The New York Times today takes a deep dive on the 20-year drama that has surrounded the former P.S 64 and CHARAS/El Bohio community center on Ninth Street between Avenue B and Avenue C.
Developer Gregg Singer bought the property from the city during an auction in 1998. He wants to turn the landmarked property into a dorm called University Square, which continues in a holding pattern while the DOB maintains a Stop Work Order on the building.
Community activists, preservationists and some local elected officials have long been opposed to Singer's plans, and want to see a return to use as a cultural and community center. The building became a community center after the school left in 1977. The group was evicted when Singer took over as the landlord.
To date, as the article notes, Singer has filed several lawsuits (all unsuccessful so far), claiming that the city has obstructed his legal right to develop the property.
Here are a few excepts from the article, written by Allegra Hobbs, who covered the neighborhood for DNAinfo. (She notes that Singer "remains insistently upbeat about the whole mess," and that during interviews with her, his tone remained "light and genial."
On the building's legacy:
Mr. Singer, director and president of his real estate firm, Singer Financial Corporation, does not buy into the displays of high emotion that follow the Charas legacy. Where others see “emotional attraction” to the building, he said, he sees “nonsense.” On the day he bought the building and the crickets were released, he did not recognize a desperate last-ditch effort to save a beloved community center, but a clever ploy by opportunists to keep their cheap, illegal sublets.
“When people talk about this emotional tie to the building, I don’t get caught up,” said Mr. Singer, who met for two interviews in his office, located on the first floor of the old P.S. 64 building. “What they’re emotionally tied to is making money off someone else’s back illegally.”
On the DOB's role:
The Department of Buildings has been a bit unpredictable in its dealings with Mr. Singer and its enforcement of the Dorm Rule, issuing building permits only to revoke them. Mr. Singer has, in stops and starts, made progress in smoothing over issues with the department, but to no avail — a stop-work order from 2015 remains in place, and Mr. Singer’s requests to meet with officials have been rejected. Adelphi University, the most recent institution to express interest in dormitory space, backed out. A spokesman for the university, Todd Wilson, said in an email that the school was “concerned about the delays and difficulties that had been encountered by the developers getting the project approved.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio, meanwhile, has gone further, claiming in October that his administration is interested in buying back P.S. 64 — but no movement has come from City Hall to that end since his announcement, and the mayor’s office has declined to discuss the plan further.
Mr. Singer detects a conspiracy, but the buildings department insists the developer is simply not following the rules.
“We denied the developer’s application twice last year because they failed to submit sufficient proof that the building would be used as a student dormitory,” said a buildings department spokesman, Joseph Soldevere. “We stand by our decision.”
[Screengrab from the Times]
On the building's protracted vacancy:
Mr. Singer visits P.S. 64 about once a week. The only part of the building not falling apart, abandoned, graffitied or coated with pigeon droppings seems to be his modest office on the first floor, decorated with pristine renderings of “University Square” — a “new college living experience,” as the brochures claim, where students would enjoy a theater, a game room, yoga studios and other amenities. It could be great for the community, he insists. Why wouldn’t the city want this? Why wouldn’t the community?
“The city, they should be knocking my door down, ‘Gregg, let’s renovate this building, let’s do something for the community,’” he said. “That’s what I’m surprised about. How government is so inept and so dysfunctional that they don’t care about the local community.”
You can find the full article, titled in the paper as "A Building Full of Empty Promise," right here.