57° Good Afternoon
57° Good Afternoon

Welcome midtown expansion (with oversight)

A general view of the New York Transit

A general view of the New York Transit Museum's 11th Annual Holiday Train Show at Grand Central Station on November 19, 2012 in New York City. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Ben Gabbe

Even as it bustles with commuters from Grand Central Terminal, the midtown east area has remained economically stagnant. Just two midsized office buildings -- and not a single skyscraper -- were built in the last decade.

But now, there's progress. A committee soon will make recommendations on rezoning the area -- which stretches from East 39th Street up to East 57th Street -- according to Councilman Daniel Garodnick. The city's Planning Department should take the panel's suggestions seriously, and move forward with finalizing a rezoning that could revitalize the very center of Manhattan.

The proposed rezoning couples NYC's approval of developers' plans to build bigger and taller with a commitment to improve transit infrastructure. At a time when the state-run MTA isn't focused on making smaller but necessary improvements to the subways, that's welcome news. The timing is particularly good for commuters, as needs related to East Side Access plans are on the public transit wish list.

The first hints of life came in May when the City Council approved One Vanderbilt, a 63-story office building next to Grand Central. In exchange, developer SL Green will spend $220 million on public improvements, including connecting hallways, escalators and a transit hall for future Long Island Rail Road commuters.

That's just the start. A broader deal for midtown east could mean new office towers and an economic boost. Landmark building owners could sell air rights. Better subway entrances and platforms could be on the horizon.

A rezoning has to be far-reaching, with broad density, height and setback guidelines, while maintaining light and air standards. It'll need enforcement, so public transit improvements are timely, well-constructed and completed. Plans to give a temporary certificate of occupancy only after the transit work is done should help.

And if done well, an old tried and true neighborhood will finally get the vibrant restoration it needs -- and commuters may benefit, too.


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