Riverside South, Manhattan

Riverside South is an urban development project in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York City. It was originated by six civic associations – Municipal Art Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Parks Council, Regional Plan Association, Riverside Park Fund, and Westpride – in partnership with real estate developer Donald Trump. The largely residential complex, located on the site of a former New York Central Railroad yard, includes Trump Place and Riverside Center. The $3 billion project is on 57 acres (23 ha) of land along the Hudson River between 59th Street and 72nd Street.

Development of the rail yard site generated considerable community opposition. Trump's 1970s-era proposal was opposed and failed to gain traction. In 1982, Lincoln West, a much smaller project, was approved with community support, but the developers failed to obtain financing. Planning for the current project began in the late 1980s. The project was originally designed to include 16 apartment buildings with a maximum of 5,700 residential units, 1,800,000 square feet (170,000 m2) of studio space, 300,000 square feet (30,000 m2) of office space, ancillary retail space, and a 25-acre (10 ha) waterfront park.

Trump sold Riverside South to investors from Hong Kong and China, who began construction in 1997. In 2005, the investors sold the remaining unfinished portions to the Carlyle Group and the Extell Development Company.

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60th Street Rail Yard

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The New York Central 69th "bridge" used to transfer freight by car float across the Hudson, now in Riverside Park South

The land for the development was formerly a rail freight yard owned by the New York Central Railroad, located between 59th and 72nd streets. By 1849 an embankment near West End Avenue, with a span over a tidal lagoon, carried the Hudson River Railroad, later part of New York Central. At the time the current site of Riverside South was still underwater. By 1880, what had been river was transformed by landfill into the New York Central Railroad’s vast 60th Street Yard.

New York Central's rail track north of 72nd Street was covered in the 1930s in a Robert Moses project, part of a vast "West Side Improvement" which separated rail lines from surface traffic throughout the length of the West Side. The Moses project was bigger than Hoover Dam and created the Henry Hudson Parkway. It also created Riverside Park in such a way that the park and road look like they are set on a natural slope.

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Stonework of a former rail embankment in Riverside Park South

Until the 1970s, the rail yard area was generally industrial. The area was home to a printing plant for The New York Times between 1959 and 1975, as well as ABC television studios. At the same time, public housing extended to West End Avenue (across the street from the printing plant and the TV studios), and the Lincoln Towers redevelopment project extended to the rail yard boundary along Freedom Place. In 1962, the railroad proposed a partnership with the Amalgamated Lithographers Union to build a mixed-use development with 5,300 apartments, Litho City, on a platform over the tracks, with landfill in the Hudson River added for parks and docking facilities. Litho City was conceived as the centerpiece of a grandiose "master plan" for the entire Lincoln Square area. In the late 1960s, there were various proposals by the city's Educational Construction Fund for mixed residential and school projects, also partly on landfill.

New York Central merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad to form Penn Central in 1968 as the rail lines were suffering severe financial difficulties that would ultimately lead to the demise of both. (The rail yard was known as the "Penn Yards" even though Penn Central only owned it for a brief period.) The railroad finally went bankrupt in 1971, and the use was discontinued.

Redevelopment plans

Early planning and Lincoln West

After Penn Central's bankruptcy, real estate developer Donald Trump first optioned the property for $10 million in 1974. His proposal for 12,450 apartments depended on public financing, which never materialized. One version had a relocated highway and a pseudo-park.

The Macri Group, an Argentine company, bought the property in partnership with investor Abe Hirschfeld in 1979, and in 1982, for the first time, a redevelopment plan was approved for the site – a 7,300,000-square-foot (680,000 m2), largely residential project named Lincoln West. However, the development team was unable to obtain financing, and the project died. Subsequently, in January 1985, Trump bought the rights of the Macri Group for $95 million.

Television City

Trump proposed building a vast complex he called Television City, featuring headquarters for NBC along with television studios. The plan involved 15,500,000 square feet (1,440,000 m2) of residential, retail, office, and studio construction, including 7,600 residential units, a parking garage, a shopping mall, a hotel, and other spaces. The centerpiece of the project, designed by Helmut Jahn, was to be a 150- to 152-story tower, dubbed the "World's Tallest Building." However, since the new plan was more than twice the size of the previously approved project, Television City generated fierce opposition. One year later, the project was redesigned by Alexander Cooper and downsized slightly to 14,500,000 square feet (1,350,000 m2), but that failed to satisfy critics. NBC, fearing delays, eventually decided to continue broadcasting from Rockefeller Center. Trump then removed the studio space in favor of open space, added office buildings, and renamed the project Trump City.

