New York’s mayor and governor didn’t attend the grand opening of the country’s largest private real estate development — but Big Bird did.
The giant Sesame Street character, along with Related Companies executives, Oxford Properties Group public officials, celebrities and developers attended a ceremony Friday morning to mark the grand opening of Hudson Yards. The event followed a week’s worth of press tours and an extravagant party Thursday night that attracted thousands to the Shops at Hudson Yards.
Those in attendance Friday included U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, City Council Speaker Cory Johnson, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., Vornado Realty Trust’s Steve Roth, Moinian Group’s Joseph Moinian and Martha Stewart. CNN’s Anderson Cooper was the event’s master of ceremonies.
During a brief speech, Schumer referred to Steve Ross, Related’s chairman, as the “only person in the universe” who could’ve made Hudson Yards a reality. Ross then took the podium, noting that he was “still awed” that a decade-plus of work had finally come to fruition. He added that he was surprised that the project was completed on time.
“When I was here two days ago, I didn’t think it was possible,” Ross said. Earlier this week, workers could still be seen paving the public space surrounding the Vessel, the public sculpture designed by Thomas Heatherwick.
Ross credited the project’s “skilled labor force” for making the March 15 deadline. Almost every speaker at the ceremony mentioned the role of union labor — a controversial subject in relation to Hudson Yards. While the first phase of the $25 billion megadevelopment was done through a project labor agreement, union groups have criticized Related’s decision to use both union and nonunion labor on western railyards and 50 Hudson Yards.
Ross was seated near Building and Construction Trades Council President Gary LaBarbera. Just last week, the two announced that they’d reached an agreement to negotiate on future work, though Related didn’t guarantee to use union labor on the subsequent phases of Hudson Yards.
Ross acknowledged during a speech that Related’s relationship with the construction unions “might have been fractured at times,” referring to more than a year’s worth of litigation, protests and vitriol traded between the two. A protest had been scheduled for Friday morning outside Hudson Yards by the pro-union #CountMeIn campaign but was canceled after the Related-BCTC truce was announced last week.
As part of the cease fire agreed to last week, Related agreed to drop lawsuits against LaBarbera.
LaBarbera, introduced by Ross, took the stage and pointed to the Vessel.
“The actual building that you see, the Vessel, was built by human hands and these hands were union human hands,” he said. He said he looks forward to a future with Related because the Hudson Yards is “an example of what we can do together.”
After the ceremony, LaBarbera told The Real Deal that he hopes Related will choose use union labor for the subsequent phases of Hudson Yards.
“What I can say is that we have a very collaborative relationship right now,” he said.
In the days leading up to the grand opening, some have questioned the public funds pumped into the megadevelopment in light of fierce opposition to Amazon receiving $3 billion worth of incentives to open a new headquarters in Long Island City. Related CEO Jeff Blau called Amazon’s decision against moving to Queens “a tremendous loss to New York that we loss the Amazon deal.” He said the project’s tax abatements were already in place when Related became involved with the development. The New York Times reported that tax breaks and government assistance to Hudson Yards have reached $6 billion. The city spent roughly $2.4 billion to extend the 7 subway line to Hudson Yards, as well as $1.2 billion for parks and public space in the project.
“Subways and parks, aren’t subsidies,” Blau told TRD. “That’s the role of government to encourage economic development.”
As to why the governor and mayor didn’t make an appearance, Ken Himmel, the CEO of Related Urban, said they couldn’t make it.
“As is the case in many situations with government officials, they had something else that came up,” he said. “But they’ve been supportive of everything we’ve done here.”
During an interview with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Friday morning, Mayor Bill De Blasio made a made a point of saying the subsidies approved for Hudson Yards were done so under a previous administration.