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The Future Is Looking Up for East Midtown

The Future Is Looking Up for East Midtown
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Bianca Bagnarelli

New York’s City Council is expected on Wednesday to give final approval to new zoning regulations for a vital but aging slice of Manhattan known as East Midtown. If the rule changes work as intended, new office towers will rise in that part of town, improving its chances of competing with other world cities and even with emerging commercial centers at Manhattan’s southern tip and on its Far West Side.

This plan, which has the de Blasio administration’s blessing, is the product of inevitable compromises to accommodate diverse and at times conflicting political, real estate, religious and preservationist interests. As such, it is imperfect. Nonetheless, the concept is laudable. It would be a mistake to let the perfect, however it’s defined, be the enemy of the good.

The city anticipates that 6.5 million square feet of office space will eventually be added to the existing 60 million in East Midtown, which encompasses 78 blocks stretching north-south from 57th to 39th Streets and east-west from Third to Madison Avenues. The area now generates 10 percent of city real estate taxes and has a weekday work force of 250,000.

A consensus formed that the area had lost vibrancy and that many of its buildings — on average 75 years old — were ill suited for the digital age. The rezoning aims to keep it in the global economic ballgame. The effort began in the Bloomberg administration, which tried unsuccessfully in its final months to rush a plan into law. This page thought then that more time was needed to think it through, not least the new stresses on public transportation.

Under the revised plan, developers of towers near subway stations would have to pay — upfront — for improvements like new entrances and wider stairways. Until that work was done, the city would not give those buildings its approval. In addition, a “public realm improvement fund” would pay for widening sidewalks and creating pedestrian plazas in some places, like the eastern edge of Pershing Square, opposite Grand Central Terminal.

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