Riverside South plan

In 1989, six civic organizations proposed an alternative plan devised by Daniel Gutman, an environmental planner, and Paul Willen, an architect. Known as Riverside South, this civic alternative was a largely residential project of 7,300,000 square feet (680,000 m2), the previously approved floor area, based on relocating, and partially burying the West Side Highway to make room for a 23-acre (9.3 ha) expansion of Riverside Park, mirroring the design of Riverside Park further north. To create the park, Trump City's proposed shopping mall would be removed and the elevated West Side Highway would be relocated eastward to grade and buried. A new Riverside Boulevard would curve above the relocated highway, with the park sloping down toward the river. Hobbled by his weak financial position, Trump acquiesced and formed a partnership with his critics, formally the Riverside South Planning Corporation (RSPC).

With a master plan by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the RSPC compromise project was approved in 1992 without the television studios and office space that Trump had substituted for some of the residential space. The final project size was 6,100,000 square feet (570,000 m2) with 1,800,000 square feet (170,000 m2) of television studios still possible on the two southern blocks. Aside from a major new park, the community was promised a significant enhancement to Freedom Place, an existing four-block street behind a Lincoln Towers parking garage, including a monument to replace a plaque commemorating the three civil rights workers who were killed in Mississippi in 1963.

Early on, the project faced opposition for being larger than the previously approved Lincoln West, for increasing traffic on West End Avenue and crowding at the 72nd Street subway station, for including no affordable housing, and because of its association with Trump. Minor objections included potentially blocking all of the westward-facing windows of the Chatsworth, a preexisting apartment building on 72nd Street, as well as views from Lincoln Towers. In addition, residents of 71st Street objected to the extension of their street to Riverside Boulevard, thereby making their cul-de-sac into a through street.

The 71st Street problem was easily solved by placing bollards between the existing cul-de-sac and a new mirror-image cul-de-sac on Riverside South property. Most of the major issues were resolved during the approval process. Trump agreed to slightly reduce the overall project size, to partially fund an expansion of the subway station, to a guarantee the affordability of a minimum of 12% of the dwelling units, and that the development would pay for construction and maintenance of the new public park. However, some people still strongly opposed the project, with U.S. Representative Jerry Nadler saying that the public park would be a $10,000,000-per-acre ($25,000,000/ha) "private backyard for the people who live in these buildings."

Construction

Start of construction

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View north from Riverside Park South. Buildings and the West Side Highway are in the background; park elements are in the foreground.

With Chase Manhattan Bank demanding repayment, Trump gave controlling interest of the project to the consortium of Hong Kong- and China-based investors, Polylinks, in June 1994. The Hong Kong and China consortium Polylinks International Ltd., represented by real estate broker Susan Cara, paid $82 million to Chase to obtain the property, after renegotiating both Trump's business and personal debt down from $300 million. This joint venture finally put in motion the largest private development project in New York City history. Trump remained as the public face of the group, as he has on many other projects, but he lost control. Due to the weak economy, as well as significant community opposition, construction was delayed for several years as lawsuits were resolved and the new investors sought public financing or mortgage insurance.

The development was delayed repeatedly, with the first building originally slated to start construction in 1995, then in October 1996, and finally in January 1997. With improvement in the development climate, the new investors began construction in 1997, placing the name "Trump Place" in large letters on three buildings. Although Trump ceased his active involvement in the development in 2001, he retained his 30% limited partnership.

Despite Trump's reputation for quality, the Buildings Department discovered in November 1997 that defective concrete had been used in the capitals of columns supporting the fifth floor of 300 Riverside Boulevard, which had been built to 20 stories high by then. Fearing that the planned 46-story structure might collapse if the building rose by even 10 more stories, the City halted construction. Work on 300 Riverside Boulevard resumed in early 1998 after the defective concrete was torn out and new concrete was poured.

