Manhattan’s Lower East Side just won’t stand still. Even by New York City standards, a town where constant change has always been our core characteristic, LES apartment residents have witnessed a wild ride over the past decade or so, as long-established businesses are shuttered and replaced (for better or worse), and vacant spaces developed into shiny new housing options. And, now, joining such long-term public works projects like the Blueway waterfront park and the Low Line underground park–as well as all the usual LES rental apartment construction, new restaurants, art galleries, and retail outlets–comes word that the vast Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA) may finally be beginning its transformation from six acres of parking lots into… something.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that some the city’s biggest names in the real estate game (Related, Forest City Ratner, Avalon Bay, L + M, etc.) submitted proposals to take over the site, which the paper calls “the largest parcel of underdeveloped publicly owned land in Manhattan below 96th Street”. If you’re familiar with the neighborhood you know exactly the area I’m talking about, those four blocks of lots on the south side of Delancey Street, east of Essex.
If all goes according to plan–or, at least, to the plan of the winning bidder–SPURA will be home to affordable and market-rate housing (more than 1000 units) as well as office and retail space. Retail would be limited in size to keep out big-box chains, and fully half of the rental apartments would be “permanently” affordable. The plans also have to include an expanded version of the great Essex Street Market. Lots more to come on this monster project, obviously.
On the heels of the SPURA deadline, the New York Times did one of their neighborhood profiles on the South of Delancey section of the Lower East Side. The Times makes the point that, in general, even as the LES above Delancey has pretty much been taken over by the nightlife scene–bars, raucous restaurants, cheap-eat spots, clubby lounges–below that traditional dividing line the area becomes more community-minded, more residential.
That’s not to say that there aren’t any new businesses down here; Orchard Street in particular has seen an influx of excellent restaurants and coffee shops, such as Fat Radish, Lost Weekend, and Cafe Katja. And on summer Saturdays the great Hester Street Fair near the southern end of Essex brings together a terrific line up of local food vendors, artisans, and craftspeople. But despite the activity (this is New York, after all), this stretch of the LES is noticeably less of a party zone, more of a place to call home.