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High-Rise Approval Secures $220 Million for Grand Central Terminal Improvements

In exchange for the approval to build One Vanderbilt, a 63-story office tower adjacent to Grand Central Terminal, the developer will give the MTA $220 million for upgrades to entrances of the Metro-North Railroad and the terminal's subway entrances.
June 2, 2015, 8am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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The City Council gave its approval for the plan on May 27, overcoming what was considered the biggest obstacle to the tower and the transit improvements.

"Plans for the skyscraper have been at the center of long-running negotiations to improve the bustling subway station at Grand Central [second busiest after Times Square], particularly on the overcrowded 4, 5 and 6 trains on the Lexington Avenue subway line," writes Emma G. Fitzsimmons for The New York Times. "Mayor Bill de Blasio has supported the rezoning plan."

As part of the deal, the developer, SL Green Realty, will build new subway entrances as well as a pedestrian plaza at street level, a public hall in the building’s lobby and other upgrades.

The approach has been viewed by some proponents as a model for how the Metropolitan Transportation Authority can pay for some projects as it grapples with a $14 billion shortfall in the agency’s $32 billion proposed capital plan. 

The location at the corner of 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue is adjacent to the landmark terminal. The tower is opposed by Andrew S. Penson, "(t)he investor who owns Grand Central, " writes Fitzsimmons. "He has argued that the agreement would be a 'massive giveaway' to a big real estate company."

The 1,501-foot-tall, 1.6 million-square-foot skyscraper building will be the city's third tallest, dwarfing the nearby 1,046 feet-tall, 71-story Chrysler Building. "The tower and the infrastructure upgrades are expected to be finished by 2021, the company said," notes Fitzsimmons.

The Council's approval is a reversal from an earlier upzoning plan, backed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg for the area known as East Midtown.

"SL Green will also pay for direct connections beneath the tower to the subway, the Metro-North Railroad and eventually the Long Island Rail Road, which will stop in Grand Central after the authority’s East Side Access Project is complete," adds Fitzsimmons.

Transit advocates have also applauded the Grand Central deal, saying it served as a test case for incentive plans in which developers pay for transit improvements in exchange for permission to build.

Similar arrangements have been done at Boston's Back Bay Station and at Atlanta's MARTA stations, though they were for air rights and perhaps not on the same scale as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has worked out for the 63-story office tower known as One Vanderbilt.

Hat tip to Jennifer Scholtes, transportation reporter for POLITICO Morning Transportation.

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Published on Wednesday, May 27, 2015 in The New York Times - N.Y. / Region
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