By Brian J Pape, AIA

Don’t expect a fantastical castle or FutureWorld theme park for the new Walt Disney Company headquarters for New York. Don’t even expect a ‘reimagineered’ industrial loft building, like the ones it replaces on Hudson Street and Varick Street.

In fact, the recently topped off structure, labeled 4 Hudson Square and alternatively as 137 Varick Street, has partially installed facades that show what it will look like already. The dark green terra cotta trim on the orthogonal grid surrounds louvers and large glazing panels, climbing up to its final 22-story height, could easily be placed anywhere in midtown Manhattan or downtown Brooklyn. This new office building is custom designed by SOM architects and engineers for Disney, although it is developed by Silverstein Properties, of World Trade Center fame. Lower level floors will be as large as 85,000 square feet, and there will be some retail storefronts.

Disney has reportedly paid Trinity Church $650M for a 99-year land lease of the site. Larry Silverstein purchased Disney’s ABC West Side complex near Lincoln Center for $1.15 billion in 2018, taking possession when the Disney building is occupied sometime next year, and hopefully develop luxury condos there.  Disney CEO Robert Iger’s bet was that a 1.2 million-square-foot broadcast complex of technologically advanced facilities in Hudson Square will pay off.

Varick Street looking south toward Spring Street, with the Disney headquarters’ top steel complete and façade panels being installed. Credit: Brian J Pape, AIA

Hudson Square, once known as the Printing District, historically had large buildings which housed printing presses. As the internet moved traditional publishing to digital communications, companies repurposed the expansive spaces. With sizable floor plates, these buildings provided value-added space attracting TAMI (technology, advertising, media and information) companies. For developers and large corporations, the large loft buildings of Hudson Square are great for expanding businesses, or for new buildings, with the as-of-right density and existing transportation systems. Let’s review recent developments.

Hudson Square Connection is a BID implementing ‘Hudson Square is Now’, a $27 million neighborhood beautification plan that will result in more and better open spaces, hundreds more trees, and a safer and more welcoming pedestrian environment.

Trinity Real Estate’s Hudson Square portfolio is reportedly worth almost $4 billion. Trinity land holdings extend all the way up to Christopher Street.

Google, the search engine tech giant plans to invest $1 billion in creating a 1.7 million-square-foot campus, they call Google Hudson Square. Google’s taking up almost a half million square feet in Hudson Square in Q4 2018, pushed the submarket’s availability from 14.3% to 6.9%.. At St. John’s Terminal, located at 550 Washington Street, they have 1.3 million square feet for 8,500 more Google employees. Google’s current NY headquarters at 111 8th Avenue, was purchased in 2010 for $1.9B for 2.9M SF, one of Manhattan’s largest buildings. Across the street, Google’s $2.4 billion purchase of Chelsea Market, with plans to add 300,000 square feet to the full-block conglomeration of former Nabisco bakery buildings, will house 7,000 Googlers eventually, but will keep the retail storefronts. In another former Nabisco building at 85 10th Avenue, Google has leased 240K SF of office space. We also reported on the 320,000 square feet to be leased at Pier 57, a landmarked wharf restoration at 15th Street.

555 Greenwich Street is beginning a 260,000-square-foot, 19-story office building between King and Charleton Streets., with a matching overall height and aligned floor levels of its ‘sister’ neighbor, allowing for continuous office floors between the two buildings, except for the second floor above retail at the ground floor.

An enlargement of 60 Charlton Street, by HOK started in 2018, will yield a 12-story retail and office building formerly known as 163 Varick Street, keeping the existing six stories of masonry. Kenneth Aschendorf of APF Properties is responsible for the development, after purchasing the lot for $65 million in July 2017. The 191-foot tall structure will yield 97,700 square feet within. Terraces will be created on the ninth, eleventh, and twelfth floors. Parking for bicycles and 11 cars will be included on site.  

Residential developments in Hudson Square will help absorb some of the demand from thousands of new employees in the various commercial buildings. Trinity already has city approval to build a 430-foot-tall, 300,000-square-foot residential building at Canal, Grand and Varick Streets, its so-called 2 Hudson Square site, which will include a 444-seat public school at its base.

An affordable housing lottery on NYC Housing Connect for 17 units for residents at 40 to 130 percent of the area median income (AMI), was launched for 102 Charlton Street, a 21-story residential building in Hudson Square. Designed by Ismael Leyva Architects and developed by Lalezarian Properties, the structure yields 61 residences.

At 110 Charlton Street, a new 30-story tower will provide a mix of 170 condo apartments.

100 Vandam Street, on the corner just a block south of 561 Greenwich Street, housed a red brick warehouse that was of the first generation of large industrial buildings developed on the undesirable marshy land along the Hudson River in the 1800s. Without landmark or historic district protection, this fine craftsman structure could have easily been lost entirely. Owner/developer Jeff Greene worked with COOKFOX Architects to design the 25-story, 70-unit condo.

Plans have been approved for the first ever skyscraper in the West Village, Clarkson Square, designed by COOKFOX Architects. Clarkson Square will be two gigantic towers, 430 feet high—the tallest buildings along our west shore—in a mixed-use development of 1.7 million SF with 1,586 units, filling the entire block from Houston Street to Clarkson Street and from Washington Street to West Street, closely adjacent to Hudson Square.

One would not know there was ever a pandemic slowdown in NYC to judge by these many developments.

Brian J. Pape is a citizen architect in private practice, serving on the Manhattan District 2 Community Board Landmarks Committee and Quality of Life Committee (speaking solely in a personal, and not an official capacity), Co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee, is a member of AIANY Historic Buildings and Housing Committees, is LEED-AP “Green” certified, and is a journalist specializing in architecture subjects.  

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