Volume 74, Number 31 | December 08 - 14, 2004


E. 9th developer must show us the dorm tenants

A group of more than 100 East Villagers gathered on City Hall’s steps in Tuesday morning’s dreary weather to call on Mayor Michael Bloomberg to show some generous holiday spirit and return the former P.S. 64 building to the neighborhood as a community center for art, education, training and more.

We would guess that unlike his predecessor, Mayor Bloomberg would not have chosen to auction off the building — formerly home to CHARAS/El Bohio — to a private developer.

Yet, the building was auctioned in 1998 to Gregg Singer for $3.15 million. He bought it knowing it had a deed restriction for use as a so-called community facility, limiting his options. Were the city to take the building back, given the increase in local property values, Singer would likely sue for many millions more than his purchase price. He might also have a good case to fight landmarking.

Opponents of Singer’s plan to build a 19-story, 222-bed dorm on the site of the rear of the building, which would be demolished for the project, have been lobbying the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to landmark the existing former public school. Yet, attempts to landmark the building when it was tenanted by CHARAS and owned by the city failed. It would be surprising if the city were to turn around and say it should be landmarked now. Still, in the past year the building’s forgotten rich history has been unearthed. Certain features of the B.J. Snyder-designed “H”-style school were original. Yip Harburg, the “Wizard of Oz” lyricist, went there. Famed educator Elizabeth Irwin tried her theories on learning there.

There are serious questions about whether Singer can proceed with the project without a tenant identified. New York University, conceivably Singer’s main client, says they’re not interested. According to the Buildings Department, Singer must prove an “affiliation with a school” and show “evidence of institutional control” of the building in order to build. In other words, constructing a mega-dorm on spec and putting ads in the real estate section for student rooms won’t cut it.

The dorm’s opponents may have lawyers from the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund challenge the dorm’s legality, arguing that Singer, in his purchase agreement, committed to executing a “viable plan” for the property. It doesn’t sound like Buildings would consider a “speculative dorm” operated like a pseudo youth hostel a viable plan.

However, Singer has made some compromises. He redesigned the project, saving the old building’s historic Ninth St. facade. But the community still wants its community center. Maybe Singer could compromise still more, making half the project a community center, the rest a dorm, albeit scaled down significantly. Perhaps the community could compromise a bit and might accept something like this. Perhaps not.

One thing we do know, like the famous movie line, “Show me the money,” Singer must “show us the tenants.”

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