Development on Manhattan's far West Side, believe it or not, is actually happening. In a few years, the Hudson Yards will be the home of a new subway station, thousands of apartments, and more office space than the city of Baltimore. And thanks to a generous taxpayer handout orchestrated by the Bloomberg administration, the Hudson Yards will also be home to a brand-new arts organization, the Culture Shed, which will debut in an audacious new building that will partially cover what was once public space.
The Culture Shed is a favored project of several people with close ties to the Bloomberg administration, including Dan Doctoroff, the former deputy mayor of economic development and now CEO of Bloomberg L.P. who is the chairmen of the board for The Culture Shed.
For a nascent arts organization, $50 million is a huge grant. Many other arts organizations, some badly needing help with capital improvements on their physical structures, only received grants in the thousands. The Culture Shed received more than three times the amount of money than the next highest grant amount, which went to the New York Aquarium to help it recover from Hurricane Sandy.
The mayor's office argues that the grant is justified, as the Culture Shed will become a significant arts hub for the new neighborhood (and beyond), renting out offices to different arts organizations and featuring several performance spaces, with plans to host Fashion Week in the coming years.
A spokesperson for the mayor's office responded that Doctoroff (who, remember, is running Bloomberg's company) was the perfect person to lead the project. "[Doctoroff] serves on the board of the Culture Shed pro bono," Julie Wood, a spokesperson for Bloomberg, said in an email. "He was also the conceptual architect of the Culture Shed, as part of the development on the West Side, when he was a deputy mayor. There’s no one who knows more about the project and is better positioned to lead it."
Some fear the Culture Shed could become the new Javits Center that Doctoroff and other real estate players have always dreamed of (even as part of when they vainly attempted to build a stadium on the West Side). The Javits Center, which is an irredeemable jangle of metal, could begin losing events to the Culture Shed, and the very culture the shed purports to represent could become less cultural and much more commercial. The city has already told the Community Board that boat shows and fashion events would become standard programming at the new "arts" space.
The mayor's office is defending the size of the grant. "The size of the grant is directly related to the cost of creating a brand-new building using an innovative design," a spokesperson told us. "For instance, the New York Aquarium in Coney Island is receiving $108 million over four years—while $15M is in the city budget for this fiscal year, they are getting an additional $45 million from the federal government. Bottom line: major capital projects like this one cost tens of millions of dollars."
The Culture Shed will also feature a retractable roof that would double the size of the building, and once deployed, would cover some 20,000 square feet of public space, often for private events. For example, during Fashion Week, a large swath of public space would be closed for at least 28 days a year. The massive publicly-funded arts space might not be very public at all.
The Bloomberg administration is wagering that the Culture Shed will be viewed as a public good, and start engendering goodwill towards a development scheme that has been a goal of the Bloomberg administration since day one: a new, expensive neighborhood on Manhattan's West Side.
In response to questions about the appropriation of public land for private, corporate events, Elise Wagner, an attorney for the project, told DNAinfo in March that, "The case we're making to you is that we're providing this cultural facility, which has a lot of public benefits," she said. "That is the trade-off."
New Yorkers will eventually have to decide for themselves if this trade-off was worthwhile, or just another taxpayer-funded boon for the luxury class.