University Settlement and the Seward Park Redevelopment Project ("Essex Crossing")
The question has been raised by many friends of University Settlement, "How is the organization involved in the Essex Crossing project?" As part of the process for generating and then evaluating responses from development teams to the City's Request for Proposals (RFP), Community Board 3 was asked to appoint a special Task Force to be directly involved in the review and selection process. This model for community participation in a very complex development project is unique and very innovative, and represents an amazing collaboration between the community and the public agencies overseeing the development.
Michael Zisser, our CEO and a public member of the CB3 Land Use Committee, was asked to be on this task force. A condition for participation was that University Settlement could not be a designated partner on any team responding to the RFP. Having been involved for many years in the planning process which resulted in this project moving forward, Dr. Zisser decided that it was more important to the process and the future of the project that he be involved in the task force than to participate on a team. The community worked very hard over many years to establish the key principals which would guide the development of the Seward Park Urban Renewal site, and understood that full implementation would also take many additional years. Now that the development team has been selected, the Task Force will be responsible for working closely with the City to ensure that all community goals incorporated in the plan are in fact met.
The Essex Crossing development project, when completed, will occupy the remaining vacant parcels in the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area along Delancey Street which were cleared more than forty years ago, as well as the currently occupied and vacant structures originally constructed for the Essex Street Market. Essex Crossing will have 1000 units of housing, half of which will be permanently affordable and half market-rate. The 50% affordable component was the most important community priority, and these units will be distributed across and blended into the buildings on most of the development sites. The Essex Street Market will be moved to a new location and greatly expanded, and contain the amenities which a thriving market now requires. There will be several hundred thousand square feet of retail space, with a strong emphasis on stores targeted to serving the local community, a movie theater, commercial space designed to accommodate creative components of the business sector, a new public open space, and many other urban design amenities.
More than any other large scale development in New York City recently completed or underway, in which publicly owned land would be transferred to private developers and/or where government approvals were necessary, this project has been a model for constructive collaboration between the community and the City (specifically, the Economic Development Corporation and the Housing Preservation Department). The community has been involved in every step of this process, in which many compromises had to be resolved and all stakeholders could be accommodated. Essential priorities emerged from this participatory process - especially the critical housing component - and those priorities helped to shape the City's RFP process and final selection.
This large scale development will shape the future of the Lower East Side community for generations to come, and University Settlement is proud to be an active and engaged participant in ensuring that the community's interests are well represented.