Hudson Yard Project, Manhattan, 2024

Hudson Yards is New York’s most important and highest-profile mega-project, and when finished it will boast millions of square feet of office, residential and retail space (18 million square feet, to be exact). Spanning more than 26 acres, it is, as Fortune Magazine recently dubbed it in a headline, “the largest real estate project in U.S. history.”

The story of what’s going into Hudson Yards, when it will be finished and how such a massive project came to be is a long, complicated story — this is New York City real estate, after all — but here’s a rundown on the development’s history since its inception eight years ago.

The Hudson Yards story begins back in 2005, when the city rezoned 60 blocks on the west side of Manhattan, from 28th to 43rd streets. The city initially wanted to build a stadium in the area, but the plans fell through on the state level. Instead, the city decided to promote retail and housing in the once-sleepy neighborhood. The city’s biggest push to develop the area came in yet another series of rezoning, the rezoning of the West Side Yard in 2005 and 2009.

The Yard, which is owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, currently houses Long Island Rail Road trains. It spans 26 acres between West 30th Street, West 33rd Street and Tenth and Twelfth avenues. Once the rezoning was set in stone, the city just needed a developer to build it up. And in 2010, the city announced its pick of a joint development venture between Related Companies and Oxford Properties Group. The announcement took years of deal-making between the developers and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Ultimately, the MTA agreed to lease the West Side Yard development rights for 99 years for more than $1 billion.

To build in the Yard, the developers would have to build platforms over the rail facility and develop over those platforms. Not an easy feat, especially considering that the developers envisioned a mini city for the site. The final plans include 16 skyscrapers, some as tall as 75 stories, 6 million square feet of commercial office space, a 750,000-square-foot retail center, a hotel, a cultural space, around 5,000 apartment units, a school and 14 acres of public land. The 7 train will extend right to the middle of the development, and in a Fortune magazine interview with Related Companies’ chairman Stephen Ross in 2013, he talked of a sculpture that will rival the Eiffel Tower in iconic city structures.

The developers broke ground on the first phase of the project at the end of 2012. The first phase includes four glassy skyscrapers that will house commercial, residential and retail space, as well as a cultural center and a hotel. By then, the fashion company Coach had signed on to occupy 750,000 square feet of retail space. Since groundbreaking Fairway has also signed on, with Sotheby’s and Time Warner are likely tenants. The first phase is expected to wrap by 2017, with the tower housing Coach open by 2015.

The development, so far, has taken much longer than expected. It was supposed to start paying for itself by 2008, but with only one tower rising by 2013, it isn’t making money so much as needing it. Some skeptics wonder if Related Companies will be able to finish the ambitious project at all. The movement of Hudson Yards, however, has spurred crazy amounts of development in the area. The city is currently working on the final phase of the High Line, big-time developers Joseph Chetrit and Gary Barnett are building is the area, and Related Companies is building even more structures throughout the neighborhood.

In short, the Hudson Yards development will transform the neighborhood as well as New York City. It will take an unknown number of years to build those 16 skyscrapers and the accompanying infrastructure — not to mention a minimum of $15 billion. As to when it will actually be done, only time will tell.