(Read more on the industrial market and the multifamily market.)

NEW YORK CITY-Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and MTA director and CEO Elliot Sander opened two Requests for Proposals for development of the air space over the two development sites that comprise the MTA’s rail yards today. The two sites, the Western Rail Yard and the Eastern Rail Yard, sit on both sides of 11th Avenue, between 30th and 33rd streets. The RFPs released call for developers to submit proposals for the creation of commercial and residential districts over the active LIRR storage and maintenance facility.

This announcement of the request for proposals comes less than two years after plans for a new Jets and Olympic stadium on the Hudson Yards site were defeated.

Developers may make proposals to buy or lease the air rights and will be evaluated by both transportation and city officials. The sale process was due to begin in May but it was delayed by negotiations between the city, the authority, Quinn and others over affordable housing, the cultural center and a defunct elevated railway that hugs the site.

Respondents have 90 days to submit proposals, which will be evaluated by MTA staff and then reviewed by a selection committee appointed by MTA with HYDC representation as well. The recommended proposal or proposals will then go to the MTA board for consideration likely in February or March 2008, according to a release.

Spitzer declined to name an asking price, but said the MTA hopes to raise enough to erase a $1-billion deficit in its construction budget. The winning developer or developers would be able to build commercial skyscrapers as tall as 70 stories, more than 4,600 apartments and a cultural center, and retain 12 acres of open space.

Construction won’t be cheap. Any builder would have to spend up to $1 billion to put platforms over the LIRR tracks on the east and west sides of 11th Avenue before putting up any buildings, while trains continue to move in and out of the yards, according to recent published reports.

“After years of dialogue, today’s announcement is a tremendous step towards making the Far West Side the next frontier in the city’s development,” Spitzer said at this morning’s press conference. “The Far West Side will be part of a vibrant commercial, residential and cultural district that will integrate a new transit hub at Moynihan Station, an expanded Javits Convention Center, and an extended No. 7 Subway line that will help sustain New York for generations to come.”

Bloomberg noted that the area offers an opportunity to transform a vast underutilized site into a vibrant community, adding that today’s announcement marks a key milestone in fulfilling the area’s potential. “The development of the Far West Side will help us achieve our long-term goal of creating capacity for jobs and affordable housing in all five boroughs.”

The Western Rail Yard is 13 acres and is bordered by West 30th and 33rd streets, between 11th and 12th avenues. The design guidelines for the WRY provide an overall framework for creating a cohesive development and permit approximately 5.7 million sf of residential and commercial development, requiring at least 20% of all rental units must be affordable. The RFP includes a zoning bonus for the inclusion of permanent affordable housing. The developer of the WRY will be required to reserve space for a public school. A commitment to provide low-cost administrative space for community and cultural organizations is required. The guidelines also include requirements for open space, building height and form, and sustainability. A key aspect of the guidelines is the provision of approximately five acres of public open space on the WSY site, including a large central open space stretching between 11th and 12th avenues leading to the Hudson River.

The Eastern Rail Yard is composed of 13 acres and sits between 10th and 11th avenues from West 30th to 33rd streets. The ERY was re-zoned in January 2005 as part of the City’s Hudson Yards re-zoning, and allows for approximately 6.3 million sf of mixed-use development (11 FAR), including office, residential, hotel, retail, cultural and parking facilities, and public open space. The zoning controls for the site require approximately seven acres of public open space, including a significant public plaza. The RFP also requires that 200,000 sf of the 6.3-million-sf space be set aside by the developer for a major new cultural facility, to be selected by the ERY developer and the city.

“The Eastern and Western Rail Yards are the last major undeveloped publicly owned parcels in Manhattan, and it is critically important to develop these sites,” Quinn noted. “As this project moves forward, we will see a new, world-class urban environment come to life…one that will be a vibrant mix of uses and has design controls to fully integrate it with the surrounding area.”

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