Hoping to grace the New York City skyline, Affirmation Tower is set to make history as the first skyscraper built by Blacks in the Big Apple; however, a recent roadblock for the project is now putting the building’s fate in jeopardy.
Affirmation Tower is set for location at 35th and 36th streets, 11th Avenue and Hudson Boulevard West—across the street from the Jacob Javits Center, one block from the High Line, Hudson Yards and the No. 7 subway line.
The project will sit on 1.2 acres and include a 1,663-foot tower, two hotels, an observation deck and skating rink as well as commercial office spaces.
The dream team of Black developers working on the project include architect Sir David Adjaye; real estate firm The Peebles Corporation, led by Black multi-millionaire R. Donahue Peebles; century-old Black and woman-owned design construction firm The McKissack Group; real estate investor Steven Charles Witkoff, founder of the Witkoff Group; and Exact Capital.
The team made its presentation to the Empire State Development Corporation last October in response to a request for proposals (RFP) with a commitment of 35% in contracts to people of color totaling more than a billion dollars. However, Craig Livingston, managing partner for Exact Capital Group, told the AmNews that the RFP was canceled.
“We heard that the RFP was pulled so that the governor could re-evaluate it in line with her priorities,” Livingston said. “And today we are still waiting for that to be clarified and articulated and for the RFP to be re-issued.”
Craig explains that when government agencies have a contract that they want to award, an RFP will be issued. Interested parties will respond to the RFP with their proposal and those proposals are evaluated by staff or members of the issuing agency. After that, there’s usually an interview of various teams and follow up questions. The project is then awarded to the group that was presenting a proposal that created the most public benefit for the citizens of the city or state.
Livingston said he and his colleagues are not clear as to why this process did not work for Affirmation Tower.
“With this project, you had the first opportunity in New York State for the government to demonstrate a paradigm shift with how economic opportunity and just business opportunities are awarded,” he said. “Unfortunately, members of our community are often left out of that conversation. We put together a phenomenal team of developers, architects, builders, and our team is 80% Black. We were contributing over a billion dollars to MWBE contracting and paying a king’s ransom to the state for the development rights.”
There are conversations about whether or not Affirmation Tower will build affordable housing in the Hudson Yards area, which the initial plans do not contain. Livingston feels it’s not appropriate for the site because it’s across the street from the Jacob Javits Center, which is one of the largest convention centers in the nation.
The team is not ruling out the possibility of adding a plan to build affordable housing for the project, however, Livingston believes that the characteristics of the Hudson Yards area makes it hard to envision.
“I think there’s some demand for affordable housing in every community in New York City across and the country, but we have to do it smartly in a way in which we can incorporate residential use appropriately,” he said.
What are the next steps? Livingston says the plan to build Affirmation Towers is far from over.
“We remain completely focused [and] more motivated than ever to make sure we represent our idea of creating this international landmark,” he said. “We can demonstrate Black excellence and also be drivers of a huge paradigm shift to finally open up economic opportunities of this scale. Our entire team remains committed to the project. We’re continuing to refine our vision and we look forward to the RFP being re-issued so that we can respond and ultimately prevail.”
In the meantime, the team behind Affirmation Tower remains hopeful that the RFP will be re-issued by the ESD and is preparing to resubmit once it’s reissued.
In a statement, ESD Acting Commissioner and President & CEO-Designate Hope Knight said the RFP for Affirmation Tower was pulled to get a better understanding of the community’s needs.
“In light of today’s changed economic environment and in keeping with Governor Hochul’s commitment to building a thriving and equitable New York, Empire State Development is rescinding the current RFP for Site K, one of the last remaining State-owned parcels in Manhattan, to reassess inclusive development priorities and solicit more input from the local community and other stakeholders,” she said. “It is critical that this site fulfill the governor’s goal of delivering on the needs of New Yorkers today and into tomorrow.”
ESD gave no further updates on when the RFP would be reissued.
The AmNews reached out to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office about the project but did not get a response at press time.