Elected officials ask to turn city property into schools
By Vatisha Smith
In a wind-chilled outdoor press conference Tuesday, Jan. 17, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer spoke about his plan to block the sale of three city-owned buildings, a measure proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg last week.
Joined by several Lower Manhattan residents, Stringer discussed his plan to prevent the sale of 49-51 Chambers St., 22 Reade St. and 346 Broadway to developers. City agencies occupy all three buildings: The Chambers Street building houses offices of the Board of Corrections, Community Board 1, the Department of Education and the New York Police Department; the Broadway building is home to a Cultural Affairs office, the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation and the Mayor’s Office of Veteran’s Affairs; and 22 Reade St. is devoted to the City Planning Department.
The mayor cited poor occupancy rates and an effort to save taxpayer dollars as the motivation behind the plan.
Vehemently opposed to the sale, Stringer stressed the need for the community to have access to these spaces for the development of low-cost housing and badly needed new schools. “Smart government business means smart planning,” said Stringer.
Stringer pointed to a section of the New York City charter that says the mayor cannot dispose of property without the approval of the Borough Board, of which Stringer is chair. With that clause, the borough president is planning to block the sale until all necessary parties become part of the decision-making process.
“The mayor has made it obvious he does not see this as a collaborative effort,” he said.
Stringer stressed the need for the public to be aware of the sale. He said he understands the city’s need for a cash infusion but concluded, “If [Bloomberg] can settle Kingsbridge, [he] can certainly settle this.”
He was referring to the Kingsbridge Armory, a five-acre building complex in the Kingsbridge area of the Bronx that has been vacant for over 15 years. During the mayor’s State of the City address in the Bronx last week, Bloomberg announced a cooperative effort with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. to commercially develop the collection of buildings.
Julie Menin, chair of Community Board 1, who also attended the conference, spoke of the increase in new residents of Lower Manhattan by at least 30,000 in recent years, causing a severe need for more schools.
“I urge the city to assess the potential of 22 Reade St. for use as a public school to serve the west side of Lower Manhattan,” Council Member Margaret Chin said in a statement. “We are all aware of the severe overcrowding downtown and the need for more elementary seats in school district 2. All open space in Lower Manhattan must be automatically considered for use as a school because our need is so great.”
With a combined total of 696,000 square feet of space available, Stringer estimated the value of the buildings at a minimum of $100 million. “The last thing we need,” Stringer noted, “is another high-priced hotel.”
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