Midtown East parkland is characterized by plazas and esplanades with gardens and river views, BUT a paucity of lawns. The latest casino pitch for the 6.7 acre site on 1st Avenue between 38th and 41st Street offers 4.5 acres of lawn and recreation with the casino and parking located underground, accessible from FDR Drive. Another sweetener in the package is a recently introduced community reinvestment fund amounting to $5 million annually or 2 percent of net profits from the casino, whichever is larger, no strings attached. A museum, a hotel, condominium and rental towers flank the public greenspace with retail on the ground floor of the 5-star hotel.
What about public housing? The Sololiev Group has committed to 513 units of affordable housing made economically possible by the Mohegan-operated casino and integrated into one of two residential towers. As a result of c ommunity groups, including MECA and St. Vartan Park Conservancy, engaging in dialogue with the developer, the original proposal has evolved into a more innovative landscape design.
Who Decides? In order to advance to the state level in March, the Sololiev Group proposal requires support from two-thirds of a Community Advisory Committee comprised of the Governor, the Mayor, NY State Senator Kristen Gonzalez, Assemblyman Harvey Epstein, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine and Council Member Keith Powers. So three of six negative votes kill the plan.
FDHP is keeping a close eye on what the proposal offers in terms of privately maintained green public space with public access. As the period of public engagement draws to a close with developers vying for one of the three downstate casino licenses, the latest version of “Freedom Plaza” calls for close examination.