NEW YORK—The end is in sight for the East River Esplanade and the complex United Nations land exchange that the esplanade hinges on.
The exchange has the United Nations selling One and Two UN Plaza and consolidating those and other offices into a new billion-dollar building, which will be built on the western portion of Robert Moses playground after the city gives it to the United Nations.
One key reason the United Nations would want to build on Robert Moses is a planned underground tunnel connecting their existing riverside building to the new building.
Before construction begins, the city and state must officially turn Astor Levy Place into a park.
New Yorkers are expected to benefit from the new building since the city will get money to develop the East River waterfront from 38th Street up to the Queensboro Bridge. All funds—$193 million to $213 million— for the new one-mile esplanade will come from the United Nations.
The first $3 million in UN funds went into the EGAP (East River Gap) fund in December as reimbursement to the city for planning the esplanade and walkway. The next $70 million will come from proceeds from $1.1 billion to $1.2 billion in bonds issued if the Uniform Land Review Use Process (ULRUP) goes through for the new UN building.
The United Nations Development Corporation (UNDC) hopes to begin construction on the consolidation building by the end of 2013, before the mayor leaves office, and have it ready for occupancy around three years laer, according to minutes from a March UNDC meeting.
Then, the sale of the two office buildings, expected to garner $120 million to $150 million, will cap off the development funds.
Since all this can become quite complex, an EGAP board of politicians has been created, including state Sen. Liz Krueger, Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, and Councilman Dan Garodnick.
However, the United Nations itself has technically not agreed to the construction and has been meeting constantly with various committees and analyzing the situation. According to the UNDC board meeting minutes, the United Nations typically makes major decisions on one day—Christmas Eve.
“We have no control over what happens at the United Nations,” explained UNDC board Chairman George Klein. The goal is to sign the lease between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, “so no vacations, please,” he said to the board.
The UNDC has agreed to $25.9 million in contracts with architects to begin designing the building. After 30 years of paying rent to the city, the building would be owned by the United Nations.
Joel Silverman, former HRC president and associate professor at Columbia Graduate School who has worked on major buildings such the Javits Center, joined the UNDC board to help oversee construction and design.
To let residents in on ongoing discussions between the intermediary UNDC and the EGAP board, an EGAP advisory board will be formed with representation from Community Boards 6 and 8, and citywide organizations involved in the process such as Transportation Alternatives and the Municipal Arts Society.
As for what the millions coming from the United Nations will be specifically used for, Assemblyman Kavanagh said there is no earmarking, and some could even potentially be used for the Blueway Plan, that would develop another section of the East River waterfront from 38th Street down to the Brooklyn Bridge.
“Maybe there will be a blue-green patch where they meet,” he said, before concluding that many more meetings would happen. “Obviously this is going to be an ongoing and long conversation for many years.”