SPURA is one of the many adopted acronyms used to describe New York City’s division of neighborhoods. But unlike SOHO, NOHO, or Tribeca, SPURA is actually the name of a development site in Lower Manhattan, the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, to be exact. The history of the site is a story of politics, economics and social pressures. After fifty years of debates between community leaders, activists and designers, the City Planning Commission has given a proposed development plan the green light. That means that following a land-use review process called ULURP, a city council vote and the Mayor Bloomberg’s final approval, the site may finally transition from a street level parking lot into a mixed-use development full of retail stores, offices, community facilities, a new Essex Street market, a hotel, a park and 900 apartments that will occupy 1.65-million-square-feet.
Join us after the break to read more on the development and to see other alternative creative proposals that this site has inspired over the years.
First, a short history of the site: In the 1960s, the area was cleared of tenement buildings for future development. This demolition agenda was not unique, but Seward Park, located at Delancey and Essex near the Williamsburg Bridge, is the largest city-owned site still left undeveloped south of 96th street. The issue was never a shortage of creative solutions for the land, but the inability to reconcile the various agendas involved in building new programs and functions for the area. Thus, for the past fifty or so years, the area has been a dedicated parking lot. Circuitous debates raged over whether these five lots that make up SPURA should become low-income housing, mixed-use developments or strictly commercial housing.
The final approval of the SPURA lots comes with a bundle of compromises. The plan was approved by the Community Board under the agreement that 50% of the 900 units be made permanently affordable, thanks to NYC Economic Development Corporation and the Department of Housing Preservation. In addition, the Borough President approved the plan as long as it ensured that a school would be integrated into the development along with restrictions set in place to keep big-box retail stores out. With such provisions, the public that is keen on preserving the neighborhoods integrity, are more likely to approve of the plan.
So what else was in the works from creative minds while these lots sat empty?
The most recent, and possibly the most dynamic, is the proposal for the Delancey Underground. The sci-fi like proposal by James Ramsey, of RAAD Studio, and Dan Barasch hopes to turn the trolley terminal under Delancey at the base of the Williamsburg Bridge in Manhattan into a subterranean park full of vegetation, light and entertainment. The terminal is adjacent to the SPURA development site. It is unclear how the two will interact or whether complications will arise. In the meantime, Ramsey and Baraschi are working on promoting their ideas, fundraising via Kickstarter and building prototypes.
In late April, we posted about Manhattan Mountain, which was a speculative proposal by Ju-Hyun Kim that broke all the rules of NYC’s zoning policies to bring us an image of development that is both natural and commercial. The artificial mountain disguises big box stores like Target and Wal-Mart, which Kim defends for drawing more people to an area and being more accessible. The surface of the mountain is a year-round public terrain park that can be used for snowboarding in the winter, hiking in the summer, and a habitat for a broad range of wild-life.
One other vision for the site was the new Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, proposed by Planda Architecture. The design stands in opposition to the low-rise, modest houses along Delancey, and becomes a glowing beacon opposite the Blue Tower by Bernard Tschumi. Minimal, opaque, and uniform it is an object that is an “introversion” of the heterogenous environment that it occupies. The proposal was a competition entry for MoCCA’s new location.
As we wait for the results from two more rounds of reviews, the SPURA plan now has some power to develop into something the neighborhood can use. It holds a lot of promise, but there are more hurdles for the plan to overcome.