L.E.S. Boys’ Club For Sale:
Strings Are Attached The members of Community Board 3 have never been sympathetic toward lower Manhattan’s largest nonprofits trolling for space in their neighborhood. Their opposition to such development runs so deep that when a major city nonprofit announced last month that it would put its Lower East Side facility on the block, the board moved to explicitly prevent the property from being swallowed up by a Cooper Union or an N.Y.U.-two of the neighborhood’s most formidable nonprofit developers.
In early July, the Boys’ Club of New York-a citywide nonprofit akin to the YMCA-sent a letter to parents stating that it planned to close its facility on Pitt Street in the Lower East Side because of lagging enrollment in its programs.
Bradley Zervas, the club’s executive director, later told The Observer that the club also felt the Pitt Street building was redundant because a second Boys’ Club facility is located on East 10th Street, about 12 blocks north.
But when Board 3 caught wind of the plan, its members unanimously passed a resolution at their July 29 meeting asking that the building only be sold to a neighborhood-based nonprofit in need of space. In addition, the resolution specifically asked the Boys’ Club not to sell to a larger nonprofit or a commercial developer, even if it meant selling the building below market value.
“It’s pretty straightforward,” Board 3 chair Harvey Epstein told The Observer . “We’re a gentrifying neighborhood that still has a number of low-income families and individuals. We want to make sure that whatever happens to the property, it maintains its community services.”
The board and its allies (such as New York City Councilwoman Margarita Lopez), who hope to restrict the sale of the property, have some legal requirements working in their favor. But the complex nature of the land deal that originally made way for the facility has led to some disagreement between the board and the club about the club’s specific obligations to the city.
In late 1984, the Boys’ Club bought six adjacent lots at the corner of East Houston Street and Pitt Street and combined them into a single property in order to build its facility. While four of the six lots were bought privately on the open market, two lots were owned by the city and were sold to the club by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. As a result, that section of the land has certain restrictions: According to H.P.D. documents, it must always be owned and operated by a nonprofit, and it cannot be sold without H.P.D.’s approval.
When Councilwoman Lopez and board members looked into the protections, however, they discovered some loopholes that, according to Barden Prisant, chair of Board 3’s committee on housing and land use, the July 29 resolution attempts to close.
For one, no law or document specifies the kind of nonprofit that can buy the building, fueling concerns within the board that a Cooper Union or an N.Y.U. might vie for the space, Mr. Prisant said. And if the Boys’ Club was in need of cash and couldn’t earn enough from selling to a small nonprofit, H.P.D. could permit a sale to the highest bidder-even if that meant selling to a private developer.
While such scenarios are long shots-Mr. Zervas told Board 3 that enrollment and redundancy were the issues, not funding-the board wanted to cover all of its bases, Mr. Prisant said.
“Just about any nonprofit could come in and buy it, and there’s not a lot of love lost between Board 2 and 3 and certain nonprofits in the area,” Mr. Prisant told The Observer. “We had no inkling from H.P.D. … that they would consider that. We just see it as a possibility.”
The Boys’ Club must find a way to meet its obligations to H.P.D. while also reaping the largest possible profit from the land it privately purchased, Mr. Zervas said. The club intends to put the proceeds from the sale of the Pitt Street building toward one of the other three facilities it owns or, in the long term, to finance the construction of an entirely new facility in a neighborhood that lacks a club.
“There is still some work to do in terms of clarifying what we are going to do with the entire footprint,” Mr. Zervas said of the sale. “But we want to do what’s absolutely right by the City of New York.”
Councilwoman Lopez and Board 3 members are arguing, however, that the entire Boys’ Club property (not just the portion bought from the city) is subject to legal restrictions that would strictly limit a sale to a nonprofit. The footprint is located on a block that, in 1975, was designated by the city as the Pueblo Nuevo Urban Renewal Area, according to H.P.D. documentation. The Pueblo Nuevo restrictions, similar to the deed’s restrictions, state that the land must be used for a community facility and cannot be sold without H.P.D.’s approval.
“It wasn’t [sold] to the Boys’ Club to do whatever they wanted,” Board 3’s Mr. Epstein said of the land. “It was [sold] to the Boys’ Club to provide a community service.”
Virginia Gliedman, an H.P.D. spokeswoman, told The Observer that there is no chance of a private developer purchasing the land because the urban-renewal restrictions are explicit and broader than those in the deed.
“The urban-renewal plan is the coin of the realm,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who owns the land.”
Councilwoman Lopez, who backed the club’s deal with H.P.D. in the 1980’s when she was a member of Board 3, said that she will do everything in her power to get the property into the hands of a neighborhood organization like the Girls’ Club of New York, which she would like to see buy the property.
She also countered the club’s claim that there weren’t enough children in the neighborhood to warrant its services, saying that the club failed to advertise itself and recruit. (According to 2000 census figures, children between 5 and 18 make up 16.23 percent of the population in the lower East Side’s 10002 ZIP code.)
“Now that we need [the Boys’ Club] the most, they are leaving? That is not right,” Councilwoman Lopez told The Observer . “But that doesn’t mean that we are going to agree to allow the building to be used for something that our community doesn’t need.”