How does this proposal fit in with the city’s East Midtown rezoning? It almost fits, except for the timing. Mayor Bloomberg’s plan calls for the increase in zoning by the use of air rights transfer to certain parcels in the area around Grand Central, which includes 425 Park. In what is often called “zoning for dollars,” developers would pay to help improve subways and other public amenities and give money to the city or the landmark transferring the air rights. Because Hudson Yards in West Midtown and Lower Manhattan’s World Trade Center site, both in various stages of development, would suffer from more office construction in Midtown, the East Midtown zoning comes with a sunrise provision: A developer would have to wait five years before starting construction to give the weaker sibling developments a jump start. So if 425 Park is willing to be very patient, it could go to 21.6 FAR.
L&L has a different time frame. It wants the tower to start construction by 2015, and be finished by 2017. If the new East Midtown zoning were be in place by October 2013, as reported, permits would go out around 2017, and developers could start building in 2018. The lag is perhaps the reason Levinson wants to stay with an 18 FAR, although he doesn’t want to be saddled with keeping the base of Kahn & Jacobs’ tower. If he could cut a deal soon the tower would stand proud and tall above civic space in 2018, and be already occupied while others in the East Midtown zoning were getting going. The city might be willing to work something out with Levinson avant la lettre, so to speak, but according to some, it’s not without a payback: if Levinson gets the unencumbered 18 FAR, the city would like a payment to make up the difference between 15 and 18. (After all, the game is called zoning for dollars.) Levinson (who could not be reached for comment) may not feel he should pay for what he already has—in the FAR that already exists on the site.
Life is complicated. If Levinson waits, he could get 21.6, no fuss, no bother. But he says he’s quite content with 18 FAR for the totally new Foster tower. He may be one of the few developers who opts for a smaller tower, but then as they say, timing is everything.