On March 15, seven years after its 2012 groundbreaking, Hudson Yards, New York’s newest mixed-use development, opened its Shops & Restaurants for business. The 28-acre, $25 billion complex was conceived of under the Bloomberg administration, notorious for its bid to make New York a destination for the ultra-wealthy, and it shows.
Hudson Yards is at once a microcosm of the future and curiously retrograde, exclusionary in both its design and what’s inside. Consisting of mostly high-end retailers, upscale restaurants—several with celebrity chefs attached—an Equinox hotel and fitness center, office spaces and 3,600 luxury condos with an asking price between $4.3 and $32 million (400 have been earmarked for affordable housing), its one possibly egalitarian feature is a public arts space called the Shed. With its retractable ETFE shell, the performing arts, visual arts and pop culture center sits in stark ideological and physical contrast to the polished glass towers of the Yards. Despite mixed reviews, visitors have so far flocked to the city-within-a-city for selfie ops, in particular of the Vessel, a gleaming, beehive-like interactive art piece of interconnected stairways and landings that lead nowhere.
It’s a very bold move in an era when mall retailers are shuttering locations throughout the United States, particularly in a city that hasn’t had a lot of success with malls in the past. With Manhattan’s rising retail vacancy rate and ever-growing socioeconomic disparity, one cannot help but wonder, in Carrie Bradshaw-esque fashion, why does Hudson Yards even exist? Westfield World Trade Center, the underground mall next to the 9/11 Memorial, has struggled, as has the nearby Brookfield Place mall, which lost its anchor store, Saks Fifth Avenue, just two years after opening. And the aging Manhattan Mall, opposite the Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square, has certainly seen better days.
Commercial desert no more
A swath of the West Side formerly devoid of pedestrians, Hudson Yards spans four city blocks, from 30th to 34th Street, and is built on top of a working rail yard. The development terminates at the High Line, a disused elevated freight line-turned-urban park that draws 7 million visitors each year, many of them also headed to the Whitney Museum. Skewing younger, more educated and far wealthier than the average American, the typical High Line visitor would seem to be the Yards’ ideal retail customer. Still, the inward-facing mega-mall is awkward to get to, served by only the 7 train and a few bus lines that drop passengers off amidst chaotic construction. Despite being billed as “in the middle of Manhattan,” it’s actually 30-minute walk from midtown. Its city-facing side fronts 10th Avenue but offers no direct access. Instead, one must enter the mall and go up two stories to the plaza level.
Even so, developer The Related Companies projects 15 million to 22 million visitors per year, or 40,000 to 60,000 people a day, on par with its sister Time Warner Center. Who will those people likely be? Tourists are expected to account for 40 percent of shopping traffic and office workers—about 40,000 spread across five office towers—30 percent, given their convenient third-floor access to the shops. The remainder, the 10,000 eventual occupants of the condos and hotel and the rare non-Hudson Yards local.
What can those who do brave the journey hope to experience? The seven-story mall occupies 1,000,000 square feet, 750,000 of that devoted to retail, including department stores, the crown jewel being Dallas-based Neiman Marcus, making its New York debut, joined by fellow Dallasite Forty Five Ten, claiming 16,000 square feet on level 5. As of opening day, 65 retailers were listed on the Hudson Yards website.
eCommerce upstarts face the real world
Much has been made of the Innovator’s Floor, on level 2, where a handful of digitally native brands are testing the brick-and-mortar waters for the first time, including menswear brands Rhone and Mack Weldon, footwear showroom M. Gemi, new-age beverage peddlers The Drug Store and Dirty Lemon, tech retailer b8ta and home décor haven Batch. According to Related’s executive vice president, the aptly named R. Webber Hudson, “One third of the [mall’s] tenants are first-to-New York City concepts.” Digitally native brands are expected to open more than 850 stores nationwide over the next five years.
Hudson is also banking that Madison Avenue retailers will relocate to the Yards for Phase 2, once they see the unique value proposition of establishing a flagship store there. On the experiential front, there’s Snark Park, an Instagram-ready exhibition space featuring a Kith cereal bar and retail space, and 3den, a lounge with showers, charging ports, nap pods and tree swings hirable by the half hour. Not to be outdone, penthouse-level Neiman Marcus sprawls three stories, with Lucchese bespoke cowboy boots, the Zodiac Room restaurant, Resurrection Vintage, a Sephora-like cosmetics section, a digital styling lounge, street-level order pickup and a dizzying 8,000 square feet of ladies’ shoes.
But admission to this retail utopia and luxe living development has a price. Hudson Yards is collecting data on purchases, movements and biometrics using kiosks, cameras, scanners and apps and is not required to disclose what it will do with that data. Though ostensibly for marketing purposes, Related president Jay Cross has said that data collection is for “allowing us to make Hudson Yards function better.” The ultimate goal is to become the model for the city of the future. Invasive? Definitely. Unnecessary? Perhaps. Sustainable? Only time will tell.
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