West Side Highway relocation

One of the key components of Riverside South is relocating the West Side Highway eastward from a viaduct to a rail-yard-grade-level tunnel between approximately West 70th Street and West 61st Street to facilitate a southward expansion of Riverside Park. The current viaduct between 72nd and 59th Streets is the only remaining section of the West Side Elevated Highway that once ran to the southern tip of Manhattan. The highway closed in 1973 when part of the 1920s- and 1930s-era elevated highway collapsed at 14th Street. Below 34th Street, the proposed replacement, an interstate highway in new landfill known as Westway, was defeated, so in 1988, the state settled on an at-grade boulevard up to 57th Street flanked by a new Hudson River Park.

Robert Moses had proposed relocating the highway between 59th and 72nd streets to grade to facilitate an extension of Riverside Park. But the state rejected that proposal because of the presumed negative effect on development opportunities and because it would violate the Blumenthal Amendment, which prohibited any highway construction that would alter Riverside Park. In 1976, Donald Trump seized on Robert Moses' proposal as a way to enhance his development plans, negating one of State DOT's objections. But cost was still an issue. While the state owned an easement through the site, neither the state nor the city (nor Trump, at that point) owned the land. Although the City could have acquired the land in the 1970s from the bankrupt Penn Central, the City was near bankruptcy itself, and consequently preferred to keep the site in private hands to forestall demands for public expenditure. Trump's proposed 12,000-unit residential development went nowhere. So the state proposed to reconstruct the viaduct through the rail yard site.

With city approval in 1992 of the Riverside South plan, Trump agreed to turn over the land for both the park and the highway relocation. He also agreed to create a public park with private funds. But opponents maintained that any complementary public funding to bury the road would benefit only the developer. And the new mayor and governor scuttled preparations for relocating the highway because, they argued, relocation would effectively waste the public funds used for the viaduct renovation, which had already begun. Other opponents were upset by the decision to close the West Side Highway northbound entrance and exit ramps at 72nd Street and fought to deny the highway project any funding, thinking that they could thereby scuttle the entire development.

Nevertheless, planning proceeded, albeit in fits and starts. Approved by the Federal Highway Administration in 2001, the highway plan called for relocating the elevated highway to the grade of the rail yard east of the present alignment, constructing supports for Riverside Boulevard in the form of a tunnel enclosing the highway's northbound lanes, with the park beginning above an adjacent tunnel enclosing the southbound lanes and continuing on a slope down to the waterfront. The exit ramp was subsequently closed and, in June 2006, the developer began construction of the northbound tunnel between 61st and 65th Streets. However, the tunnel remains unfinished.

Opening and new developers

The project was jointly developed by the Trump Organization and Hudson Waterfront Associates, representing the Hong Kong investors.

In 2005, the Chinese investors sold the project, excluding the finished condominiums, to the Carlyle Group and the Extell Development Company. Contending that the sale for $1.76 billion was little more than half what the property was worth, Trump sued his partners, but lost. Carlyle and Extell then sold the three apartment buildings with rental units to another company called Equity Residential.

In late 2008, Extell proposed a 2,900,000-square-foot (270,000 m2), largely residential project on the southern two blocks (59th to 61st Streets) to complete the development (up from 2,400,000 square feet (220,000 m2) – the 1,800,000 square feet (170,000 m2) of studio space plus 600,000 square feet (56,000 m2) of residential space already approved). The Extell project, known as Riverside Center, was approved by the City Council in 2010.

Components

Buildings

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Street view of Riverside South buildings

The second phase of Riverside South was completed when the housing market improved. Extell completed three buildings: The Avery (100 Riverside Boulevard), a 32-floor, 274-unit tower; The Rushmore (80 Riverside Boulevard), a group of 43-story towers that share sixteen lower floors and contain a combined 289 units; and The Aldyn (60 Riverside Boulevard), a 40-floor condominium buildings. The Riverside Center buildings were approved in November 2010.

