[Photo from Saturday]
The Village Preservation (GVSHP) is calling for a probe of the "sweetheart deal" that the developer of the tech hub received on 14th Street.
As the Daily News first reported yesterday, the GVSHP explored the paperwork behind the project, pointing out that the developer, RAL Development Services, will pay $1.6 million a year for the first five years ... then $2.3 million annually in the five years after that while the previous tenant, P.C. Richard & Son, paid $1.7 million in annual rent for the two-story building.
GVSHP Executive Director Andrew Berman told this to the News:
"It seems highly suspect that the developer of a 21-story office tower is paying barely more than the operator of a 2-story appliance and electronics store for use of this incredibly valuable land. This is and has been from the beginning a sweetheart deal for political allies of and donors to the mayor. There was absolutely no transparency to the process by which RAL were chosen to get this incredibly valuable piece of public land for a song."
Berman pointed to a lack of any documented evaluations of bids on the development deal, which is supported by the results of Freedom of Information requests made by his group to the city’s Economic Development Corporation. In response to a request for notes, ratings or a scoring sheet regarding the selection of RAL over several other applicants, EDC responded that it located "no responsive records."
The GVSHP also found through campaign finance records that Andrew Rasiej, CEO of Civic Hall — RAL’s partner in the development — donated at least $8,000 to Mayor de Blasio since 2004. Meanwhile, RAL was also supportive of de Blasio's now-defunct nonprofit Campaign for One New York, giving at least $10,000 in 2015, as the News reported.
And the city's response? "The best applicant was chosen," Jane Meyer, a spokesperson for the Mayor, told the News, adding that the donations had nothing to do with RAL's selection.
As for more background, it took nearly nine months for the proposed tech hub — now called the Union Square Tech Training Center — to wind through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, culminating with the City Council's OK last August. (A rezoning was required to build the the 22-story structure, which is larger than what current commercial zoning allows.)
The Department of Buildings approved the permits for the new structure on Feb. 26, just three months after they were first filed.
Construction work was expected to start in this first quarter of 2019, per the 14th @ Irving website. But first, the former P.C. Richard & Son outpost was to be demolished. (The 14th @ Irving website now states that "site mobilization and protection" will start today.)
The project is being developed jointly by the city’s Economic Development Corp. and RAL. The Union Square Tech Training Center includes Civic Hall, which will offer digital skills for low-income residents, as well as market-rate retail, office space and a food hall.
Mayor de Blasio first unveiled the renderings publicly in February 2017.
I asked Berman what he hopes the next steps are after the disclosure in the News yesterday.
"My hope is that there would be some sort of review of the process by which this bidder was chosen, whether or not it was based on the merits and in the best interests of the people of the City of New York," he said in an email.
Previously on EV Grieve:
Behold Civic Hall, the high-tech future of Union Square — and NYC
Speaking out against a 'Silicon Alley' in this neighborhood
P.C. Richard puts up the moving signs on 14th Street; more Tech Hub debate to come
Preservationists: City schedules next public hearing on tech hub without any public notice
City Council's lone public hearing on the 14th Street tech hub is tomorrow
City Council unanimously approves tech hub; some disappointment in lack of zoning protections
The conversation continues on the now-approved tech hub for 14th Street
1st signs for the future tech hub arrive on 14th Street; more details emerge about 14th @ Irving
New building permits pre-filed for the (slightly larger) tech hub on Union Square
City OKs new building permits for mayor's tech hub on 14th Street