Will Planned ‘Tech Hub’ Overwhelm Union Square Area?

A “tech hub” planned for the Union Square area has set off a battle between the East Village community and Mayor Bill de Blasio over affordable housing and rezoning.

The mayor announced plans for a 258,000-square-foot center at 124 East 14th St. called the Union Square Tech Hub in December 2016, saying it would “create a central convening point for technology, training, and networking” and “will generate 600 good-paying jobs.” He intends to release more details early next year, with construction planned to start later in 2018.

The Tech Hub is expected to cost $250 million, according to the Gizmodo tech-news site; according to the late DNAinfo, it is being designed by Davis Brody Bond and will be built by RAL Development Services. The plan will also allow large-scale commercial development south of 14th Street between University Place and Third Avenue, down to East 11th Street.

Outgoing City Councilmember Rosie Mendez, who represents the East Village/ Union Square area, and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) are leading the fight for including affordable-housing protections, zoning restrictions on building size, and landmark preservation in the plan. So far, the City Planning Department has refused to support such measures. The Council must approve the plan for it to be implemented.

Five rent-stabilized buildings at 112- 12 0 East 11th St., between Third and Fourth avenues, have already been demolished. The Lightstone Group, which owns the site, is now building a 13-story Moxy hotel with bars and clubs. Tenants and the GVSHP asked the city Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2008 to protect the five buildings as examples of 19th-century residential architecture, but it never did. A 232-foot commercial/residential building is slated for 809 Broadway, between East 11th and 12th streets.

On Oct. 12, area residents confronted de Blasio about the Tech Hub plan at a town hall meeting on the Lower East Side, saying it would accelerate oversize commercial development and threaten rent-stabilized housing. The mayor was generally noncommittal. He replied that the city might consider including protections for affordable housing and zoning for landmarked and potentially landmarked buildings.

On Oct. 31, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to give landmark status to 827 and 831 Broadway, a pair of four-story cast-iron buildings constructed in 1866. They were once home to artists Willem and Elaine de Kooning and Paul Jenkins. Quality Capital and Caerus Group, which bought the property and 30,000 square feet of air rights for $60 million in 2015, had planned to demolish them for a 14-story office tower. The LPC had earlier rejected GVSHP’s plea for landmark designation. According to GVSHP, the owners are now considering asking the commission to approve a large-scale addition to the buildings.

Councilmember Mendez told an LPC hearing Oct. 17 that the buildings had great “commercial, historical, and architectural significance.”

At a Community Board 3 meeting Nov. 1, residents asked the board to support the rezoning as proposed by GVSHP and Mendez, saying it would protect their homes, create much needed affordable housing, and preserve the heritage of the neighborhood.