One-on-One with Dan Garodnick: What Happens when the Public and Private Sectors Work Together

One-on-One with Dan Garodnick: What Happens when the Public and Private Sectors Work Together
Dan Garodnick was elected to New York City council in 2005 and served until December 31 of 2017.

By Will Conrad

Dan Garodnick was elected to New York City council in 2005 and served until December 31 of 2017. He made a reputation for himself as an extremely effective negotiator with the ability to bring the public and private sectors together for the common good. Dan’s most recent project was the Midtown East Rezoning. Facing an aging building stock and congested commuters, Dan’s team delivered effective legislation to give the district the serious overhaul it needed to remain competitive. He is also well known for his efforts to eliminate New York City’s commercial rent tax and preserve middle-income housing at Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village. I sat down with Dan to discuss the positive changes that occur when public and private interests align. 

What was the genesis of the Midtown East Rezoning? Was it a continuation of Bloomberg’s plan?

Dan Garodnick: We understood that Mayor Bloomberg was right in his identification of a problem. East Midtown was getting older and less competitive and it needed a jolt. As part of the city that generates 10% of the entire city’s tax revenues, we thought it prudent to take steps to ensure the district remained competitive, desirable, and open for business. So we renewed the effort to do an East Midtown Rezoning in 2014. We wanted to make sure that we did it thoughtfully and completely, and that we delivered not only certainty for the real estate community to innovate and grow but also certainty to the public which was struggling with transit problems and crowded sidewalks, and other unpleasant conditions. Allowing thoughtful growth while also delivering certain benefits to the public.

Describe the effort it took to bring the private and public sector’s interests together.

DG: Its was complicated. It took a lot of careful negotiation, understanding the interests of the various stakeholders involved and crafting a plan that balanced the needs out there. Borough President Gale Brewer and I chaired a steering committee that met for about 9 months that had representatives from the Real Estate Board and the Community Boards, the historic preservationists and transit advocates and everyone in between. And our goal was to dissect the earlier plan, think about what was driving people to see a need for change, and to deliver a positive result. By understanding those interests we were able to strike a balance.

The Rezoning Bill passed New York City Council approval unanimously, 42-0, how did you manage to get everyone on board?


DG: I had worked over time to keep my colleagues in the loop, make sure they understood the importance of this for the city. I took the time to bring some of the key players to East Midtown to show them some of the challenges we were facing. And I generally had a good relationship with my colleagues and they saw how hard we were working to balance the interests and get to a positive result.

JP Morgan recently announced the construction of a brand new headquarters at 270 Park. Were changes of this magnitude expected this quickly?

DG: This plan was expected to be a 20-30 year plan, we expected changes but not necessarily that fast. But I’m very happy to see that activity is happening and that we are seeing progress. It will be good for the local economy, it will be good for the district, these new developments are generating extraordinary sums for public improvements in the area and people will feel those improvements quickly.

Another project you took on is the reduction of the Commercial Rent Tax. What was your motivation to spearhead this specific issue?

DG: We have a retail crisis. Not just in New York but in other parts of the country. Some of it relates to the presence of online shopping and some if it relates to exorbitant rents, neither of which was directly under the control of New York City. I spotted one thing that was within the control of New York City, and it was a bizarre and outdated tax that we were imposing on businesses only South of 96th street in Manhattan. And the tax wasn’t on their income, it wasn’t on their personnel, it was a tax on their rent. What better way to throw cold water on small businesses than to tax their rent? Ultimately this tax should not exist. It’s unfair and antiquated, and if I were to propose today, from scratch, that we should tax businesses in only one part of the city, people would laugh me out of the room, and they should. I saw an opportunity to give them some relief and that why I worked so hard to do that.

In recent years, your projects have involved commercial tenants, but you are very well known for negotiating a deal to protect residential tenants at Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. Can you explain the deal that you were able to reach?

 
DG: We persevered 5,000 units as affordable housing for middle class people for the next 20 years. It was after a decade of battles and effort to stand up for a community that represented a bastion of middle-class housing in the city and was suddenly under attack. We were very proud of where we landed on that and it came out of a lot of organizing, litigation, and effort by the tenants and their local councilman to try to act as commercial players in a complicated real estate transaction.

Moving forward, how do you unite the public and private to build more affordable housing?

DG: The key is for government to set out a set of rules that deliver a positive result and then to allow the private sector to innovate. My sense is that there are opportunities for new programs and initiatives, most of which need to be created at the state level but have to include programs that somebody in the private sector would have an interest in embracing, because they’re the ones that have to build this housing, and we need them building this housing. So, we want to see that next generation of Mitchell Lama or renewed rent stabilization laws, or other incentives to protect some level of affordability. In housing we have a major crisis and its not going to let up and its proving very difficult to keep up. And that’s one of the reasons that the Stuyvesant Town deal was so important because when you have units that already fall into a category of affordable, you need to hold on to them for dear life.

For my closing question, what council members are you excited to see make their mark on the city? Who would you consider some of the most promising politicians coming up in New York City?

DG: Councilman Powers is a great example as well as Carlina Rivera, the council member right next door. I think there are great public servants out there like Gale Brewer. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with these folks, there’s a lot of talent out there.

Garodnick is well known for negotiating a deal to protect residential tenants at Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. 

 
DG: We persevered 5,000 units as affordable housing for middle class people for the next 20 years. It was after a decade of battles and effort to stand up for a community that represented a bastion of middle-class housing in the city and was suddenly under attack. We were very proud of where we landed on that and it came out of a lot of organizing, litigation, and effort by the tenants and their local councilman to try to act as commercial players in a complicated real estate transaction.

Moving forward, how do you unite the public and private to build more affordable housing?

DG: The key is for government to set out a set of rules that deliver a positive result and then to allow the private sector to innovate. My sense is that there are opportunities for new programs and initiatives, most of which need to be created at the state level but have to include programs that somebody in the private sector would have an interest in embracing, because they’re the ones that have to build this housing, and we need them building this housing. So, we want to see that next generation of Mitchell Lama or renewed rent stabilization laws, or other incentives to protect some level of affordability. In housing we have a major crisis and its not going to let up and its proving very difficult to keep up. And that’s one of the reasons that the Stuyvesant Town deal was so important because when you have units that already fall into a category of affordable, you need to hold on to them for dear life.

For my closing question, what council members are you excited to see make their mark on the city? Who would you consider some of the most promising politicians coming up in New York City?

DG: Councilman Powers is a great example as well as Carlina Rivera, the council member right next door. I think there are great public servants out there like Gale Brewer. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with these folks, there’s a lot of talent out there.