This month in real estate history

A look back at some of New York City's biggest real estate stories

May.May 01, 2014 07:00 AM

1983: City OKs long-term plan for Bryant Park rehab

Bryant Park in 1983, before its restoration

Bryant Park in 1983, before its restoration

The city, the New York Public Library and a park advocacy group announced a groundbreaking 35-year proposal to restore and upgrade the once drug-ridden Bryant Park, 31 years ago this month.

The controversial plan included building kiosks, constructing a large restaurant, expanding lighting and security and broadening the cultural offerings in the park, which occupies nearly an entire city block behind the library between 41st and 42nd streets, east of Sixth Avenue in Midtown.

The plan was hammered out between the city Department of Parks and Recreation, the library and the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation, a nonprofit group founded in 1980 to clean up the park, which during the 1970s was overrun by drug dealers and the homeless.

It was the first time the city contracted a private entity to manage a public park, a precedent that drew opposition from some park advocates. As part of the plan, an affiliate of Bryant Park Restoration signed a 35-year lease in July 1985 with the city to manage the park. The group continues to manage it today.

1953: Contentious Cross-Bronx route approved

Robert Moses

Robert Moses

The city approved a fiercely opposed route for the Cross Bronx Expressway that was reviled for destroying tight-knit neighborhoods in the name of modernization and public mobility, 61 years ago this month.

The Board of Estimate, which decided budgetary and land-use issues at the time, voted to back the freeway plan that cleaved through several South Bronx neighborhoods just north of Crotona Park and required demolishing about 1,500 homes and relocating about 5,000 people.

The path was part of the highway’s original master plan when construction began in 1948, but was put to a vote after Bronx residents and business interests put up fierce opposition.

They suggested the expressway’s planners use a strip of Crotona Park for a portion of the route, but the powerful parks and highway builder Robert Moses, at the time the city’s construction coordinator, opposed that. Moses threatened to shift state and federal highway funds to other projects if the route was altered.

Highway billboards promoting the project said, “You can’t make omelets without breaking eggs,” the New York Times reported. The east-west highway forms a portion of I-95, and was completed in 1963 at a cost of $128 million.

1926: Historic state affordable housing law signed

Abraham Kazan

Abraham Kazan

New York Gov. Alfred Smith put his signature to a housing measure 88 years ago this month that authorized the creation of the nation’s first quasi-governmental companies to develop affordable rental apartments.

The law, the Limited Dividend Housing Companies Act, provided for entities that capped the amount of profit investors could earn on a housing project, in conjunction with affordable rents and the power of eminent domain.

The new structure was needed to address an acute shortage of affordable apartments in the city despite a surge of housing development in the 1920s. Most of that new housing was occupied by moderate-income residents, leaving poorer New Yorkers living in slum conditions in so-called “old-law” tenements.

The law had local companion legislation passed one year later by the city’s Board of Estimate that gave the limited dividend companies a 20-year tax exemption.

The first project built under the law was the Amalgamated Houses in the Bronx, financed by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union. The project was led by noted union organizer Abraham Kazan. Over the decades, the limited dividend law was used in 19 housing projects to build a total of more than 9,300 units, according to a 2004 report from the City Comptroller.

The report said the successor Limited-Profit Housing Companies Act, known as Mitchell-Lama, was passed in 1955 and used to finance nearly 140,000 units of housing.


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