But in the last days of the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a plan was finally announced. Now nine sites are on a fast track. The entire project is expected to be completed by 2024.
The first part of the project, which broke ground in 2015, will be done this October: a 14-story building near the entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge with 99 units of affordable senior housing, including apartments for as low as $396 a month. So far 60,000 people have entered that lottery. Also on site is a medical center affiliated with NYU Langone and a community center run by the nonprofit Grand Street Settlement.
Robert Cordero, the executive director of the Grand Street Settlement, said the community was about to undergo drastic changes because of Essex Crossing. “We’re going from litter-strewn lots to the newest redevelopment,” he said. “You can’t solve all the neighborhood’s problems in one fell swoop. But I do feel this is an authentic developer and a true community partnership.”
Essex Crossing, at 1.65 million square feet, is one of the largest developments in the city. Three separate builders — Taconic Investment Partners, L&M Development Partners and BFC Partners — have created Delancey Street Associates to construct both commercial and residential properties. The site will have a total of 1,079 apartments, more than half of them reserved for low- and middle-income tenants.
One of the standout features will be the Market Line, a 150,000-square-foot street-level and underground marketplace, part of which will open next year. After a year of digging on a former tenement site, the Market Line is under furious construction; dozens of workers are building an open space to be used by 100 vendors, including the current Essex Street Market, as well as new fishmongers, vegetable stands, butchers, a beer hall and a wine bar.
Some activists would have preferred a simple supermarket for the Asian, Latino and Jewish seniors in the neighborhood. But the more ambitious Market Line was one of their concessions.
“Our mantra has always been, ‘If the community shops there, everybody else will shop there,’” said Rohan Mehra, a principal of the Prusik Group, one of the commercial developers. “Markets are typically the most democratic shopping experiences. Everybody shops elbow to elbow.”
The development dates to 1955, when the site was designated for urban renewal. Through the late 1960s and early ’70s, tenements were demolished and more than 1,800 families — most of them Puerto Rican — were displaced.
“It was the end of the Robert Moses era and the beginning of the Jane Jacobs community activism era,” said Isaac Henderson, who is managing the project for Delancey Street Associates. “And they met head-on and collided. There were many efforts to develop these sites from the top down rather than from the grass roots up. But that approach didn’t work.”
After years of fighting among Mr. Silver, developers, the city and the community, the fruits of compromise are finally apparent.
The Grand Street Settlement will run not only a senior center, but also a job-training program for younger adults. Families forced out decades ago have been given preferential placement for affordable housing.
Later phases through 2024 will include office space, more condominiums and an expansion to the Market Line, all connected underground. The affordable senior development was added because of community pressure.
“The project is not perfect,” said Ms. Niou, who had hoped for even more affordable housing. “But a lot of good things are coming out of it.”