Liberate old P.S. 64

Two weeks ago, activists rallied outside the former CHARAS / El Bohio Cultural and Community Center on E. Ninth St. to mark the 10th anniversary of the group’s eviction. With wooden sticks, they beat on the fence sealing off the vacant building, making a din to carry to City Hall.

“Mr. Mayor, tear down this wall!” they shouted.

Indeed, that wall has been up absurdly long, and is a deeply divisive and negative presence.

Gregg Singer bought the former P.S. 64 in 1998 at city auction for just $3.15 million. According to him, the property was appraised this August at $71 million. However, according to others who had the building appraised in 2006 — at the real estate market’s peak — its value was then only $20 million.

Singer’s scheme to build a towering dorm was quashed in June 2006 when the old school was landmarked, thanks to former Councilmember Margarita Lopez’s close relationship with Mayor Bloomberg.

Singer now claims Lopez’s successor, Rosie Mendez, is blocking his attempts to rent the building as a dorm to a tenant like Baruch College.

The property has a community-use deed restriction, which allows a dorm, as well as schools, nonprofit organizations, a hospital or medical uses, a museum or a library.  Word has it the other use Singer feels would work is a public school, which could be utilized off hours by the community.

A month ago, former squatters resolved to ask the developer to cede two floors — one for a community center, the other for rent to nonprofits. The developer reportedly feels they’d need a sizable construction loan, since a gut rehab is needed.

Singer said he and his partners don’t sell properties, they renovate and rent them. Obviously, he’s in no rush and is willing to wait as long as it takes to get a tenant he likes. Or perhaps he’s just waiting for the market to rebound to sell for a higher price.

Meanwhile, Mendez said she’s not aware Baruch ever wanted a dorm at the old P.S. 64, and that she speaks often with CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, so would know. But Mendez said, it’s true, she and the community don’t want a dormitory there, since the area is already “full of dorms.”

In fact, Mendez said, in 2006, two viable groups expressed interest in buying the building for $35 million to $40 million. One was a nonprofit and the other a for-profit organization, and one was locally based. Singer rejected the offers as too low.

Mendez is skeptical the space would be rented for a public school, since that’s usually only temporary.

She thinks the best idea would be similar to the ’06 proposals — to sell the building to an organization like a settlement house to provide social services and education. “If Singer is a little more realistic, he can find a buyer,” Mendez assured. Maybe CHARAS could have a role.

Singer has been an abysmal steward of the old P.S. 64. Angered at its landmarking, he used a pre-exising permit to “scalp” it, as his lawyer boasted, of its exterior details. Butchering the building was unforgivable. Singer is unrepentant. Meanwhile, this turn-of-the-century gem sadly keeps deteriorating.

All parties need to work to end this stalemate. Singer either must sell to a qualified buyer, like a settlement house, or else the city should attempt to move to buy him out. Mendez should start thinking outside the box and explore different kinds of solutions. If there is still a settlement house tenant in the offing, let’s see a bona fide interest.

New dorms — with transient student populations — are, in general, anathema to local residents. Somehow a solution must be found for this eyesore in the heart of our community.

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