The fallout from Bill Clinton’s big move to Harlem continues. The former President’s decision to rent the top floor of an office building at 55 West 125th Street has left another entity homeless: Board 10.
The lease for the board’s district office, at 215 West 125th Street, expired in October. Board members said they’d made a deal to share the 14th floor at 55 West 125th Street with the city’s Administration for Children’s Services.
Then along came Mr. Clinton, strategizing his next move after he was widely criticized for renting post-term office space in an exclusive and expensive high rise near Carnegie Hall on West 57th Street.
Mr. Clinton’s decision to shift his move uptown, to the Harlem office building, solved his political and financial troubles. But it bounced out the Administration for Children’s Services, inciting the wrath of Mayor Giuliani. The city agency subsequently made a deal to share space on the sixth floor of that building with the Social Security Administration. But Board 10 is still in negotiations, trying to find a fresh place to land.
“I was disappointed that we were already in,” Board 10 chairman Stanley Gleaton told The Observer at the board’s March 7 meeting. “At the last minute, we were told we could not move into the building after we had been preparing for the last six to eight months.”
The board’s current office space, located at 215 West 125th Street, has been purchased by Cogswell Realty Group. Since October, the board has been renting the 1,500-square-foot space on a month-to-month basis.
The city’s Real Estate Division Services has been trying to find an alternative space for the board. But one of the prerequisites is that the new office must also be on 125th Street.
“That’s non-negotiable,” Mr. Gleaton told The Observer. “We at the community board do provide a service, and people expect us to be there and look for us to be there and help them out in whatever situation that would come to the board.”
City Council member Bill Perkins, who represents Manhattan’s Ninth District, which includes Central Harlem, told The Observer he is not surprised that Board 10 was squeezed out.
“These real estate deals happen like that all the time,” he said. “Unfortunately, in this type of atmosphere, there is a lot of action on this strip. In terms of the community board, they are ironically victims of it even as the community board, to some extent, has been applauding the changes.”
Recently, the board has been in serious negotiations with Cogswell Realty for another location not far from where it is now. No deal has been signed.
Carousel Plan Told to Giddyap
After going round and round on logistics and philosophy, members of Board 5 decided to hop off the Bryant Park carousel.
The board voted at its March 8 meeting against a resolution allowing a 30-day trial period for the amusement in the 42nd Street park. The reason: Board members felt there’s enough commercialization in the midtown area.
The Bryant Park Restoration Corporation had been pushing to install the 20-foot carousel, featuring 14 moving figures and a two-seat stationary chariot, on the 40th Street side of the park. The resolution called for a trial run, from April 15 to May 13, operating from 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily. The cost would be $1 a child for a two-and-a-half-minute ride.
The trial run was endorsed by the board’s parks committee.
“It allows another section of the park to be used, and to be used by children,” said parks committee chairman Scott Isebrand. “It wouldn’t negatively impact the people having lunch there, mostly people who work in the area, without disrupting their enjoyment.”
But the board had heard those arguments before namely last year, when the carousel plan was first floated. Saying it didn’t have enough time to consider the merits, the board turned the Restoration Corporation’s application down.
The board never got over its concern about the $1 fee a sign, to many members, of abject commercialization of a public space.
“If this is something for the community, I mean, I’m sort of projecting that there are many community residents who are not going to have $5 every time they want to bring their kids to the park,” said board member Rosalie Shields.
Noise was also a concern. The ride will play “French-style carousel music” an invasion of the park’s relative quietude, some members said.
“It would be very wrong to put one more money-enticing tourist attraction in the last vestige of quiet in midtown Manhattan,” Ms. Shields said.
Mr. Isebrand assured the board that the music wouldn’t be loud, and would counter the cacophony normally heard there.
“One of my biggest concerns is too many events there, too many things keeping the park from being an oasis away from the freneticism of midtown, especially during the day but a carousel isn’t exactly a frenetic experience,” he said.
