Andrew Berman Andrew Berman, executive director, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation

Every community in New York City has a part to play in ensuring we meet the needs of our growing population and economy. Whether it’s by accommodating new residents, businesses, tourists, cultural activity, services or infrastructure, New Yorkers must contribute to our city’s robust, ongoing growth.

But if Mayor de Blasio has his way, a big chunk of Greenwich Village and the East Village will do that by becoming an extension of Midtown, a new high-rise office and hotel district. Is this really the right or best way for these residential neighborhoods, with their distinct mix of culture, commerce, and community, to contribute to New York City?

Many of us think not. But this transformation is happening quite rapidly, and is being helped along by the mayor’s plans for a Tech Hub on 14th Street and his opposition to a community rezoning plan that would encourage growth in the area, but keep it primarily residential, include affordable housing (an increasingly rare commodity in this area), and keep new development in scale.

This area’s fate will be sealed one way or the other in the next few weeks. More than a half dozen out-of-scale or out-of-character high-rise office buildings, large hotels, or condo towers are planned or under construction in the few blocks between Union Square and Astor Place where this transformation is taking place. The mayor’s planned 23-story Tech Hub on 14th Street near Fourth Avenue, at the head of this area, is intended to serve as the “front door” for the tech industry in New York.

That plan is moving through the public approval process, with a final decision due this summer. If approved without the rezoning plan for the adjacent Greenwich Village and East Village neighborhoods, it will rapidly accelerate the rate of irreversible change in the area. The tech industry has already identified this predominantly residential neighborhood as the new beachhead for “Silicon Alley,” previously centered north of 14th Street in the Flatiron and Union Square area.

Architectural rendering of 124 E. 14th St. Tech Hub development.

But many developers and the real estate press have cited the coming Tech Hub as one of the reasons for this tech building boom now rushing in below 14th Street. Is turning the Village and East Village, which have so much to offer as a place of culture, art, theater, residence and commerce, into a center for office and hotel development, really the best plan for these neighborhoods or our city?

Mayor de Blasio seems to think so. And only one person can change his mind—City Council member Carlina Rivera, who represents this area, including the site of the proposed Tech Hub. 

The mayor needs her approval for the Tech Hub, since it requires a zoning change subject to a City Council vote. During her run for office in 2017, Rivera pledged to condition her support for the Tech Hub upon the mayor’s coupling it with these kinds of protections for the surrounding neighborhood. She recognized that the Tech Hub without these protections would lead to a fundamental shift in the character of this neighborhood, and that the only leverage she had to get the mayor to change his mind was to condition her support for his Tech Hub (which several of his major campaign donors and fundraisers are behind) upon providing these long-requested neighborhood protections.

The summer of 2018 is when we’ll find out if this part of Greenwich Village and the East Village become an extension of Midtown South and Silicon Alley, or retain their character with new development that’s compatible in scale and use to what’s there now. Carlina Rivera holds the cards. Whether she uses them will make all the difference for these distinctive and beloved New York City neighborhoods.

Andrew Berman is the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. The views expressed here are the author’s own and not those of ALM’s Real Estate Media Group.