1965: A federally funded urban renewal plan for the 14-block area bounded by Delancey, Essex, Grand, and Willet Streets was adopted by the New York City Board of Estimate and named the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA). At the time of designation, 1,840 residents and several hundred small businesses lived and operated on the site. 90% of the residents were low income. The population was very diverse - 45% Hispanic, 33% white, 12% Asian, and 10% African-American.
1967: The City of New York took title to the buildings in SPURA and cleared the land. The city relocated the residents to affordable housing developments and tenement buildings. The former site occupants were given written assurances of their priority right to return to any new housing built in SPURA.
1972: After years of community pressure to build housing to serve the multi-ethnic dislocated residents and other poorly-housed Lower East Side residents, 360 units of public housing were built in the SPURA. When leasing began, it was revealed that the first 171 leases were issued to white applicants affiliated with a nearby synagogue without priority to former residents. Court action (Otero v NYCHA) halted the rental.
1974: A mediated settlement provided for 60% of the apartments to be rented to minority families and 40% to whites. Only 160 former site residents were housed, but those not accommodated were given priority in public housing elsewhere with the option to return when additional housing was built in SPURA.
1974-78: St. Mary’s Guild Houses, 600 units of low and moderate-income housing, is built in the SPURA. This racially/ethnically integrated project was sponsored by St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church on Grand Street. The remaining land in the SPURA stayed undeveloped as a powerful local assemblyman and his political allies fought against any efforts to build affordable integrated housing.
1979-80: In an effort to accommodate the demands of the several conflicting interests in the community, Mayor Koch’s office introduced a multi-use compromise plan for the largest undeveloped segment of the SPURA. After protracted negotiations with affected parties, a compromise was agreed to:
A major shopping center (150,000 sq. ft.) located between Delancey, Norfolk, Broome & Clinton Sts.
156 units of low-income senior citizen housing sponsored by Chinatown Planning Council.
100 units of low-income family housing sponsored by Grand Street Settlement.
At the Board of Estimate hearing on the compromise, the Manhattan Borough President submitted an amendment removing the family housing from the plan. Despite the Mayor’s opposition this amendment passed. Only the senior citizen housing and a second senior citizen housing (125 units) sponsored by the United Jewish Council of the Lower East Side, were built, still leaving most of SPURA undeveloped.
1988: The City of New York and the Lefrak Organization made a ‘deal’ to redevelop SPURA with luxury condos, middle and moderate-income housing. After a legal suit brought by the community which charged that the ‘deal’ lacked the opportunity for fair competition, and that low-income former site occupants would not be re-housed, the proposal was dropped. Community Board #3 passed a resolution against market-rate development in the SPURA and in favor of housing for race and ethnically integrated low, moderate, and middle-income households.
1998: The City’s Economic Development Corporation announced a RFP for all of the remaining sites in SPURA plus two additional blocks. The then mayor saw the sale as a revenue producer with no provisions for affordable housing. Despite the fact that several responses to the RFP were received, some including affordable housing, no action was taken by the city.
2003: Mayor Bloomberg announces an initiative to build 65,000 units of affordable housing throughout the City. SPARC begins organizing to galvanize support for building affordable, primarily low-income housing and other compatible uses on the site. SPARC meets with HPD and elected officials, reaches out to community groups and neighborhood residents, and begins petition drive. In the Fall, HPD and EDC present a preliminary plan to Community Board #3 for 400 units of housing: 200 for low-income seniors, 100 for low-income families and 100 for moderate income families. The plan also calls for unspecified future housing to be built on top of a 2-story commercial development with community and cultural uses. CB #3 passes a resolution that affirms the need for more affordable housing on the site and calls for a community-wide Task Force comprised of CB and community representatives to provide in-put and develop a plan for the site. SPARC applauds HPD and EDC efforts to jump-start a plan, but calls for increasing the number of housing units, perhaps doubling the number, to compensate for widespread displacement and gentrification.
2005: The SPURA designation expires. SPARC and other community allies later successfully insist that despite the expiration, the City must continue to recognize the ‘right of return’ for former site tenants who were displaced from the site when the building were demolished during the period 1965-1973.
2007: SPARC plans a 40th anniversary vigil at the SPURA site and community residents speak out about the need to build low income housing at SPURA. SPARC was to hold annual vigils for several years after this.
2008: Community Board 3 decides to spearhead a planning process for SPURA. CB3 begins a process of putting together a set of planning principles for SPURA.
2009-2010: GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side) and CityLore (neighborhood history project) convene Lower East Side residents and other interested parties in a series of visioning sessions designed to generate discussion about the site’s future including neighborhood needs and affordable housing A Report of these sessions, SPURA Matters, is shared with the community and sent to CB#3, HPD, EDC.
2011: A lengthy long planning was begun that included SPARC amongst the identified community stakeholders. A Task Force chaired by CB3 and facilitated by a NYC-hired professional planner, hammered out a set of development and design principals that would be satisfactory to the community for the redevelopment of SPURA. In January CB3 passes the Seward Park Guidelines and in June passes the Design Principals. These documents state definitively that no less than 50% of units produced must be affordable for individuals and families from low to middle income. They also call for mixed use commercial use, park space and maintaining the street grid.
2012: Based on the principals hammered out by the community in June 2012, CB 3 approves the ULURP application for the redevelopment of nine sites which include all of the remaining undeveloped parcels in Seward Park and some additional ones outside these boundaries. The ULURP sets out the broad development outline that will guide the selection of one or more developers to purchase and rebuild the area. By agreeing to support the ULURP the community also secures City commitments for ‘affordability in perpetuity’ for the designated affordable units, and the priority right to return for the former site tenants who were displaced from the area nearly 50 years earlier. The City also agreed to establish a guiding Seward Park Task Force to provide on-going participation of the community in the selection of the developer, the design and the construction process, and all on-going implementation. In October 2012 the NY City Council unanimously approves the ULURP, clearing the way for the redevelopment to begin. The final ULURP document also specifies that the Essex Street Market will be expanded, relocated and preserved.
2013: In January the NYC Economic Development Corp. (EDC) issues a Request for Proposals (RFP) to developers who will commit to redeveloping the area according to the plan and principals laid out by the community. During the summer of that year the Seward Park Task Force meets with EDC to provide input on the responses to the RFP, and in September the development team of L&M Development, BFC and Taconic is selected to embark on the long-awaited development.
2015: Construction begins on Phase 1 of the project including four sites (Sites 1, 2, 5 and 6) which together will account for 561 units of housing including 313 affordable units, 100 of which will be for low income senior citizens. These sites are also scheduled to house a new and relocated Essex Street Market, a health care center, and a major supermarket. Construction is expected to be complete on the first of these sites in late 2017.
Phase 2 and 3 begin in 2016-2018; the entire project is expected to be completed in 2024.