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BY SAM SPOKONY | Two community advocacy organizations have forged a partnership aimed at redesigning and revitalizing several underused buildings in public parks on the Lower East Side.
Asian Americans for Equality and The Hester Street Collaborative believe that their concept has the potential to create space for sustainable arts and cultural programming, as well as provide economic generators, such as job creation and opportunities for local businesses.
The groups are planning a study that will explore possible new uses for three buildings — the abandoned bathroom facility on the Allen St. pedestrian mall at Delancey St., a storage space at the southern end of Sara D. Roosevelt Park near Stanton St., and another building in Seward Park — which all currently provide little to no value to the surrounding community.
“It’s an ambitious idea, but we’re in a neighborhood that has a lot of space needs,” said Dylan House, a program manager for H.S.C. “There just aren’t a lot of resources right now for nonprofits, community organizations or programming for seniors and youths, and these buildings present an opportunity to meet those demands.”
The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation has already allocated $1 million specifically for capital improvements to the Allen St. building, and the city Parks Department matched that amount with its own allocation for the overall project.
A Parks spokesperson did not address how involved the agency will become as AAFE and H.S.C. move forward on the plan, but said that Parks “looks forward to seeing the results of their study,” and added that the agency already has a good working relationship with the two organizations.
House explained that there are still many answers to be found, especially in terms of identifying other sources of financial support for what — once the study is complete — will certainly be an expensive effort to redevelop and subsequently maintain the three buildings.
“The biggest question is how you can fund spaces like that, and how they can operate sustainably in the economic climate we’re in now,” he noted. “A lot of government-funded resources have closed over the last couple of years. But there are still a lot of nonprofits to work with, and one of the real challenges of our study will be to see how the city and nonprofits can come together to find an operating model.”
A timeline for the proposed study has yet to be solidified, but AAFE and H.S.C. are already taking steps to understand what local residents are looking for in potential new community centers.
House and an AAFE representative spoke briefly at a Community Board 3 meeting last Thursday to keep the board abreast of the plans. He also mentioned that both groups will attend the “It’s My Park Day” event in Sara D. Roosevelt Park on Sat., Oct. 20, to survey residents and inform them of the upcoming study.
AAFE and H.S.C. also have plans to include urban planning students from New York University or Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute in a portion of the study, although nothing has been finalized. House said that, if those particular plans come to fruition, students would likely focus on a specific aspect, such as site analysis or other research.
House also noted that AAFE and H.S.C. have had preliminary conversations with City Councilmember Margaret Chin, who he said expressed support for funding some of the potential construction on the S.D.R. Park building that is part of the study.
All three of the buildings were constructed in the 1930s, and are owned by the Parks Department. The S.D.R. Park building is currently being used as a storage space by Parks, and House explained that another challenge of the study will be to figure how and where to relocate the materials stored there.
Also working toward bringing community uses to the Stanton St. park building is the Sara D. Roosevelt Park Coalition, which is working on the issue as a close partner with AAFE and H.S.C.