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Google grows Downtown footprint…where affordable housing was planned

BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Google has announced that it will pour more than $250 million into New York during 2021, including for the expansion of its office footprint in Hudson Square and Chelsea.

Nationally, Google also will be investing billions, creating thousands of new jobs.

“I believe a lasting economic recovery will come from local communities, and the people and small businesses that give them life,” said Sundar Pichai, C.E.O. of Google and its parent company, Alphabet. “Google wants to be a part of that recovery. That’s why we plan to invest over $7 billion in offices and data centers across the U.S. and create at least 10,000 new full-time Google jobs in the U.S. this year.”

Google has had a presence in New York for more than two decades, with its first foothold in Chelsea, and now boasts more than 11,000 full-time employees in the state.

The tech giant’s latest addition in Manhattan is the St. John’s Terminal building, being developed by Oxford Properties at 550 Washington St., at the western end of Houston St. The project gutted the existing historic building — a former terminal for the High Line — and has added about eight glass-sheathed floors on top, to create a self-contained Google campus. The old High Line tracks will be incorporated into the new structure.

The project “topped off” (was constructed to its full height) this past November, and is expected to be completed by mid-2022 and be occupied by 2023. The St. John’s project is part of an eventual 1.7 million square feet of total office space Google plans in Hudson Square.

However, back in 2016, under a scheme approved by the City Council under Speaker Corey Johnson, the St. John’s site was originally planned to contain not eager “Googlers” but hundreds of affordable-housing residents, including seniors. That project, which was approved by Community Board 2, was part of a rezoning, and involved the transfer of 200,000 square feet of air rights from nearby Pier 40, which were purchased by the St. John’s developer for $100 million.

In the end, though, it turned out that a largely overlooked “Plan B” had also been O.K.’d by the Council vote, which allowed the St. John’s site to be developed fully commercially, which is what the developer ultimately chose to do, much to the chagrin of C.B. 2 and others.

Meanwhile, fast-forwarding back to the present, in Chelsea, at W. 16th St., construction at Pier 57 in Hudson River Park is underway. The redeveloped pier will include an events center, public retail amenities and about 320,000 square feet of office space for Google.

The Pier 57 site will also have 24,000 square feet of community space for education programs and environmental programs run by the Hudson River Park Trust, and an additional 5,000 square feet of open public space for community members to enjoy a view of the Hudson River.

“This is a massive investment in New York City by Google,” Mayor de Blasio said. “Today’s announcement shows how we are driving a recovery for all of us. Our economy is going to come back stronger and fairer than ever by creating thousands upon thousands of new tech jobs, supporting small businesses and showing the world the strength of New York City’s diverse, unparalleled workforce.”

“In just a decade, New York City more than quadrupled its tech jobs, making it one of the fastest-growing sectors in our city’s economy,” said state Senator Brad Hoylman. “As the industry grows, I’m pleased to see companies like Google commit to further investments in New York, making use of and employing our talented workforce. Google is a valued neighbor in my Senate district and I look forward to enjoying the public park space they are building in partnership with the Hudson River Park Trust.”

Assemblymember Deborah Glick added, “I appreciate the importance of Google‘s investment at this critical juncture as we seek to recover from the devastating impact of the Covid pandemic. Google has always been a valued and reliable community partner, and I look forward to continued shared activities in support of all of our neighborhoods.”

Congressmember Jerrold Nadler and Borough President Gale Brewer also issued statements hailing Google’s investing in New York and the expansion of the tech sector here.

The online behemoth also released its 2020 Economic Impact Report, showing that, last year, 169,600 New York businesses, publishers and nonprofits used Google products to increase their online presence, generating $70.04 billion in economic activity.

In 2020, the company provided $82.88 million in in-kind search advertising credit to New York nonprofits through the Google Ad Grants program. And as schools went remote during the pandemic, the New York City Department of Education used Google Classroom for more than 1 million students engaged in distance learning.

In addition, Google says it is continuing to build an increasingly representative workforce, in keeping with its corporate commitments to racial equity and inclusivity. Last year, Pichai signed on to the NYC CEO Jobs Council, which is a coalition of employers aiming to hire 100,000 low-income black, Hispanic and Asian New Yorkers over the next 10 years.

