The Casino–Apartment–Ferris-Wheel–Hotel Proposal for Midtown

Graphic: Rendered courtesy of Soloviev Group

Sheldon Solow was, in almost every way, a stubborn and willful man. When the late developer built its 9 West 57th Street tower in 1974, it included restaurant space on the ground floor but did not lease it to a tenant for more than two decades, until he is good and ready and has a big enough plan. to be satisfied. (The restaurant was Brasserie 8 1/2, opened in 2000 and recently relaunched as Cucina 8 1/2.) Also in 2000, he and a partner purchased nine acres of land along the East River, from 35th to 41st Streets, the site of Con Edison’s old steam works. It was, as widely noted at the time, the last unbroken strip of undeveloped midtown Manhattan land to be had. They cut down the plant, mopped up the ground, and then…he sat down. Eventually they sold land for a new public school and more of the site for the American Copper Twin Buildings. Solow and his partners, Fisher Brothers, acrimoniously parted ways and he bought them out. His son Stefan Soloviev – who didn’t truncated the surname – got into the business, even though he and his father often didn’t get along. (A shrink will note that in restoring the surname, he also discarded his father’s.) Together they got a tower up, a project by Richard Meier on the west side of First Avenue. The statewide 421-a tax abatement has expired, so their plans have shifted from rentals to condos. In November 2020, Sheldon Solow passed away, leaving, after 20 years of planning, five acres of weeds.

Stefan, judging by the press accounts, is an impulsive man, and now he’s seemingly been freed from any family dynamics he had to pursue his own vision. In November, his company revealed the vision of these empty blocks on the East River. It’s showy. Three large towers (plus the one already built) with half-height open-air amenity spaces, all facing a wide green hill crowned by a huge Ferris wheel. There will be a 1,000-room hotel and performance space as well as a museum dedicated to the history of democracy, which is a pretty cute way to marry hard-core capitalism with social relevance. (The entire project will be called Freedom Plaza.) Above all, it is shoot for the only casino license in the downstate be distributed by New York State. The application period opened on Friday and Solovyov is in competition against potential operators at Citi Field, Hudson Yards, Coney Island and a few other locations. If he does not obtain the license, the hotel-casino will instead become an office building.

The performance space that Soloviev announced is reminiscent of places similar to Hudson shipyards, Manhattan Westetc) the new World Trade Center, and indeed this project shares some characteristics with these developments. These are all large neighborhoods built from scratch mixing office and residential space and aiming to be, to a large extent, micro-cities in their own right. In theory, the wealthy can live on one of these mini-campuses without leaving it very often, certainly without engaging in the mess of real city life. Nothing about this is, or is intended to be, contextual. Like Hudson Yards (or, for that matter, the United Nations campus), it will be a spaceship stationed on the waterfront.

Soloviev noted that many discussions took place with community residents before the plan was proposed, and that the greensward at the center of the development was a decent gesture. Murray Hill has virtually no park space – it’s rare enough that there has recently been a fight over a small patch of it – and it was tricky of Solovyov to offer a large piece of grass as neighborhood equipment. You’d have to be a real churl to fight a big park on the water, even if it’s not a real park: it’s going to be one of those quasi-public private spaces, like Little Island, and will definitely have security private and guards to keep it tidy and sanitized.

The casino, however, will almost surely upset any neighborhood goodwill established by the Great Lawn. I can’t imagine a residential area of ​​Manhattan that would actively want one, even though East Murray Hill is less likely to stand up and roar about it than, say, Tribeca. I suspect the opposition will cite traffic (a legitimate concern; think of the train of New Jersey and Long Island bus wagons that will arrive), appearance (a solvable problem if developers avoid the whimsical aesthetic of Atlantic City) and socioeconomics (an unsolvable problem to fight; people who see casinos as predatory and addictive won’t be convinced no matter what). It’s virtually certain to be a slot machine unless Soloviev turns out to be the unusual type of developer who can literally lose money against all odds.

So what we’ll probably end up seeing here will be a curious mix of urban functions. In the residences, you will have an affluent population that comes and goes from the office but is otherwise cocooned, served by Uber and many deliveries. And then there will be a secondary and transient crowd, probably less affluent, hugely activating the site with foot and road traffic en route to the ride and slot machines.

The levels of greenery and at the casino and a giant Ferris wheel makes for a splashy sight, but they also feel a bit familiar. This is another development of everything, a Hudson Yards without the mall. (Maybe there’s not a lot of retail because there’s no metro line here, or maybe they’re betting the retail slump will continue .) The new New York, as I’m not the first to observe, is presented as a grown-up piece. space, and the work-from-home culture promotes this because many of us are spending more time in and around our homes and have clawed back a few hours of non-commuting. The project also plans to bring in tourists, mainly for the casino but also for the rides. The Ferris wheel is kind of like the Summit at One Vanderbilt, a place to visit when visiting the city where you can take a selfie you’ve seen hundreds of times before on Instagram, now with yourself in it. Although I still find this pulse weird, millions of other people don’t. Any Saturday in Dumbo will prove it. As for the Ferris wheel, well, that’s a question mark. We all know how the Staten Island proposal went.

Everything Developments isn’t a new way of thinking about city building, even though it’s still a small novel in New York. (Time Warner Center, from 2000, was perhaps the breakthrough here, an all-in-one residential tower, shopping mall, giant grocery store, hotel and, yes, performance space.) One would assume that Soloviev sees Hudson Yards as a model, presumably with the idea that he can learn from his failures and borrow what works. He’s right about the greenery, certainly – Hudson Yards is a joyless experience largely because it’s so harsh. A Ferris wheel probably won’t be the suicide magnet that the ship was. It would be nice to walk to something comparable to Little Island from Grand Central. It would be much less enjoyable if it were full and funded by a lot of slots.

If you want to talk about civic priorities, however, it’s a little daunting to look at the older projects that come with this one. To the north is the United Nations, built in the 1940s on a giant strip of shoreline reclaimed, like the Solow Plot, from dirty industry (slaughterhouses). To the south is Waterside Plaza, the complex of large 1970s brick towers that were erected under the Mitchell-Lama program, creating middle-income housing for thousands of New Yorkers. Each took a big chunk of our finite river real estate and used it, however imperfectly, toward an ideal: the maintenance of world peace, the housing of teachers and firefighters. New projects, on the other hand, are all about the free market and all dependent on the whims of their billionaire owners. (Granted, so did the UN, given that the Rockefellers bought the land. But the big difference is that they gave it away.) question; it’s because we got what the Solovievs were offering, entirely on their terms. We collectively accept a casino’s own bet, and the house usually wins.

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