2015 Watchlist

The MAS Watchlist 2015 identifies citywide,
neighborhood, and local issues that will have the
most significant impact on our built environment
in the upcoming year. As the leading organization
dedicated to advancing intelligent urban planning
and design, MAS will call attention to these
items throughout the year through our planning,
policy, and civic engagement work. For more
information, visit MAS.org.
Penn Station The busiest transit hub in the
western hemisphere is overcapacity,
underfunded, and in need of
an upgrade. But long-overdue
improvements are beyond reach
unless Madison Square Garden—which shares the site
with Penn Station—either relocates or provides more
room for commuters. Penn represents the challenge of
finding resources—and the will—to fix our crumbling, aging
Vanishing Local Retail
Keeping the streets affordable to
a mix of businesses benefits all
New Yorkers. The trend of beloved
institutions shutting their doors—the
Subway Inn, Rizzoli Bookstore, Café
Edison, etc.—speaks to the market pressures and regulatory
obstacles that threaten smaller, independent businesses. If
these businesses cannot thrive in New York, then we risk
undermining the economic diversity that makes the city so
successful and dynamic
Rent Stabilized Apartments
The future of almost one million
apartments in New York City will
be decided in Albany this year, as
legislators negotiate the renewal
of the rent stabilization law. This is
not the only housing policy that will be decided upstate — the
renewal of the rent control law and the 421-a tax abatement
are also on the 2015 legislative agenda. LPC Reform
The Landmarks Preservation
Commission faces a backlog of
almost 100 buildings and sites.
Many of these items have been with
LPC for decades, without any final
determination on their landmark status. It is now up to the
preservation community to address the backlog, and take
steps to update and modernize the landmarking process
moving forward.
MTA Budget
The MTA needs $15 billion to fund
critical capital improvements. This
year, Albany must identify ways
to pay for these improvements
and ensure our transit system
is equipped to accommodate the growing number of
commuters. All options are on the table, from tolls on the
East River bridges to multiple fare hikes to the agency
selling off key real estate assets around the city.
East Midtown
Following the decision by Mayor de
Blasio to move forward on rezoning
East Midtown, this year will see
the Vanderbilt Corridor and One
Vanderbilt project completing public
review, and a new proposal for the larger East Midtown
district taking shape. How these different projects evolve
will have long-lasting impacts on the one of the city’s most
important business hubs.
The area surrounding Cromwell and
Jerome Avenues in the Bronx is the
first of three neighborhoods that
the City will rezone as part of Mayor
de Blasio’s Housing New York
Plan (the other two neighborhoods being East New York in
Brooklyn and West Flushing in Queens). The plan calls for
200,000 affordable housing units within ten years, which will
require unprecedented collaboration between developers,
advocates, and the City.
South Street Seaport
The Howard Hughes Corporation is
proposing big changes for the South
Street Seaport, including relocating
the landmarked Tin Building,
adding a canopy to the new Pier 17
building, and introducing a controversial 42-story waterfront
tower. What is unclear is how the developer’s proposals will
address the post-Sandy reality of rising sea levels, climate
change, and the federal funds already allocated for the
resilience project known as The Big U.
Brooklyn Public Library
BPL has partnered with Hudson
Companies to build a 20-story
condo building on the site of the
current branch library at Cadman
Plaza. This joint venture will provide
BPL with a more modern library on the ground floor, as well
as an additional $40 million to be put towards maintaining
and restoring other libraries in the borough. This innovative
project is part of broader trend of leveraging development
to pay for civic assets.
Similar to the cluster of supertowers
along 57th Street, several projects
will be changing the Flatiron’s
skyline. Developers are already
planning three 50-story towers just
four blocks south of the Empire State Building and directly
north of the Madison Square Historic District. Such rapid
development underlines the need for thoughtful planning,
especially around our landmarks and open spaces.
American Museum of Natural
The American Museum of Natural
History recently proposed an
expansion of their facilities to
create new spaces for exhibitions,
labs and events. Similar to other museum expansions in
the city like the Frick, AMNH will face extreme scrutiny,
given the high profile of the museum and the fact that the
expansion would result in some loss of park space.
The Archdiocese of New York
Last year, the Archdiocese of
New York announced that it would
“consolidate” its network of 376
parishes in response to rising
operating costs and shrinking
congregations. This is the latest example of a trend among
houses of worship looking to sell off coveted land and
historic buildings to make ends meet, causing waves in
development and preservation circles.
Hudson River Park: Pier 55
The Diller - von Furstenberg Family
Foundation announced a $100
million gift to Hudson River Park
Trust to build “Pier55”—a new
public park and performance space
on Manhattan’s lower west side—as well as a commitment
to cover the new park’s maintenance, programming, and
operations costs for the next 20 years. This project is one
example of how park administrators are creating new open
space through public-private partnerships.
Bronx General Post Office
Young Woo & Associates is
seeking to redevelop the Bronx
General Post Office at the Grand
Concourse. The developer has
already submitted plans to
introduce new office space, retail, restaurants, a rooftop
terrace, while preserving the WPA-era murals in the
building and a US Post Office presence. This creative reuse could serve as a test case for other underutilized post
offices around the city.
Times Square Plaza
This fall, the City will complete its
Snohetta-designed renovations
of the Times Square pedestrian
plaza. This as policymakers
grapple with the issue of how best
to govern these new public spaces. Last year, the City
Council proposed a bill to license the costumed characters
in Times Square as a way to prevent bad behavior from the
occasional Elmo, Batman, or Cookie Monster. While that
bill seems to be on hold for the moment, the pedestrian
plaza conversation continues.