Extell Unveils New (Improved?) Riverside Center

by - March 18, 2010 at 12:56 am -

riverside center1
Extell Development Company showed the public its new design on Wednesday for Riverside Center, the biggest development proposal in the neighborhood, and one of the biggest in the city. It’s got five towers with at least 2,500 apartments, 210,000 square feet of retail, a hotel, a movie theater, an underground automobile service center, a new K-8 school, and a fountain that you can play in with your shoes off. Words can only go so far to describe it, so we took plenty of pictures (at bottom, including a larger picture of the above drawing).

Extell modified its original design to change the heights of buildings and space them out more, and it is getting rid of its proposal to include a Costco or other big-box retailer. But more on that later.

Riverside Center would stretch from 59th to 61st Streets, and West End Avenue to the edge of the West Side Highway (in the future a new road called Riverside Boulevard will flank the development to the West). Right now, the space is mostly a parking lot. Extell expects to develop it over the next eight years. Riverside Center would be the southernmost development in “Riverside South”, a set of modern towers that line the Hudson River from 59th to 72nd Streets. Under the new proposal, here’s what Riverside Center would contain:

  • 3 million gross square feet.
  • A new school on 61st street that could potentially enroll up to 1,300 kids from K-8.
  • A 250 room hotel just off of 59th Street.
  • A massive underground automobile service center with a street-level showroom.
  • A shallow fountain and scrim (1/4-inch deep pool) somewhat similar to the fountain at Millenium Park in Chicago that children and adults could walk into.
  • More than 3 acres of public space.
  • 12% of the units set aside for affordable housing.

One thing (among many) it wouldn’t contain that was originally proposed: a Costco. The community balked at a big box store on the site, so it was taken out.

Community Board member examines Extell's model. But where are all of the tiny people?

Community Board member examines Extell's model. But where are all of the tiny people?

The proposal has already inspired a lot of controversy, both because of its sheer size and its design, which some originally likened to Battery Park City. Community Board 7 and other watchdog groups like the Coalition for a Livable West Side have raised numerous concerns with the proposal, and groups have proposed alternative plans for the site. One architect hired by the coalition even compared sections of the old plan to a housing project. Neighbors have also voiced concerns about the towers casting long shadows.

Extell addressed many of these concerns in its new proposal, leaving more room between buildings and modifying the open space in ways that the architects say will encourage people to walk through and lounge around. Three of the buildings — the ones closest to the river — were shrunk, two of them by about 30%. The two buildings in back, meanwhile, gained some height.

Despite these changes, the project will invariably cause quite a bit of controversy, and the next few months will be filled with negotiations. The company needs various permissions from the city to build so many apartments, because under a restrictive declaration it would have only been able to build 572 units, an Extell representative said at the meeting.

The battle lines were already being drawn on Wednesday as community members got their first look at the project. Here were some of the issues brought up by Community Board members and City Councilwoman Gale Brewer:

  • An auto showroom and service center could spew tons of exhaust into the air nearby; some want the showroom and service center cut from the proposal entirely. An Extell rep said an auto showroom was one of the few businesses that could make the project profitable.
  • The sheer size of the project is still a concern.
  • Environmental issues abound, including questions about whether the buildings will be LEED-certified.
  • 12% affordable housing may not be enough.
  • Gale Brewer, for one, thinks the movie theater should be below ground.
  • The buildings should be able to generate their own power through a process called co-generation, Brewer says.
  • For some, the project has too many curb cuts — places where people or automobiles enter and leave — and that hurts pedestrian access to the site.

“It’s an improvement, but it’s not a big improvement,” Brewer told us. Among other things, “the environmental issues have not really been answered,” she added.

riverside center3These issues will be hashed out over the next few months. An Extell rep put it like this at the meeting: “You have a lot of asks. We have a lot of asks. Ultimately that gets worked out.”

Craig Berberian, who lives a block away from the proposed Riverside Center, doesn’t like the auto dealership and is worried about wind tunnels created by the development. “I’m excited for a unique development in the area, but it has to be done properly. I don’t want it to turn into Battery Park City.”

Next month, the City Planning Commission is expected to certify Extell’s plans, which means Community Board 7 gets a whack at it. It will then be considered again by the planning board and the City Council. If you live near there or have any opinions about this project, let us know. It is, quite literally, the biggest thing coming to the Upper West Side in quite some time. Check out pictures of Extell’s plans below (click to enlarge). And check out our previous Riverside Center coverage here.

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  1. HHarriet says...

    I can live with this…there is definitely something going to be built there, and it has to be ultimately profitable. I’m enjoying Riverside Park South, which was built along with the row of apartment buildings in recent years. Most important is the inclusion of a school, with all these new apartments in that neighborhood.

  2. Westender says...

    On balance, I think this is actually quite good. Could it be smaller, yes. But a developer is only going to go so far in this regard. It has a school, which is great. And it will eliminate a terrible eyesore and bring some life to a lifeless plot. I say go for it. And make it fast!