Ethan Lercher, director of events for the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation, said the corporation would abide by the board’s decision, though its vote is merely advisory.
“We would need to go to various city agencies once the carousel was set up,” Mr. Lercher said. “That’s why we need the community board’s support first.”
Columbia Can Build New Faculty Housing
The deans, deacons and debutantes of the nation’s edgiest Ivy League university seemed anything but nostalgic when a lone protester in a black beret was carted out of the Board 7 meeting on March 6 by two plainclothes police officers at Congregation Rodeph Sholom on West 83rd Street.
It was nearly 11:30 p.m. when Robin Shweder, a regular at Board 7 meetings and a longtime resident of 110th Street, marched up to the microphone during the public-commentary session to deliver her rambling speech opposing Columbia’s plan to build a 12-story housing complex on the corner of 110th and Broadway.
Before Ms. Shweder was escorted out of the gilded basement auditorium of the Upper West Side synagogue for refusing to give up the microphone and give others in the audience a chance to speak, some 30-odd area residents, university professors and city officials expressed their views on Board 7′s proposed approval of Columbia’s application to the Board of Standards and Appeals for construction variances.
In a hotly contested and narrow vote, Board 7 voted conditionally to support Columbia’s application for variances, which would provide an additional 27 apartments for Columbia faculty and their families. University administrators and professors told Board 7 members and the audience that the lack of reasonably priced housing and decent schools puts severe limits on Columbia’s already strained recruitment efforts.
Plan supporters seemed even more relieved that the controversial plan to include a private K-8 university-affiliated lab school targeted toward children of Columbia faculty would move forward, on the condition that at least 300 of the school’s 650 slots be left open for local children residing in the Board 7 and Board 9 districts. “There is an enormous amount of suffering by parents in the [university] community because of the lack of decent schools in the area,” Mr. Wakefield said.
But the inclusion of the proposed private school on the premises seemed to be by far the biggest stumbling block for Columbia’s planners. Despite Columbia’s written assurance that the school intends to have “generous involvement and collaborative partnerships” with local School Districts 3 and 5, politicians called the plan too vague.
In a letter to the board signed by six elected officials, including Congressman Jerrold Nadler and City Council member Philip Reed, politicians criticized the plan to bring another private school to the neighborhood, accusing Columbia of having a “sorry attitude” and “preferring a philosophy of noblesse n’oblige pas.”
“Columbia is an internationally recognized institution that is basically saying to the community that it’s in that the schools here are not good enough for the people that teach here,” said Mr. Reed. “Well, you have a teaching college. If you think the schools are so damn bad, why don’t you use all of those brains that you supposedly have and improve them?”
Board 7 members and area residents alike also voiced concerns over Columbia’s stated commitment to relocate tenants living in the adjacent tenement buildings at 253 and 259 West 109th Street and to preserve a retail space for a neighborhood supermarket. Despite a letter from Columbia’s administration that reemphasized the university’s plan to assist displaced residents and maintain the current retail space, Barbara Butler, a resident of 108th Street, expressed doubts that the university’s expansion would end at 110th Street.
“This is not the last we’ll hear from Columbia. The juggernaut that is Columbia University good, bad or ugly is moving south,” said Ms. Butler.
March 14: Board 6, N.Y.U. Medical Center, 550 First Avenue, between 30th and 31st streets, Classroom A, 7 p.m., 679-0907.
March 15: Board 9, District Office, 565 West 125th Street, 6:30 p.m., 864-6200.
March 20: Board 1, P.S. 234, 292 Greenwich Street, 5:30 p.m., 442-5050; Board 11, St. Francis School, 116 East 97th Street, between Lexington and Park avenues, 6:30 p.m., 831-8929.
March 21: Board 8, Convent of the Sacred Heart, 1 East 91st Street, 7 p.m., 758-4340.
March 22: Board 2, Saint Vincents Hospital, 170 West 12th Street, between Sixth and Seventh avenues, 10th floor, 7 p.m., 979-2272.
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