NEW YORK CITY-Growing tomatoes, peppers, herbs and other fresh produce isn’t a typical task for your average REIT (real estate investment trust), but Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. is planting the seeds for the latest trend in the commercial real estate industry: urban farming. In partnership with Riverpark restaurant under chef and co-founder Sisha Ortúzar, the life science REIT launched the creation of the Riverpark Farm at Alexandria Center, a 15,000-square-foot former stalled construction site at 430 E. 29th St. in Kips Bay, which, in time, is intended to blossom into a full-fledged agricultural oasis in the middle of Manhattan.
“The farm is a true reflection of innovation and teamwork,” says Scarlet Shore, farm co-founder and executive director of corporate strategy at Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc., in a statement. The farm’s location is the future site of Alexandria Center’s west tower, the second phase of a potential 1.1-million-square-foot science park, where construction was temporarily suspended due to the financial downturn, the company says. When construction resumes on the tower, the produce and flowers grown at the farm will be relocated to another part of the four-acre Alexandria Center campus.
“Here, in a few short months, we have transformed a temporarily idle construction site into a productive urban farm–making purposeful use of 15,000 square feet of space until construction resumes on the west tower,” Shore adds. “We are proud to be a part of such an exciting project and encourage other developers to learn from our experience and consider additional, similar projects.”
With already more than 6,000 plants growing on the farm, many of the seedlings began their life outside of the city at Wilklow Orchards in the Hudson Valley. Fall crops will be planted and grown entirely at the Riverpark Farm, as will next season’s spring crops.
The project, says Ortúzar, can serve as a model for making “productive use” of stalled construction sites citywide. And in a previous interview with GlobeSt.com, NYU Schack Institute of Real Estate’s dean Jim Stuckey said American cities have a unique opportunity to create jobs through alternative industries and adaptive reuse, like urban farming. “It could be occurring on space where you have brownfields that could be remediated,” Stuckey said. “All these different things can create jobs for people who are semi-skilled or unskilled, and that could be a way to get them in the workforce. And that to me is only one of what could be many technology-based strategies.”
In 2010, the city chipped in $13.4 million in capital funds for the construction of Alexandria Center, while the state provided $27 million for the infrastructure work related to the project. The farm was created with support from GrowNYC, a nonprofit focused on New York City-based environmental programs, green markets, community gardens and education initiatives.