NEW YORK (AP) — New York didn't let its loss of the 2012 Olympics keep the city from moving on to another venture: building up the largest undeveloped parcel in Manhattan.
The old Hudson rail yards on Manhattan's West Side might have become the Olympic stadium if the city had won the summer games when it bid on them years ago. Instead, a $15 billion small city within a city will soon start rising on the 26 acres of land by the Hudson River, with the construction on the first building set for this year.
Eventually, Hudson Yards is expected to dramatically change New York's skyline.
The cluster of commercial and residential high-rises is flanked by parkland, a cultural center, restaurants, shops, a hotel and a school, according to the latest renderings obtained by The Associated Press.
The main developer, Stephen Ross, told the AP that groundbreaking is planned sometime in October for the 12 million square feet of real estate space — New York's most ambitious private construction since Rockefeller Center was built in the 1930s amid the Great Depression.
Some have dubbed the neighborhood "Manhattan's final frontier." Bounded by 10th and 12th avenues and West 30th and 33rd streets, it is Manhattan's largest tract of land still available for major development, followed by the World Trade Center being rebuilt downtown a decade after the terrorist attack.
Surrounding the rail storage yards in this once bleak industrial area were potholed roads leading to car and horse-drawn carriage garages, warehouses, low-rent brownstones, cheap delis and strip clubs.
Hudson Yards' first building, set to open in 2015, is a $1.3 billion, 46-floor tower — nearly half of it to be occupied by the Coach luxury leather goods manufacturer. Its glass atrium will stand alongside the High Line, a mile-long, elevated public greenway transformed from a defunct freight railway weaving through the artsy Chelsea neighborhood to the south.
This inaugural tower is part of a master plan designed by the Manhattan architectural firm Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, which has produced the tallest towers in China, Korea, Hong Kong, France and Great Britain.
Still, in New York, "to build these very large structures on top of the tracks is a huge challenge," says the firm's co-founder, architect Bill Pedersen. "It's like dental work, threading through down below."
An $800,000 platform will cover the field of open tracks that will continue to be used by the Long Island Rail Road, stretching under the nearby Pennsylvania Station transport hub linked by Amtrak to other parts of the country.
The load-bearing main pillars of the first tower will be firmly planted into the ground, not on the platform.
Ross told the AP that the chosen architect for another high-rise along central, tree-lined Hudson Park and Boulevard is David Childs, who designed New York's tallest building — One World Trade Center, to be occupied by 2014.
"They're creating a whole new landscape, a whole new district of New York City," says Bob Yaro, president of the not-for-profit Regional Plan Association think tank. "It will ensure that as the economy recovers, New York will have places for new business."
America's biggest city has turned its Olympic defeat into an urban planning adventure.
London won the summer games in 2005 — a stinging disappointment for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
"We didn't get it, but we didn't go and cry," the mayor said days after the games opened. Instead, he put the city's Hudson Yards Development Corp. to work on what he calls "a historic project that will create jobs for generations to come."
A 60-block stretch of the West Side was rezoned to accommodate 25 million square feet of office space New York City will gradually build as midtown Manhattan's business district runs out of room in the future. Hudson Yards fits into this cutting-edge new neighborhood.
While the recession has slowed New York's economy, with unemployment topping 10 percent this summer, the city's media, arts, fashion, technology and finance sectors have driven the creation of more private-sector jobs than ever in recent years. The city has added 181,000 jobs since the recession, nearly 41,000 more than it lost, according to a new report from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
Hudson Yards will generate tens of thousands more jobs over the next dozen years, the city estimates.
And the community will draw people from all over with its riverfront park and the Culture Shed, an exotic five-story structure with translucent, telescoping outer shells to accommodate art exhibitions, concerts, film screenings and other public events. The architect is Elizabeth Diller, with designer David Rockwell.
The pair also are to create Hudson Yards' first residential skyscraper — and the first of the development's 5,000 apartment units, 20 percent of them designated affordable.
Ross is chairman and CEO of Related Cos., which is partnering financially with the Oxford Properties Group for the project.
"This is the greatest city in the world, but its office stock is obsolete, more than 50 years old," says Ross. "To be a real estate developer, you must have vision."
When he first proposed his development in the gritty neighborhood, "everybody thought we were crazy."
The property is leased from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for 99 years, with purchase options.
The MTA state agency is extending the No. 7 subway line from Times Square to 11th Avenue, with a city corporation issuing $3 billion in bonds to pay for the new section that will open in 2014 and take riders to the heart of Hudson Yards.
Bringing this megaproject to life hasn't exactly been harmonious.
Years of bitter wrangling among politicians, business people and residents first focused around a proposed football stadium for the Jets meant to help win the city the 2012 Olympics. The stadium failed to get state approval, with opponents questioning the benefit of publicly financing a structure with limited use and possible traffic gridlock.
Then came various plans for Hudson Yards, which still has its virulent opponents.
Kathleen Treat, of the Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood Association named after an old adjacent area, dubbed Hudson Yards "Hong Kong on the Hudson."
Supporters say it's a great opportunity to push New York City into a 21st century hungry for more high-tech space.
"It's almost unbelievable to begin with what amounts to a blank canvas, and put it in the hands of a company that has the financial resources and experience to pull it off," says star restaurateur Danny Meyer.
His catering company will offer Hudson Yards ideas and services for private dining, special events, new eateries and open-air cafes with river views.
In the end, "it's not just another development — it's part of a larger effort to create a physical infrastructure for a multi-decade expansion of New York City," says Lynne Sagalyn, professor of real estate at Columbia Business School.
But she says the massive venture has its risks.
"The question is, are there tenants to anchor the project?" she asks. "The demand has to be strong, while the market can change and things happen you can't anticipate."
Bloomberg compares Hudson Yards to London's Canary Wharf financial center that in the 1990s replaced languishing docks along the Thames River.
Likewise, New York is expanding its business clout from midtown Manhattan into "this new center of gravity, a center of vitality shifting to the west and south," says Pedersen. "This puts New York in a position to be competitive with the rest of the world, which is on the move."
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