8 Comments

  1. Stephen DiLauro Stephen DiLauro April 2, 2021

    So, do either Google or the developer get a tax break? Is lame duck DeBlasio feathering his nest on the way out the door? Inquiring minds want to know.

  2. Judy P Judy P April 2, 2021

    It sickens me that real affordable housing loses out every single time in this city. The electeds prove again and again that big business and big developers easily win out. Yes, the city needs business investment now – I get that. But it also needs to build housing for the low-income workers that keep this city going. And by “affordable,” I don’t mean units that are in the lottery for single households with minimum incomes of $60,000 – $100,000 (which is by far the majority of units). When will our leadership step up and do the right thing for the neediest in our city?

  3. Arthur Schwartz Arthur Schwartz April 3, 2021

    This was clearly a puff piece submitted by Google. This project is shameful. The air-rights transfer was approved in order to build 500 units of affordable housing, half of which were supposed to go to seniors. Corey Johnson and his Chief of Staff Eric Bottcher hailed this as a great breakthrough. But the zoning approval which Johnson had the City Council approve had fine print: It allowed the air rights to be used for office development, which was “as of right.” Our community was sold out, and precious Hudson River Park air rights were used for commercial development. This is not a development to celebrate. And of course, Deborah Glick, who opposed the park at the outset because it would lead to waterfront commercial development, now says this is a great moment. It is not!

  4. Lincoln Anderson Lincoln Anderson Post author | April 3, 2021

    My understanding is that none of the transferred air rights were actually used on the southern part of the St. John’s site, which is where the Google building is being constructed, but that they still can be used on the northern part of the St. John’s site, which, last I heard, was going to include a tower with residential housing, and is being done by a different developer. But clearly, the overall project changed from what everyone thought they were going to get.

    • David R. Marcus David R. Marcus April 4, 2021

      Bait-and-switch Johnson and Bottcher strike again; quietly without the fanfare they used to tout the original “great achievement.”

      Do we really want to entrust them with future public office where they can continue to snooker the electorate?

  5. Old lady voter Old lady voter April 4, 2021

    Business as usual, as already noted by preceding comments, and just one more instance of C Johnson/Bottcher betrayal and why we need to mobilize AGAINST the deBlah/Johnson Soho/Noho upzoning plan currently being rushed into passage without adequate community input, as well as the disastrous 10-yr mandatory upzoning plan being pushed thru in the dead of night, also with no community participation, by the same bad players who have obviously sold out to NY real estate $$.
    Shame on Glick, Hoylman and Brewer, who once long ago could be counted on to work for decent affordable housing and against neighborhood gentrification and overdevelopment for the rich.

  6. Tobi Bergman Tobi Bergman April 5, 2021

    This isn’t a puff piece. It accurately describes how the plan was changed at the end of the ULURP to accommodate the site developer and Google. The problem with the part of the plan that allowed the affordable housing to be replaced by as-of-right development was not that it was in “fine print.” The problem was that it was not included at all in the version of the plan that was presented to the community and ultimately supported by Community Board 2 and the Borough President. Why? Because without the affordable housing component, the plan could not have won support from the community. At the insistence of the developer, the language was inserted by City Planning and accepted by Councilmember Johnson in the days before City Council approval of the ULURP. To deserve the praise it received from our elected officials, Google should build 500 units of affordable housing at the NYC Dept. of Environmental Protection lot at Hudson and Clarkson Streets and fund the development of a new public park at Elizabeth Street Garden.

    • Sante Scardillo Sante Scardillo April 7, 2021

      Well said, and it would be well done (if ever). I think the community has to mount an information campaign letting the general public know of all these twists and turns, and Google, with all its billions in PROFITS must show good corporate citizenship by making sure the community gets what it had been not only promised, but had been misled to sustain in the (fraudulent) process. Since Google is the end user, in this bait-and-switch game that constatnly goes on, it must be held to account. As for our “trusty” politicians, we’ll see them at the polls. AND: Oxford and all other sleazy developers must be exposed for the buffer they act as (while turning tidy profits) in this scot-free, no accountability game that shafts communities all around the city, while politicians backslap each other for a job well done. Well done is the community, in the back end.

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