Press Releases

For Immediate Release
April 25, 2019

Rachaele Raynoff, Joe Marvilli – (212) 720-3471

City Planning, Manhattan Borough President Brewer and Council Member Chin Announce Public Workshop to Further Develop Tools & Strategies in SoHo and NoHo Public Engagement Process

Fifth event in six-month series of public meetings and consultation with local stakeholders to outline a vision for the future of SoHo and NoHo neighborhoods

NEW YORK - Department of City Planning (DCP) Director Marisa Lago, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Council Member Margaret Chin today announced that the fifth public engagement session for visioning the future of SoHo and NoHo will take place on Thursday, May 2, beginning at 6 p.m. at the 1 Centre Street North mezzanine.

After the initial Open House on February 6, and the three public workshops on February 28, March 20 and April 11, the coming session will be the last of four thematic workshops, which will build on community priorities and preferences identified at the last public workshop, hone in on strategies that will further shared principles and goals, and discuss tools to address quality of life issues.

Format/agenda of May 2 thematic workshop, 6 to 8:00 PM:

  • 6 — 6:15 PM: Community members arrive and mingle with SoHo/NoHo Process sponsors, Manhattan Borough President Brewer, Council Member Chin, City Planning Director Lago, their staff, and engagement facilitator, Jonathan Martin.
  • 6:15 — 6:30 PM: Presentation by staff about the engagement process, feedback gathered at previous sessions and what to expect at this session
  • 6:30 — 7:45 PM: Breakout groups and facilitated discussions focused on strategies and tools
  • 7:45 — 8:00 PM: Workshop participants regroup and Q&A

The purpose of the engagement process, and “why now?”
SoHo and NoHo are dynamic mixed-use neighborhoods with an established residential population, strong office markets with growing creative firms, and one of the city’s biggest retail centers. At the same time, the existing zoning, established nearly five decades ago to balance the needs of a declining manufacturing sector and a growing artist community, presents challenges to the continued vitality of these historic neighborhoods.

Today, the two neighborhoods are: 

  • Home to about 8,000 New Yorkers, representing a more significant residential presence than in typical manufacturing districts;
  • Home to more than 51,000 jobs principally in office, retail, accommodation, food and other non-industrial sectors;
  • Major creative centers: over 25% of total jobs in the creative industries;
  • Major economic drivers: SoHo’s retail sector ranks second citywide in annual sales, and 10th nationally.

The intent of the SoHo/NoHo public engagement process is to strategize and collaborate on crafting ideas that address on-the-ground challenges faced by businesses and residents of these two historic Manhattan neighborhoods, while enhancing and preserving neighborhood assets.
Highlights of the third public workshop held on April 11:

  • Over 150 attendees discussed principles, objectives and examples of specific ideas distilled from previous engagement meetings under three overarching themes:
    • Protect existing artists and other residents and expand live-work and housing opportunities
    • Preserve neighborhood context and historic and cultural identity
    • Support economic vitality and strengthen mixed-use
  • Top priorities identified in the session include:
    • Uphold current scale and character of buildings in historic districts
    • Maintain, enforce and strengthen existing protections for residents, especially renters
    • Explore innovative mechanisms to support the artist community and incentivize arts, cultural and creative uses
    • Incorporate more flexibility into regulations so that live-work and housing opportunities are extended beyond certified artists, and a wider range of uses can occupy ground floor spaces
  • Participants also discussed trade-offs and balances among goals, such as:
    • How to foster a more inclusive residential community while preserving the unique cultural and live-work heritage of SoHo and NoHo
    • How to allow new developments to occur on underutilized land while preserving iconic character of the historic neighborhoods
    • How to ensure a mix of uses, including artist live-work, residential, commercial, retail, eating and drinking, maker uses, can coexist harmoniously

Highlights of the second public workshop held on March 20:

  • Over 150 attendees discussed their experiences as residents of SoHo and NoHo, the challenges of renting and owning, and ideas and vision for the future of the neighborhoods
  • Key facts on SoHo/NoHo’s residential landscape include:
    • SoHo/NoHo’s residential history is complicated and shaped by a myriad of laws and regulations including zoning and the Loft Law
    • Units’ occupancy statuses are diverse; so are the professions and occupations of residents
    • Joint Living-Work Quarters for Artist (JLWQA) as a manufacturing use, while initially created to facilitate the legalization of the working artist enclave that existed in 1971 in SoHo, has morphed into a use category that can be associated with artists certified by the Department of Cultural Affairs, grandfathered non-certified-artist residents, legal successors and tenants covered by the Loft Law
    • The existing, approximately 5,000 total units in SoHo/NoHo fall into three main categories: about a third are documented as JLWQA uses that require certified artist in occupancy with limited exceptions; another third are units legalized, or currently being legalized, under the Loft Law; and the other third are standard residential units that do not carry occupancy restriction
    • Based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, SoHo/NoHo, as compared to Manhattan average, has a bigger share of owner-occupied units
  • Key challenges identified by workshop participants include:
    • Given the patchwork of occupancy statuses, existing residents, artists and non-artists alike, desire to be recognized and protected from displacement
    • The need to reconcile change and legacy of the neighborhoods
    • Quality of life improvement as an integral part of future change
    • The need to expand housing, affordable housing and live-work options for new residents
    • The need for better enforcement of regulations
  • A wide range of differing ideas to address challenges also emerged from the discussions:
    • The future of live-work: some called for maintaining the JLWQA status-quo, while others embrace new types of live-work models not limited to certified artists, as well as standard residential units
    • While some called for stronger enforcement of existing zoning rules, others expressed skepticism that enforcement would solve all problems and not result in unintended consequences
    • Strategies within and beyond zoning to support cultural and creative uses and improve quality of life are proposed, including promoting shared maker/work space, affordable artist housing, creating coordinated delivery and trash pick-up plans
  • Attendees also filled out about 140 surveys. A more comprehensive summary of the ideas and comments collected at the workshop is available on the SoHo/NoHo engagement website.

Highlights of the first public workshop held on February 28:

  • Over 200 attendees participating in breakout group discussions
  • Key themes include:
    • SoHo/NoHo are employment hubs for region, thanks to their transit options, proximity to educational institutions and workforce, and their versatile loft spaces
    • The neighborhoods are home to a diverse range of businesses
    • More than 13 million square feet of building floor area in SoHo/NoHo is dedicated to non-residential use
    • SoHo/ NoHo gained over 18,000 jobs since 2010, with growth across all non-industrial sectors
    • The average vacancy rate in the two neighborhoods is 14%, due to a variety of factors
  • Input gathered from the Workshop include:
    • The need to better understand who live in SoHo and NoHo and how many artists there are
    • Address quality of life issues, including better maintenance of historic streets, adding more street lighting, addressing congestion, loading noise and air population, trash collection
    • A more balanced retail mix (i.e. need for more local retail such as convenience stores, affordable groceries, small artisanal retail; less focus on destination retail and chain stores)
    • Concerns for storefront vacancies and ideas for how to utilize vacancy spaces
    • The need for more community space and facilities, including open space, pre-schools, and senior centers
    • The need for a more focused discussion on how existing regulations affect residential and commercial property owners, as well as business owners
  • If you missed the workshop, you can view the presentation online, and share your comments and ideas in an online survey, or through an online mapping tool.

Highlights of the first public engagement session, an Open House held February 6:

  • Over 200 attendees participating in breakout group discussions
  • Key themes include:
    • The need to focus on SoHo/NoHo’s history, creativity, and iconic character
    • Better manage the public realm, including loading, pedestrian and vehicular traffic, trash collection and vendors
    • Preserve and create housing, including affordable housing
    • Support for small businesses and focus on retail character
    • Enforce zoning rules

Other engagement meetings
To further ensure participation by business owners, long-term certified artist residents, residential and commercial property owners, as well as Chinese-speaking stakeholders in the southeastern portion of the study area, the Process Sponsors, with the help of the Advisory Group, have been hosting additional focus group meetings between March and May.

Takeaways from these meetings, as well as summaries for Advisory Group working sessions, will be summarized and shared on the SoHo/NoHo engagement website.

Earlier press releases on this topic are available: April 4, 2019, March 13, 2019, February 22, 2019 and January 11, 2019.