Five years after ground was broken on the project, life is beginning to sprout at Hudson Yards, the ambitious 20-million-square-foot West Chelsea retail, residential and office development that will transform midtown Manhattan and become the largest private real estate development in American history. The earliest office tenants have moved in, the first residents are settling into rental apartments, and an ambitious new food program has Manhattanites poised to pounce on reservations. For New York, it’s development with the magnitude to shift the center of the city, and for Jeff Blau, CEO of Related Companies, the real estate firm behind the deal, it’s the high point in a twenty-five year career.
“This is the largest real estate development ever done in New York’s history. Taken by itself, it’s the fifth largest downtown in America,” he says of the project, which runs from West 30th Street to West 34th, and between 10th Avenue and 12th. “No one’s ever really had the opportunity to do something as impactful as Hudson Yards and that’s going to be our legacy.” The countdown to the first quarter of 2019, when an ambitious food and retail complex will open, has begun as the pieces of the long-awaited neighborhood begin to fall into place.
In the late spring, the 52-story tower 10 Hudson Yards opened. Coach’s global headquarters, Boston Consulting Group, VaynerMedia, Dan Doctoroff’s tech firm Sidewalk Labs and L’Oréal have all moved in. “It’s not just finance or just media, it’s a mix of everything—which is really great because it kind of creates the community that we’re trying to build here,” Blau explains. Companies like KKR, TimeWarner, the law firm Cooley LLP, Third Point and Steve Cohen’s asset management firm have all leased office space in yet to be completed towers.
In 2019 will see the unveiling of The Shops at Hudson Yards, anchored by New York’s first Neiman Marcus. A few months earlier, restaurants (twenty-five at last count) will begin to fill the space, a process that will make the area the city’s undisputed culinary destination. The list reads like a food-obsessive’s dream: A steakhouse from Thomas Keller, a new outpost of the Midtown favorite Estiatorio Milos, a new concept from David Chang and a 35,000-square-foot food hall from José Andrés, opening next fall, that Blau calls “a Spanish version of Eataly.”
Blau took an active role in selecting chefs to partner with. Some, like Thomas Keller, whose restaurants Per Se and Bouchon Bakery are located within Related’s Time Warner Center, were old friends. Others required a bit more scouting. “We just started travelling the world and going to great restaurants and then you eat someplace great and you try to figure out who the owner is and who the chef is. That’s really what happened with Juan Santa Cruz,” says Blau, who introduced himself to the chef after eating at his London hotspot Casa Cruz. Santa Cruz will make his United States debut with a restaurant at 35 Hudson Yards.
Related’s vision is to create a community that you, truly, never need to leave. “It’s a little cliché to say ‘live, work, play,’ but that really is the lifestyle of the future; how people want to live their lives. Here at Hudson Yards, you can have your office, you can live here, you can go to the restaurants and bars, and go shopping and work out—all in one day. That’s really what’s happening here,” he says. For him, the concept extends past the Hudson Yards border into the greater West Chelsea neighborhood.
“People that come to look at 15 Yards [the project’s first residential tower]: their kids can walk to Avenues School on the High Line and walk over to Chelsea Piers for after-school activities,” he says. (A public elementary/middle school will also be opening at Hudson Yards and a Success Academy charter school launches this month at nearby 555 10th Avenue.) Becoming a part of the Chelsea neighborhood, Blau believes, is crucial to the success of Hudson Yards. “It’s really meant to be part of the city fabric not a separate area, like how Battery Park City feels isolated. This is really meant to feel like it’s part of New York City with each building standing alone,” he explains.
Sales of residences at 15 Hudson Yards, which range from $5 million to $32 million, began in September and, according to Related, they’ve sold faster than any other new condominiums in Manhattan. Buyers have come from other West Side Manhattan neighborhoods, like the Upper West Side and Tribeca, as well as the Upper East Side and communities in New Jersey, Long Island, Connecticut and Westchester County. Some are looking to relocate, while others are seeking a second home in the city. Driving interest, Blau believes, is the focus Related put on design. “Each one of the buildings has a great architect and the ones that are coming on the West Side are just going to be incredible,” he explains. “All have big-name architects and great interior designers that are really doing something special with each building. These are not commodity buildings all by the same architect. Each one is different.”
Current buyers have signed on without the benefit of seeing the finished product and Blau acknowledges the risk inherent in that, but believes it will pay off. “Right now, it’s a major construction site and you need to have a little vision to see what it’s going to turn into,” he says. “New Yorkers still don’t appreciate what an incredible transformation is happening on the West Side because it’s not done, it’s all behind fences. Once it’s open and people can walk through and see it, I think there’s going to be a huge escalation and the people that bought in these early stages are going to have tremendous appreciation.”
What might end up having the biggest impact are Hudson Yards’ public spaces. In April, work began on Vessel, a 15-story steelwork sculpture from British designer Thomas Heatherwick, that will be the focal point of the expansive plaza. (Those curious can peek in at its progress from atop the High Line.) Vessel is made up of 154 flights of stairs, allowing visitors to capture unique views of the waterfront.
Related knew that they needed a special kind of visual draw if they wanted Hudson Yards to become a true New York City destination. “We wanted to do something so that everyone that comes to New York has to come here and see it. So we thought about great squares and great plazas around the world and in New York—Rockefeller Center and the skating rink and the Christmas tree. Ultimately, we decided we needed to create our own version: a 365-days-a-year Christmas tree,” he says.
There’s no one more eager for Hudson Yards to throw open its doors than Blau. “The opportunity to do something as impactful to the community as this is really the experience of a lifetime,” he says. “To have the ability to change the city—in a positive way, we think—and make these incredible spaces, where you come by 10 years later and realize you were part of creating the expansion of New York City.”