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Hudson Yards dazzles and distresses visitors on opening day

March 18, 2019

New Yorkers took time off, families schlepped from outer boroughs, and tourists timed their trips to get a first look at the Hudson Yards megaproject that opened Friday. 

 

The second that its doors were flung open at noon, visitors swarmed the seven-story luxury mall and crowded around Vessel, the lustrous, sculptural bauble made up of 154 interconnected staircases. But while some marveled at the city within a city, others came to gawk in disbelief at what one woman called “a shrine to excess intended solely for the rich.”

 

For Ken Dawson, a lifelong New Yorker who lives in Crown Heights and works for the MTA, today was a day of “monolithic proportions.” Dawson took a half day to roam the complex, jotting down names of stores and restaurants to share with his family and friends in the Brooklyn neighborhood where he’s lived for his entire 60 years.

 

“I couldn’t wait to get up to Hudson Yards,” he said. “It’s the Dubai of New York. It’s a breakthrough what’s taken place here.” Dawson, who said he was approaching the $25 billion development on Manhattan’s far west side from a “construction and native New Yorker” perspective, noted that he was working to convince his skeptical neighbors that such a project shouldn’t be scoffed at by locals. 

 

“We’re going to have to continue to grow, and when we grow we’re not going to grow in a shabby fashion,” said Dawson, who said he was excited to visit 3DEN where visitors can pay $6 to lounge, nap, even shower for 30 minutes. “You have to give this place a chance. You have to come.”

 

Kenneth Himmel, the president and CEO of Related Urban, told reporters on a tour of the pristine, marble-drenched mall (which opened with just shy of 90 shops) that it “has something for everyone,” with stores and eateries that run the price range gamut.

 

Kendall Becker, a fashion forecaster who lives on the Upper East Side, says she’s “obsessed” with the mall. “This is what brick and mortar needs to do to survive. This is the future of retail,” she said. 

 

Some stores are tricked out with technology and gimmicks: Neiman Marcus, the high-end department store’s first location in the city, has three eateries inside the bi-level store, in-person stylists, and dressing room technology that can scan your products and allow you to request different sizes from associates on the floor. 

 

Throughout the mall, shoppers explored the design firm Snarkitectue’s interactive, mini-museum Snark Park; visitors lined up for free, personalized silhouettes; and at Uniqlo, crowds gathered for a taiko drum performance while chowing down on samples of mac and cheese from a nearby eatery.

 

“It’s a spectacle,” said Andy Li, holding his two-year-old daughter as she tousled a wall of flip sequins. Li and his wife, Linda, trekked from Flushing, Queens to enjoy a family outing at Hudson Yards. “I honestly think the whole thing is very impressive. We wanted to see what all the fuss was about,” Li continued.

 

“I literally planned my trip to the NYC around Hudson Yards’ opening,” said Sarah Ferguson, who works in advertising and was visiting from Boston. “It’s a whole new neighborhood in Manhattan to explore.”

 

But for others, walking through the mall and surveying the glassy skyscrapers felt like a “slap in the face to New Yorkers struggling across the city,” said a retired science teacher who came with her husband to see Hudson Yards “out of spite.”

“It’s really something else,” said Margery Goldberg, as she stared up at Thomas Heatherwick’s Vessel. “There are people barely making ends meet and they shell out millions for a staircase to nowhere. It’s a garish waste of money, if you ask me.”

 

The 70-year-old recalled being forced out of several Manhattan neighborhoods over the years due to rising rents before winding up in Williamsburg, and seethed over how few units at below-market rents will be included at the megadevelopment—the full project will have roughly 4,000 apartments with more than 400 “affordable” units.

 

“This luxury extension of Manhattan is just throwing crumbs to the people who’ve lived here their whole lives,” Goldberg said. “It’s a playground for the rich and a monstrosity and I wanted to come to at least say that I tried to keep an open mind.”

 

Courtney Brown hurried through the pedestrian plaza, avoiding the mall and barely gave the Vessel a glance. “I can’t really afford anything here,” the Harlem resident said. “I have to catch a bus for work.” 

 

One man sitting on a bench at a nearby NYCHA complex, which has views of Hudson Yards, sneered when asked if he planned on visiting anytime soon. “I’m not setting foot in there,” said Charles Johnson, a long-time Chelsea-Elliot Houses resident. “That place isn’t meant for me.

 

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