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Developers eye Rikers Island as NYC's next big real estate hub

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The 413-acre island could give way to a Stuy Town style housing development

The idea of closing Rikers Island Correctional Facility has been around, according to the city’s former probations and corrections commissioner Martin Horn, since at least Mayor Ed Koch’s term in the 1970s. But New York City has come a long way since then, firmly populating itself with some of the world’s most prized, and valuable, real estate. The argument to shutter the facility remains today, but Politico points out that while the charge is lead by a human rights interest, it’s also bolstered by a real estate one.

A number of major New York City real estate players are eyeing the island. John Kriegel, a Related exec, is said to “be fascinated by the idea” while Forest City Ratner CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin is leading a committee that’s reimagining the island’s use. The study from Gilmartin’s committee will be made public some time next year.

“The political center of [redeveloping Rikers Island] will be about how we make the system more humane and just,” New York State chief judge Jonathan Lippman, who heads the City Council’s criminal justice reform commission overseeing a study into redeveloping Rikers, told Politico, “and at the same time recognize that you do have a very strategically placed and valuable piece of real estate there that could have a multitude of public policy purposes to develop it.”

When it comes to redeveloping the island, two main trains of thought emerge: connecting the island to LaGuardia Airport, which stands just across the channel, to provide additional runway space, or creating a new mega development.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is hot on seeing the island become part of LaGuardia Airport, where the governor just introduced a $4 billion plan to overhaul the dated airport. “LaGuardia is fundamentally limited by runway space,” Cuomo told the Association for a Better New York. “That’s why I was very intrigued by the idea of the city selling Rikers Island…and using Rikers to build another runway for LaGuardia.”

Brooklyn developer David Kramer says that the 413-acre island—it’s nearly three times the size of Roosevelt Island—can hold a mid-rise, middle income housing development akin to Stuy Town (which measures just 80 acres).

“Land is a scarce resource in New York City and it can be developed and generate revenue for the city.” Durst Organization spokesman and lobbyist Jordan Barowitz told Politico. A criminal justice reform advocate agreed that it’s “useful to have real estate as one of the voices driving” the criminal justice reform movement focused on Rikers Island, but that its voice must be secondary to the land interest.

Rikers Island Correctional Facility

1500 Hazen St, East Elmhurst, NY 11370 (212) 266-1500 Visit Website