Op-Ed | Community-informed development empowers neighbors in a smart planning process for the future

Teal and orange mood of Manhattan and East river
Photo via Getty Images

We regularly see headlines of developers proudly boasting that they are building “the biggest, the tallest, the best, the most luxurious…” and so on and so forth. What about building the most inclusive, the most responsible, sustainable, community-centered, and socially aware developments that bring the highest value and benefits to the people and businesses they impact the most? 

As corporate citizens, real estate developers have a duty to understand and, most importantly, better the community life of the neighborhoods in which we have the privilege of building. By boldly engaging in responsible, dialogue-fueled development, we can sow the seeds for a more sustainable and efficient way of doing business, enabling our communities and our planet to thrive. 

Since the New York Gaming Facility Board announced the option of gaming licenses in Downstate New York for the first time in history, developers and entertainment and gaming partners are eagerly pursuing opportunities at sites across the city, while local communities have been more hesitant to embrace these proposals. 

In refining our proposal for Freedom Plaza, a transformative development of the largest parcel of undeveloped land in Manhattan, a 6.7-acre waterfront site on First Avenue between 38th and 41st Street, the Soloviev Group believes that open dialogue with neighbors, the community board, and local businesses and nonprofits is crucial to the process, as well as is keeping an open mind to doing things in a way that has never been done before.

We are proud to have been part of this community for decades, and we know that our neighbors have much in the way of expertise and ideas to share when it comes to planning for the future of this waterfront site. 

From improving overall quality of life by creating stunning and sustainable public green open spaces to providing new affordable housing in a post-pandemic NYC suffering from a housing crisis, we envision extraordinarily innovative components that will introduce economic and social benefits to our local East Side neighborhoods and all of New York City. The seeds we plant together with our community on Manhattan’s East Side can flourish, blossom, and nourish surrounding communities for generations.

Freedom Plaza will celebrate the forward-thinking democracy embodied by our site’s neighbor, the United Nations, and the democratic process will inform our planning as well, as we seek to involve community members in each phase of development from concept to completion.  This approach is synergistic with our core values, which are rooted in liberty and creative possibility. 

The revenue generated by the project’s proposed entertainment and hospitality component, developed in partnership with Mohegan, is what will allow Freedom Plaza to deliver world-class green space and significant affordable housing. 

An extension of the Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut, Mohegan is a brand with a track record of integrity, community investment, and deep respect for the earth. The organization lives its values through charitable giving, sustainability initiatives, funding infrastructure, utilizing local vendors, and providing local and state revenue generation. This partnership will allow us to create a sophisticated facility that will be respectful of our community and the environment, produce good jobs and be an engine of sustainable economic recovery. 

The guiding mission of this project is a commitment to finding out what our neighbors need, listening to concerns, and encouraging our community to consider the many benefits a truly collaborative plan can deliver. We are eagerly pursuing opportunities to communicate about all of the various aspects of the proposal, with a goal of arriving at a win-win development that enhances the community and contributes positively to the economic and cultural life of New York City. 

Michael Hershman is CEO of the Soloviev Group, a pioneer and leader in socially responsible and environmentally sustainable development with success across community-focused verticals, including hospitality, commercial and residential development, agriculture, energy, logistics and philanthropy.