Reimagining the Bronx Waterfront: A Developer’s View

Brad Zackson talks about Dynamic Star’s ambitious plans for addressing the borough's affordable housing crisis.

New York City is notorious for its ever-increasing affordable housing shortage. Among its boroughs, the Bronx is probably one of the most vulnerable, with its districts ranking highest for threats to affordable housing citywide, according to a report from the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development.

After years of sustained disinvestment, the borough’s waterfront is being reimagined, with former industrial sites making way to sustainable development that includes both private and public spaces, while adding much-needed housing options for low-income residents.

One of the companies working to transform the Bronx waterfront into a heathier, greener space is Dynamic Star. With a combined experience of more than 125 years in New York City real estate development, planning, construction and community relations, the firm is set to break ground in April on a mixed-use development comprising affordable and market-rate housing, community facility space and first-time public access via a Harlem River waterfront esplanade.

Multi-Housing News asked Co-Founder & Director of Development Brad Zackson to share details about this large-scale, complex project and weigh in on the financial challenges associated with affordable housing development in high-cost markets like New York City.

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Given your breadth of experience, what’s the best way to approach affordable housing developments in today’s difficult economic environment?

Zackson: In today’s challenging economic climate, the key to successful affordable housing development lies in creative financing strategies and strategic partnerships. This involves leveraging available resources such as government subsidies, brownfield tax credits and low-interest financing programs. Additionally, employing innovative construction methods and cost-saving measures also helps to maximize efficiency without compromising quality.

Our developments encompass a mix of residential, commercial and community spaces, combined with a rich mix of public open spaces and tenant amenity spaces, all designed to enhance livability and inclusivity… We remain committed to advancing equitable access to affordable housing across the city.

How are you navigating through the financial challenges associated with affordable housing development in a high-cost market such as NYC?

Zackson: The financial challenges associated with affordable housing development in high-cost markets like NYC are indeed significant. In response, Dynamic Star has a robust strategy that involves meticulous financial planning, thorough market analysis, and close collaboration with public and private stakeholders. Securing funding streams, managing construction costs, and optimizing project timelines are a few of the key elements in navigating these challenges effectively.

How do you ensure that your affordable housing projects fit into the communities you serve? What are the best ways to forge strong community partnerships to create and maintain affordable housing initiatives? 

Zackson: We prioritize community engagement and collaboration throughout the development process. We conduct extensive outreach with local community groups and elected officials to understand the unique needs and preferences of the communities we serve. By incorporating community feedback into the project design, we ensure that our developments are well integrated into the fabric of the neighborhood while addressing local concerns.

You’re set to soon break ground on Fordham Landing, a mixed-use development in the University Heights neighborhood of the Bronx. Tell us more about this massive project and its potential impact on the waterfront area.

Zackson: While Fordham Landing South represents a transformative project for the University Heights neighborhood of The Bronx, it is not a massive project in any sense of the word. With a total of 505 housing units, approximately 350,000 marketable square feet of community facility space, and nearly three quarters of an acre of public waterfront open space distributed over a nearly 4-acre site, the project will provide not only much-needed affordable housing but also contribute to the revitalization of the waterfront area. By offering a mix of affordable and market-rate housing, along with community facilities and public as well as private recreational amenities, Fordham Landing South will enhance the quality of life for residents and visitors alike. 

Besides financing, are there any other aspects of the project that pose challenges? How difficult is it to provide desirable amenities while maintaining affordability?

Zackson: In addition to financing, balancing affordability with desirable amenities poses a significant challenge. Dynamic Star employs innovative design strategies and cost-effective solutions to incorporate amenities that promote health and wellness while remaining affordable.

Please expand on the healthy-driven community concept at Fordham Landing. What does it entail exactly?

Zackson: The healthy-driven community concept at Fordham Landing embodies a comprehensive approach to promoting the wellbeing of its residents and community facility tenants. It entails integrating various elements into the development’s design, amenities, and programming to support physical, mental, and social health. Fordham Landing South distinguishes itself in this regard through several key features, including its waterfront lifestyle, enhanced outdoor public spaces, walkability, bike access and a critical connection to Roberto Clemente State Park.

Green spaces, landscaped terraces, and outdoor gathering areas will serve as tranquil retreats for residents and tenants to relax, socialize, and connect with nature. The esplanade, which is accessible to both bikers and pedestrians, and is connected into the NYC public street system, will encourage residents to engage in physical activity as part of their daily routines. This promotes not only physical fitness but also reduces reliance on cars, contributing to environmental sustainability.

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Will there be any other amenities or design elements that specifically target social determinants of health? 

Zackson: Health and wellness are central to our development philosophy. At Fordham Landing South, we prioritize features such as a pedestrian-friendly streetscape design, fitness centers, and outdoor recreational spaces. These amenities not only promote physical wellbeing but also address social determinants of health, including access to health care, education and social services. Fordham Landing South’s Harlem River esplanade design will encourage residents and the public alike to go outside by providing a wide array of passive and active recreational opportunities. In fact, Dynamic Star is currently working closely with the Harlem River Working Group, the New York City Department of Transportation and other stakeholders to ensure the esplanade is integrated seamlessly in the Harlem River Greenway.

What ways are there to measure the impact of health and wellness initiatives across purpose-built developments on residents’ lives?

Zackson: Our strategy is to collaborate with local health-care providers, community organizations, schools, and public health agencies to evaluate the impact of our health and wellness initiatives. This includes conducting pre- and post-development assessments and soliciting feedback directly from community leaders and residents.

What type of local entities do you collaborate with to provide low-income residents with all the services they need?

Zackson: Dynamic Star looks to partner with a range of community groups and agencies to ensure that residents have access to comprehensive services. Fordham Landing South will include approximately 350,000 marketable square feet of WELL-certified community facility space. By fostering strong partnerships at the local level, we can address the diverse needs of all our residents and promote holistic wellbeing.

Please share more details about your firm’s current and upcoming affordable housing project pipeline in the Bronx and/or other NYC areas.

Response: Dynamic Star has an exciting pipeline of affordable housing projects in the Bronx. In addition to Fordham Landing South, we are working with city and state agencies on a mixed-use rezoning proposal for Fordham Landing North, a 14-acre site located on the north side of the University Heights Bridge, as well as a mixed-use rezoning proposal for Bronx River Park, an approximately 5-acre site adjacent to Starlight Park and located on the boundary of the West Farms and Soundview neighborhoods in The Bronx.

Centrally located and with multiple transit options, Bronx River Park is destined to become a very desirable location for economically diverse housing and new commercial activity. 

Many specialists expect 2024 to be another difficult year for developers. What’s your take on affordable housing development in New York City this year?

Zackson: While 2024 may present continued challenges for affordable housing development in NYC, Dynamic Star remains optimistic about our ability to innovate and adapt to evolving market conditions. By staying agile, proactive and community-focused, we are confident in our ability to overcome obstacles and make meaningful contributions to addressing the city’s housing affordability crisis. Dynamic Star is dedicated to advancing equitable and sustainable development practices that benefit both residents and communities.

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