On the edge of the Harlem River in the Bronx, a long-vacant piece of land owned by the city of New York is about to undergo a dramatic transformation. Early next year, construction will begin on a project that will turn this dirt lot into 542 units of permanently affordable housing, a new public park, community and retail spaces, and a museum dedicated to the history of hip-hop.
Known as Bronx Point, the project is being led by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, in conjunction with private developers and a string of city agencies focused on addressing shortages of affordable housing and jobs in this rent-burdened and low-income section of the South Bronx. Unlike the typical mixed-use development that plops market rate housing over chain stores, this project was designed with the neighborhood’s specific needs in mind, and with additional community and cultural amenities to make it a new center for the Bronx. For its ambition, the project was just named a winner of the Annual Awards for Excellence in Design from the Public Design Commission, the city’s design review agency for projects in the public realm.
A U-shaped cluster of housing towers that steps down toward the river, the project will have its retail, community, and museum spaces at its base, which will open up to large gathering space and staircase leading down to a riverfront promenade and park. Creating this mix of uses was especially important for the city, which is trying to meet not only high demand for affordable housing—since 2013, 25 million applications have been received for just 40,000 units citywide—but also a more equitable distribution of job opportunities, according to Douglas Land, real estate transaction senior associate at the New York City Economic Development Corporation.
“One of the reasons we’re excited about this project is it tackles so many of the issues that are important to EDC, to the city and to this administration in particular,” Land says. “One thing that sets this project apart is just the scale of it. We’re able to achieve so many of these benefits because the project is so large.”
Making up more than half a million square feet, the development will include 10,000 square feet of retail and 50,000 square feet for the first permanent home of the Universal Hip Hop Museum, a new museum created in the Bronx that tells the story of the local creation of hip-hop and its global spread. Beyond the building’s edge, the project includes three acres of park and open space that connect to an adjacent riverfront park and trail. “Of course that means that it requires a significant amount of city resources,” Land says. The project’s total budget has not been made public.
A new kind of affordable housing development, the project is being supported by an infusion of city funding to this part of the Bronx. In 2015, the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio made a commitment to invest roughly $200 million in infrastructure projects for this part of the city, which has seen a lot of private real estate development in recent years, according to Land. “So in order to ensure the neighborhood remained affordable and had the infrastructure it needed in the decades to come, the city decided to make this significant investment,” he says. “Given the size of this site, we knew that there was a huge opportunity here to bring a project that would have a huge impact.”
EDC partnered with L+M Development Partners, TypeAProjects, and designers from S9 Architecture, Marvel Architects, and Abel Bainnson Butz, as well as the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation and Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Land says the developers’ proposal for the site stood out for its emphasis on embracing the neighborhood’s history and pulling in the hip-hop museum to anchor the site. “That was really important to us, because it reflected their commitment to the people of the Bronx and the heritage of the Bronx,” he says.
The project is expected to break ground in January, and construction is estimated to take three years. Though the site is somewhat unique in its size and access to key subway lines, Land says the way the project has evolved should serve as a model for future public projects in the city.
“In this particular moment, when we’re having conversations about equity and looking at investments in the outer boroughs, any opportunity where the city can partner with emerging nonprofits and organizations that are based in the outer boroughs and that serve residents of the outer boroughs, we should absolutely pursue,” he says.