Unions Tout Jobs in Riverside Center Development

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By Roland Li

In the first official Community Board 7 public hearing for Riverside Center, residents reiterated many of the concerns for the five-building, mixed-use development. But new voices also expressed support for the plan, reflecting the community’s complicated feelings about Extell Development Corp.’s project.

The hearing, held June 15 at P.S. 191, saw residents express repeat opposition toward the automobile showroom, underground parking, increased density and elevated public spaces that Extell has proposed. Others called again for a full 150,000-square-foot school.

An artist’s rendering of Riverside Center.

But construction union members voiced their support for Extell’s project, which is slated for the area bounded by West End Avenue, Riverside Boulevard and West 59th and 61st streets. Union member Jason Delgado said the Riverside Center project would put “thousands of people back to work,” much needed progress for a beleaguered construction industry that has had an unemployment rate as high as 30 percent during the economic downturn. He pushed for the project to move forward.

Ethel Sheffer, head of Community Board 7’s Riverside Center Working Group, said that the choice was not between no construction jobs and development, but rather a question of modifying the development to be in line with
community interests.

Residents of some of the new condos and rental buildings in the area pointed to Extell’s development of residential towers as a proven track record in the neighborhood, and praised the design of the new project as an appealing addition to the neighborhood.

However, as the testimonies continued, criticism of the project and Extell mounted.

“Quantity does not equal quality,” said a representative of the 515 West 59th Street Tenant Association.

“I’m insulted that my street, my home, is being turned into a service alley,” she added, referring to Extell’s plans to have buildings’ service entrances on 59th Street, instead of storefronts.

David Black, who runs the website www.riversidecentric.com, called the increased density of the buildings “suffocating large” and said Extell was trying to “ram through” a massive proposal that was much larger than the 1992 proposal that was originally approved for the site. That proposal called for 2.4 million square feet, while the Extell proposal calls for around 3 million square feet.

Howard Yourow, of the Historic District Council, and Kate Wood, of Landmark West, voiced concerns for the future of the McKim, Mead and White-designed IRC power station, known as the Con Ed building. They both said that the Extell proposal, in its current form, would jeopardize the building’s future.

“This is the type of thing that kills,” Wood said.

For Extell’s part, the developer is resistant to any changes to the project, but a representative from the company said that it was still in the review process and much was up for negotiation.

After the meeting, Board 7 chair Mel Wymore was adamant that the automobile dealership be removed and parking spaces be reduced, dismissing arguments that Extell would need these elements to fund the project.

“That’s a lack of innovation,” she said.

The appeal of an auto showcase was that the tenant would pay more upfront for usage, she added.

Board 7 could issue a non-binding advisory recommendation on the project as early as the next meeting, June 29, but most likely a decision will be made July 6. The proposal will then go to Borough President Scott Stringer’s office, who will issue a recommendation. City Planning will approve, modify or reject the project around September. A City Council vote will ultimately decide Riverside Center’s fate at the end of the year.

While no one has opposed the entire project and it seems inevitable that something will be built, the battle has turned to the details. Many residents in the community believe that relenting now will lead to a permanent development that will be unacceptable.

“You sacrifice possibilities for the future,” said one resident.

An overview of the Riverside Center development.

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