Plan to Build Tower at Grand Central in Exchange for Transit Upgrades Is Approved

The New York City Council voted on Wednesday to approve plans for a developer to build a 63-story office tower just west of Grand Central Terminal in exchange for $220 million in transit upgrades.

Plans for the skyscraper, called One Vanderbilt, have been at the center of long-running negotiations to improve the bustling subway station at Grand Central, particularly on the overcrowded 4, 5 and 6 trains on the Lexington Avenue subway line.

As part of the deal, the developer, SL Green Realty, will build new subway entrances as well as a pedestrian plaza at street level, a public hall in the building’s lobby and other upgrades.

The approach has been viewed by some proponents as a model for how the Metropolitan Transportation Authority can pay for some projects as it grapples with a $14 billion shortfall in the agency’s $32 billion proposed capital plan. The authority’s chairman, Thomas F. Prendergast, has called on state and city officials for more money.

About two-thirds of the $220 million will go toward easing congestion on the 4, 5 and 6 trains, said Councilman Daniel R. Garodnick, who helped develop the plan. Mr. Garodnick said riders who use those subways routes must deal with packed trains and delays, which are often caused by bottlenecks at Grand Central.

“Trains stall within the station as crowds enter and exit, creating delays throughout the whole system,” Mr. Garodnick said.

On Wednesday, as part of the deal, the Council approved zoning changes that were needed for the office tower to move forward. The changes allow for new, taller office buildings on the five-block stretch of Vanderbilt Avenue. Mayor Bill de Blasio has supported the rezoning plan, and Carl Weisbrod, the chairman of the Planning Commission, has said the city would work with local officials on a plan for the broader East Midtown area.

A failed plan by former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to rezone the area around Grand Central faced criticism from community groups who were concerned about worsening congestion.

SL Green said construction on the 1,501-foot-tall building would begin soon with the demolition of the site at 42nd Street and Vanderbilt. The tower and the infrastructure upgrades are expected to be finished by 2021, the company said.

The money will pay for a series of fixes to keep riders moving, including broader spaces for them to pass through to reach trains and smaller stairwells to create more space on platforms. SL Green will also pay for direct connections beneath the tower to the subway, the Metro-North Railroad and eventually the Long Island Rail Road, which will stop in Grand Central after the authority’s East Side Access Project is complete.

As part of the agreement, SL Green must finish the public improvements before tenants can occupy the upper floors of the building.

The investor who owns Grand Central, Andrew S. Penson, has opposed plans for the office tower. He has argued that the agreement would be a “massive giveaway” to a big real estate company.

Officials at the transportation authority have praised the transit improvements for the Lexington Avenue line, which carries more than one million passengers each weekday. The long-planned Second Avenue subway is intended to ease some of the strain on the 4, 5 and 6 trains, but the first phase is not expected to open until at least the end of next year.

Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the authority, said on Wednesday that the project would improve conditions at Grand Central and “prepare it for future growth.”

Transit advocates have also applauded the Grand Central deal, saying it served as a test case for incentive plans in which developers pay for transit improvements in exchange for permission to build.

Gene Russianoff, the staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, an advocacy group, called commuting on the Lexington Avenue line one of the “most grueling human activities in New York.”

“It couldn’t be more desperately needed,” he said of the improvements. “The 4, 5, and 6 are just heavily, heavily used.”