Work to transform the largest undeveloped property in Manhattan from a railroad storage yard into a sleek new neighborhood of spiky high-rises and graceful parks got a formal start Tuesday, with developers and officials heralding it as the next big thing in a city known for them.
The $15 billion project, called Hudson Yards, calls for angular office skyscrapers and curvy apartment towers, a slate of shows and restaurants, an arts building and a public square in a 26-acre stretch of the island's far West Side off Midtown — eventually. Tuesday marked the ceremonial groundbreaking for the first office tower, a 48-story building scheduled to be finished by 2015.
"This is the future of New York," Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared. He has longed for years to make more of the area, which was a linchpin of his administration's unsuccessful bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Developer Stephen M. Ross, chairman of the Related Cos., envisioned Hudson Yards taking a place among the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, Lincoln Center and other structures that became New York icons.
If that happens, it will take some time. Hudson Yards isn't expected to be complete for about a dozen years, and it entails the construction challenge of building an $800 million platform covering the rail tracks. The first tower doesn't require the platform.
A few blocks from Pennsylvania Station and about half a mile from the Empire State Building, the rail yards near the Hudson River have long been surrounded by an unprepossessing neighborhood of warehouses, low-rent brownstones, the Javits Center convention facility and office buildings. One of them houses the global headquarters of The Associated Press.
But the area has gained some momentum in the last several years. The High Line, a park on a former elevated rail line, has become a magnet for residents and tourists alike. More than a dozen apartment towers and several hotels have been built near it.
The idea of making Hudson Yards into an Olympic venue — the idea centered on a proposed professional football stadium for the New York Jets — spurred an outcry from residents. It ultimately foundered on concerns about traffic and financing.
Some residents also have concerns about the current Hudson Yards plan. Kathleen Treat of the Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood Association, a residents' group, has misgivings about seeing a cluster of towers rise near a riverfront that residents appreciate, plain as it may be.
"We want complete access to our river, which is beginning to look like Related's river," she said.
The city rezoned a 60-block area to accommodate the project, approved $106 million in property tax exemptions and issued $3 billion in bonds to pay for an extension of a subway line to the area from Times Square.
Officials point to the 23,000 construction jobs, 5,000 apartments — about 1,600 of them affordable — and other amenities it's expected to create. Government agencies also are getting money out of the project: The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which owns the property, is leasing it to the developers for $1 billion.
The city's commercial real estate market was rocked by the recession, and some projects — including some towers planned at the rebuilt World Trade Center — have struggled to find tenants.
Hudson Yards has been seen as offering the prospect of good deals on new, high-end space near Manhattan's central business district, said Michael Slattery, a vice president of the Real Estate Board of New York, a trade association.
Bloomberg said the groundbreaking shows that "even in this challenging economy, we are moving forward."
Follow Jennifer Peltz at http://twitter.com/jennpeltz.