REAL ESTATE

Bjarke Ingels unveils design for Freedom Plaza casino development next to the U.N.

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Rendering of Freedom Plaza courtesy of Negativ

As the state’s process for choosing a site for a New York City gaming facility continues to slowly move forward, new renderings released this week offer a closer look at one proposed casino in Manhattan. Renowned architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) on Monday unveiled new images of Freedom Plaza, a mixed-use development with apartments, a hotel, a museum, a 4.77-acre public park, and an underground casino just south of the United Nations.

Renderings of Freedom Plaza courtesy of Negativ

Proposed by Soloviev Group, one of several developers vying for one of the three casino licenses to be issued for downstate, Freedom Plaza would sit on a six-acre stretch of vacant land next to the U.N. headquarters.

The project includes two residential towers, one at 550 feet tall and another at 650 feet, with 1,325 total apartments. Roughly 500 of them will be made permanently affordable, as the developer announced last year, which could mean apartments for New Yorkers earning an average of 80 percent of the area median income. The podium of the residential tower will include a food market and restaurants.

At the center of the site are two hotel towers, both of which have a proposed height of 615 feet. The hotels, including New York’s first Banyan Tree hotel and a Mohegan Hotel, are connected at the top by a cantilevered multistory bridge, according to the project page. Boasting views of the city in all directions, the bridge will hold amenities shared by both towers.

Renderings show the towers with metal and glass facades in a modern, international style, a nod to its multinational neighbor.

Renderings by Bucharest Studio

The design also calls for a 4.77-acre public waterfront designed by OJB Landscape Architecture. Within the park, will be the Museum of Freedom of Democracy, which renderings reveal will take a spiral shape and will hang over a pedestrian pathway. As Soloviev Group CEO Michael Hershmann told The Architect’s Newspaper, the shape pays homage to Greek theaters where democracy was created.

The museum will feature artwork from international artists, large-scale experiential installations, and historical artifacts. There will also be slabs from the Berlin Wall on permanent display.

“When Le Corbusier, Niemeyer and Harrison designed the UN Secretariat Building, they grafted an oasis of international modernism onto the dense urban grid of Manhattan, creating a park on the river framed by towers and pavilions,” Ingels said in a press release. “Due to the nature of the work of the UN, access to that park – although open to all nations – remains necessarily restricted, for good reasons.”

He added: “With our design for Freedom Plaza, we continue to build on these architectural principles by uniting three city blocks to form a public green space reaching from 1st Avenue to the East River overlook, creating a green connection all the way to the water’s edge.”

Rendering by Bucharest Studio
Rendering courtesy of Negativ

A partially subterranean casino operated by Mohegan anchors the development. The initial proposal also included plans to construct a giant Ferris wheel on the site, but that idea has been abandoned.

“We are incredibly honored and thrilled to be part of the team that can envision a new major public space in this great city, to contribute to the iconic skyline of Manhattan’s riverfront, and to imagine the architecture of the museum celebrating one of mankind’s greatest inventions: Democracy,” Ingels said.

In 2022, the state legislature approved licenses for three new casinos in the region and several proposals from developers and casino companies have been announced, with bids for Hudson Yards, Times Square, a Bronx golf course, Coney Island, across from the Javits Center, Saks Fifth Avenue, and next to Citi Field. According to the New York Times, it’s likely two of the licenses will go to existing electronic gambling facilities at Aqueduct Racetrack and Yonkers Raceway.

Mayor Eric Adams is making it easier for winning bids to actually build a casino in the city. In the fall, the City Planning Commission started a seven-month public review process for a zoning text amendment permitting the construction of casinos as of right in specified commercial and manufacturing districts without going through the city’s uniform land use review procedure. Casino proposals would only need approval from the state and the NY Community Advisory Committee to move forward, as 6sqft reported.

Under the updated rules, each application will require a local Community Advisory Committee (CAC) comprised of the governor, mayor, and local officials to determine community support, host public meetings, and ultimately vote on the proposal. Only applications approved by a two-thirds threshold will be considered.

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