Overall, the project consists of 19 apartment buildings, condominiums, and lease properties. As of 2012, the buildings housed a combined 8,000 people; the area was collectively called "Riverside Boulevard" after its main street, or "The Strip" after its long, narrow shape. Six more towers with a combined 3,000 units, as well as a school, a hotel, retail and restaurant space, and space for a movie theater, had yet to be completed. A 3.4-acre (1.4 ha) park between the buildings was in the planning stages. Most living units in Riverside South are high-end housing, costing at least $2,000 per square foot (22,000/m2). Per-foot real estate prices for Riverside South housing rose 66% from 2004 to 2014, compared with a 43% increase in real estate on the Upper West Side overall. For instance, baseball player Alex Rodriguez bought a 39th-floor Rushmore condominium for $5.5 million in March 2011, then sold it for $8 million in January 2012.

At the same time, 12% to 20% of the units will be designated as affordable, as required by the City Planning Commission approval of the project. However, some buildings in the development, such as One Riverside Park, came under controversy in 2013 for having separate entrances for affordable-housing residents, despite the legality of such "poor doors" in mixed-housing buildings.

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Baseball field at the southern end of Riverside Park with Riverside South buildings in the background.

As of November 2014, the last two Riverside South projects were being completed; these projects were the off-centered, 362-unit One West End condominium building, as well as a glass-and-masonry, 616-unit rental building at 21 West End Avenue. The former was slated to have 116 affordable units, while the latter would have 127 affordable units. These two buildings were being built in conjunction with a 700-seat public school and retail spaces, as well as a possible "European-style food market and restaurant". The project's developers, Extell and Carlyle, were planning to sell the remaining three building lots to a Boston-based company, General Investment and Development Companies. In the same year, Collegiate School announced plans to build a new 10-story campus building at 301 Freedom Place South.

After the 2016 presidential election, petitions from current residents led the owner of the three buildings at 140, 160, and 180 Riverside Boulevard to remove the name "Trump Place" from the facades. Residents cited Trump's offensive behavior during the U.S. 2016 presidential campaign.

Parks

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The Little Engine Playground in Riverside Park South

The new 25-acre (10 ha) Riverside Park South extends Riverside Park. Phase 1, a 7-acre (2.8 ha) section from 72nd to 68th Streets, was opened in April 2001. Pier I at 70th Street, part of the railyard, was rebuilt; it maintains its original length of 795 feet (242 m), but is narrower than originally, at 55 feet (17 m). Phase 2 comprises a waterfront section from 70th Street to 65th Street. Phase 2, opened in June 2003, has two plazas at 66th and 68th Streets, as well as a jagged waterfront. Phase 3, opened in August 2006, stretches from 65th Street to 62nd Street on the waterfront. Phase 4 opened in 2007 along the waterfront from 62nd to 57th Streets. A new mixed-use bikeway and walkway was also built through the park, linking Hudson River Park with Riverside Park.

The design of Phases 5 and 6, located between the current and future highway alignments, is partly tied to the fate of the highway relocation, the timing of which is still uncertain. The city plans to expand the park with new baseball and soccer fields, bikeways, lawns, picnic areas, and restrooms. To further that plan, the Parks Department has approved a design for the last two sections; construction will start in 2017. Relocating the highway will require some reconstruction of the park.

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Soccer field at northern end of Riverside Park South.

The park contains site-specific sculptures, railway ruins, gardens, a waterfront promenade, and a walkway. Portions of the former rail yard, such as the New York Central Railroad 69th Street Transfer Bridge, were incorporated into the new park. The transfer bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. Nearly a dozen rail yard ruins, such as a burnt warehouse frame, were ultimately integrated into the park. As a reminder of the location's history, New York Central Railroad logos are engraved onto park benches. A block away, on West End Avenue, a privately owned park has a remnant of a stone wall, as a remaining part of the embankment that dated to 1847. Construction workers had unearthed the stones during construction in 1994; some stones were salvaged for the new park during the four-day construction hiatus for archaeological excavation.

Other structures

Manhattan Community Board 7 members blamed Trump for failing to build the proposed enhancement and monument at Freedom Place. However, the Riverside South Planning Corporation said that the Freedom Place plan was merely a concept for an arts program that was not included in the final project.

As a continuation in spirit of the current Freedom Place, Riverside South created a Freedom Place South running southward from 64th Street to 59th Street, where the historic, full-block IRT Powerhouse and Riverside Center building are located. Adjacent to the Powerhouse, and visible from Freedom Place South, is a new tetrahedron-shaped building at 625 West 57th Street, also known as VIA 57 West.

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