After Decades of Debate, Seward Park Development Finally Moves Forward

| 02 Mar 2015 | 05:02

Lower East Side plan will include a school, housing -- and Warhol

The Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA) on the Lower East Side may finally be developed.

The Bloomberg administration unveiled plans to develop 1.65 million square feet of land on Wednesday, awarding the contracts to L+M Development, BFC Investment Partners, and Taconic Investment Partners. The project is slated to turn the city-owned land ? which has been undeveloped since the city acquired it in 1965 ? into a mix of housing, retail, office, and open space, as well as an Andy Warhol Museum in honor of New York City's godfather of pop art.

For members of the community, much of that development is being dedicated to housing relief and infrastructure for a downtown in which affordable housing is increasingly scarce. Out of 1,000 new housing units, half will be affordable for low-income and middle-income residents, and institutions like a dual-generational school by the Educational Alliance and the Grand Street Settlement Community Center will help working-class residents navigate the grind of Lower Manhattan.

For lifelong Lower East Siders like Kenny Williams, 26, making ends meet in the face of escalating rent "is a struggle." Williams wants to "be able to afford to live around here."

The Educational Alliance, meanwhile, intends to use their dual-generational school to help close the achievement gap between low-income families and their affluent counterparts by offering Head Start education for children from birth and age five and ESL, GRE, and college prep classes to their adult caretakers.

"This school will be the first in its country to help Head Start children and their parents graduate from college," Lynn Appelbaum, Chief Program Officer at the Educational Alliance boasts. "There's an intangible value of going to school with your mother or kid, where you both have homework and are sharing the same space, that we think is meaningful."

For shoppers and shopkeeps, developers will create a hub of "micro-retail" space, on sites between Essex and Clinton Street.

At Shankar Trading Inc. on Orchard Street, the owner and salesperson, Ashok, is happy to hear that space will be developed, but believes that regulations around parking limits the neighborhood's retail potential, and he questions whether the city will take a holistic approach to helping boost commerce in the area.

"Parking is very expensive here; it's three to four dollars an hour, or you get ticketed. Before, it was more reasonable," Ashok said.

As for the Warhol Museum, plans are still vague. In Pittsburgh, the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh has come forward as an involved collaborator in the space, and the museum released a statement saying that, "along with the other collaborators of this potential gallery space/annex in the Essex Crossing development, [we are] excited about the possibilities and opportunities it could bring for us and to Manhattan's Lower East Side."

However neither the Mayor's Office nor Warhol Museum spokesperson Emily Meyer were able to identify who the other collaborators would be or ? for that matter ? where, address wise, the museum will be located within the development. Pressed for details, Meyer was able to divulge that the space would be 10,000 square feet. By comparison, the New Museum on Bowery Street is 58,700 square feet; the Metropolitan is over 2,000,000.

Then again, why compare any of the Seward Park development to other points in New York? For now, it's nice just to know the land will finally be put to use.

Groundbreaking is anticipated for the spring of 2015; final touches on the last of the building projects are slated for 2024.