Volume 74, Number 27 | November 10 - 16, 2004



Whole Foods, ymca and a mix of housing coming to E. Houston

By Lincoln Anderson

Hailing it as a major milestone for the ongoing revitalization of the Lower East Side, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Councilmembers Margarita Lopez and Alan Gerson led the celebration last Friday of the topping off of the new Avalon Chrystie Place mixed-use building on E. Houston St.

Joining them beneath a 40-ft. ceiling held by massive steel beams in what will eventually be a basketball court, were Shaun Donovan, commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and the 400 construction workers who have topped off the building — or built its steel frame to its full height — on schedule.

When finished in about a year, the building, between the Bowery and Chrystie St., will include a new 40,000-sq.-ft. community center and gym jointly operated by the Chinatown YMCA and University Settlement, a 60,000-sq.-ft. Whole Foods supermarket — the chain’s largest in Manhattan — and 361 rental apartments, 80 percent of which will be market rate and 20 percent for low-income tenants.

The project represents part of the last leg of the community’s alternate plan to former city planning czar Robert Moses’ 1969 scheme to build a Stuyvesant Town-like complex of buildings in an urban renewal area between Delancey and Ninth Sts., between the Bowery and Second Ave. Under Moses’ plan, thousands of low-income tenants would have been displaced to allow construction of new middle-income housing. Led by the Cooper Sq. Committee, local housing activists in the 1970s got the urban renewal zone reduced to the area between Stanton and Fifth Sts. and fought to preserve much of the existing housing stock for low-income residents. In the 1990s, a Cooper Sq. Task Force was created to come up with a concept plan for projects on the final largely undeveloped sites, of which Avalon Chrystie Place project is being built first.

Speaking last Friday, Bloomberg said the new development represents the Lower East Side’s comeback from the “downward spiral” it was in just a few decades ago. When the new building opens, the mayor said, “It will end 35 years of stalled talks and disagreements” on what should happen in the Cooper Sq. urban renewal area.

Crime has dropped in the community by two-thirds over the last 11 years and is down 4 percent to date compared to last year, he noted.

The mayor said the low-income apartments in this first building are part of his plan to create 65,000 affordable units in the city. Avalon Chrystie Place will include 72 low-income and 288 market-rate rental apartments. In the project’s next phase, the developers will construct new buildings on the north side of Houston St. When the entire $350 million complex is complete, they will have built 712 new rental units, of which 178 will be low income.

Bloomberg also noted the Whole Foods store will bring new jobs to the neighborhood.

Praising the construction workers for doing “a hell of a job,” the mayor remarked that they had to build over four subway tracks of the B and D trains to create the foundation.

Noting it was 26 years that she first got involved in the Cooper Sq. renewal area’s redevelopment, Councilmember Lopez said the day represented the fulfillment of a long-held dream.

“We defeated Robert Moses. We won,” Lopez said. “This community is still here that defeated him. The beauty of this is it was done with the community, mayor and councilmembers.” She also praised the fact that the construction workers on the project are a racially diverse crew.

As opposed to the three remaining urban renewal development sites on the north side of Houston St., which are in Lopez’s district, Avalon Chrystie Place is in Councilember Alan Gerson’s district.

“It’s important to note that this building is not just another building in our community,” Gerson mentioning its features, such as the much-needed community center, which will also boast a swimming pool and community rooms.

Referring to the low-income units in the Cooper Sq. plan and the mayor’s $3 billion, five-year plan for new affordable housing, H.P.D. Commissioner Donovan said, “We’re going to keep going and building.”

Fred Harris, senior vice president of AvalonBay Communities, said leasing of the apartments for the new building will begin next March with occupancy set for June. Whole Foods and the community center will probably open up at the end of 2005, he said. AvalonBay will deliver an empty, “white box” space to Whole Foods for the store to configure as it likes. However, the developer will provide a finished space for the community center, with hardwood floors for the basketball court and a swimming pool, only in need of furniture and exercise equipment.

“Our obligation from the city was ‘white box,’ but we felt it would have been a huge fundraising effort for the nonprofits,” said Harris. The Chinatown YMCA gave $1 million toward the project’s cost.

As the first building is completed, AvalonBay will move on with two more. So-called 80/20 buildings, with 80 percent market-rate units and 20 percent low-income units, they will include 200 new units on the north side of Houston St. — where the Liz Christy Garden will be preserved in its entirety — and 100 new units north of First St. Demolition for the larger site should start early next year.

Phipps Houses is moving ahead with a building with 41 affordable apartments and ground-floor retail at First St. and Bowery.

The Cooper Sq. Committee is also constructing a new, 54-unit, supportive-housing building at Second St. and Second Ave., 60 percent of whose units will be for residents with psychological disabilities and 40 percent for low-income persons.

After last Friday’s event, Lopez noted approvingly that when all of the final segment of the project is complete it will include 25 percent low-income housing — more than the usual 20 percent in return for which developers qualify to receive a 421-a tax abatement.

Steve Herrick, executive director of the Cooper Sq. Committee, said after the last unit is built, the total Cooper Sq. urban renewal area will have 52 percent low-income housing.

Herrick said the community center with all it will bring to the community is especially sorely needed.

“It’s something we just don’t have anywhere here now,” he said.

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