’s developers.
“Rather than a cause for celebration, the groundbreaking ceremony for the 14th St. Tech Hub calls for serious examination of the corrupt process which led to its approval and the sweetheart deal it had to several donors to the mayor,” the preservation group said in a statement.
“This sad saga is rife with broken commitments and promises made by both the mayor and Councilmember Carlina Rivera regarding protections and mitigations for the surrounding neighborhood,” the statement added.
During her 2017 City Council campaign, Rivera expressed support for the Tech Hub, but only provided the city enact some zoning measures to protect the surrounding area from what the preservationists warned would be an ongoing surge of commercial and residential development. Yet, last August, the City Council unanimously approved the Tech Hub without protections or height caps for the surrounding area.
After the groundbreaking, Village Preservation released a report outlining information found via Freedom of Information Law requests that reveal lower rent payments for RAL than the site’s previous tenant.
According to the records, RAL is set to pay around $5 million for the first three years it occupies the property, or about $1.6 million a year. For the following five years, the developer would pay $2.3 million a year. The previous tenant, PC Richard & Son, paid $1.7 million annually for a two-story building.
Other documents in the report show the city has no written record of why RAL was selected to take on the project over other bidders that did ask for an upzoning request, allowing for the creation of more commercial office space.
In 2015, RAL made a least a $10,000 contribution to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s nonprofit Campaign for One New York, according to the New York Post.
The Union Square Tech Training Center is scheduled to open by 2020. The 21-story building will include a digital-skills training space operated by nonprofit Civic Hall, in addition to a co-working space for startups and established tech companies alike.
One floor will have space for community organizations, as well as a food hall, retail spaces, and small businesses, according to the city’s Economic Development Corporation.