In his ongoing push for efficiency, efficiency, efficiency in city government, Mayor Bloomberg announced a plan during his State of the City address in January to consolidate city departments downtown.
The proposal not only helps co-locate agencies, improving collaboration, but also saves the city money on operating expenses, as much as $100 million over the next 20 years according to the city’s projections as it vacates three historic buildings around City Hall. The Bloomberg administration is further enriching the city’s coffers by selling off the properties to private developers.
Borough President Scott Stringer has complained that the property is not being put to better use, as public land has elsewhere in the five boroughs has been, and so he has voted against the sale of the buildings as part of the public review process for their disposition.
“Lower Manhattan is one of the nation’s premier central business districts, but it is also experiencing a boom in its residential population,” Borough President Stringer said in a statement. “I believe the City should strive to provide the infrastructure necessary to support this new population.”
This morning, the borough president’s office sent their recommendations to the Department of City Planning as part of the ULURP process, with the main demand being the inclusion of some community uses within at least one of the sites. This does not mean the buildings would be developed exclusively as affordable housing, a school, senior center or the like, which the community board has also been clamoring for, just some portion of the facilities would serve as such.
The community board sent its own proposal to City Hall all but begging for these considerations to be included in an RFP for the properties only to be ignored. Last month, the board voted unanimously against the sale.
Instead, the city is proposing residential, commercial or hotel uses for the properties, located at 22 Reade Street, 49-51 Chambers Street and 346 Broadway.
“Our goals are to consolidate and improve City office space, cut costs and generate tax revenue from buildings that are currently underused,” Bloomberg spokeswoman Lauren Passalacqua said. “We will review the proposals we’ve received and work with the many stakeholders in this process to make sure that the final plan best serves Lower Manhattan.”
Mr. Stringer and the board argue that because city-owned land is so hard to come by downtown, it should include some public use, as has been done with properties in less well-to-do neighborhoods, where it is common for the city to turn vacant or underutilized properties over to affordable housing developers or community groups.
The borough president may actually be able to thwart the city’s plans, a task that is usually difficult in ULURP because his office’s role is merely advisory. But the disposition of public land requires a vote by the Borough Board, a body made up of Manhattan’s City Council members and the chairs of its community boards. The borough president chairs the board, and along with the backing of the local board, could stand a good chance of defeating the city’s plan.
It may come to that since the city went ahead and issued the RFP this spring and bids are due today. There has been intense interest in the well-located properties, on the border of Tribeca, with more than 40 firms having toured them. These include some of the city’s biggest (and most politically connected) developers, among them Vornado, Two Trees and Kushner Companies (whose partner, Jared Kushner, publishes The Observer). Their opposition to public uses could hamper the borough president’s plan to extract such concessions given the developers clout—and their checkbooks.
“The borough president is confident that productive discussions with the mayor’s office will continue on these issues, and a resolution will be reached,” Mr. Stringer’s spokeswoman, Audrey Gelman, said.
While the borough president acknowledges a lack of public benefit in the current proposal, he still said the mayor’s decision to consolidate space and buoy the city’s balance sheets is a good one.
“The Civic Center plan offers great potential benefits to our City, and I look forward to discussing it further with the administration,” he said. “By working together I believe that we can simultaneously advance the goal of consolidation, realize significant taxpayer savings and consider a variety of ways to meet the needs of Lower Manhattan.”