Bloomberg Has Fight On His Hands To Sell Three City Buildings

49-51 Chambers Street.
346 Broadway.
22 Reade Street.
What to do with these three?
Municipal buildings downtown.
What moves where.
What's left.

Outside a freezing cold Chambers Street municipal building Friday afternoon, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer stressed his commitment to block any sale by the Bloomberg administration of three Lower Manhattan buildings owned by the city.

The mayor made reference to the sale in his State of the City last week, involving 22 Reade Street, 49-51 Chambers Street and 346 Broadway, part of the effort to streamline government, in this case through the consolidation and co-location of government office. The borough president argues, however, that the buildings might be put to better use than being sold off for private development.

“By any measure this Lower Manhattan community is suffering from overcrowded classrooms, school shortages and a lack of affordable housing to meet the needs of its constituents,” said Mr. Stringer, who is expected to run for mayor. He seems to have found a special loophole because the city is selling the property through the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which the borough president argues offers him oversight of the sales.

“If you try to get rid of these buildings through the E.D.C. process,” Mr. Stringer continued, “you must go before the Borough Board and that’s where there will be a final say and that’s why I’m here today to let the Mayor and those at City Government know that we’re all going to have to work together on this.”

Mr. Stringer does not stand along in his opposition. Local community board chair—and potential Stringer replacement—Jule Menin backs the plan, as do State Senator Daniel Squadron and Assemblywoman Deborah Glick. Said “We are the fastest growing residential neighborhood in New York, with 30,000 new residents, we need more schools and we have a real dearth of affordable housing,” Ms. Menin said, citing the need to make room for affordable housing or schools in these buildings.

Mr. Stringer said the tipping point came for him when he watched Stu Loeser, the mayor’s spokesman, on Inside City Hall on Thursday night, the day of the State of the City. Mr. Loeser “made it clear that it wasn’t a collaborative effort but that the mayor could do this without any sort of collaboration or consulting.” If Mr. Stringer is bullish, he wants to make it clear that “the community has a say.”

Mr. Stringer said sale of the three properties would raise around $190 million dollars, though he is skeptical of the motives, arguing this is a “one-shot” meant to staunch the budget. “We are concerned that very often in the sell off process, with a lack of community consultation, that that [sale to a private developer] could likely occur,” Mr. Stringer said.

According to a draft of the sale plan obtained by The Observer, the sales price looks closer to $125 million, though the city would also save at least $100 million and as much as $265 million in deferred facilities costs over the next 20 years. Possible uses include the current layout as offices, though the more likely situation appears to be housing or hotels, given the location on the border of Tribeca—not exactly prime office space. The draft makes this possibility clear, laying out the number of possible hotel and residential units of each building.

The old Emigrant Savings Bank Building at 49-51 Chambers could house 456 hotel rooms or 222 apartments, for example. The smaller 22 Reade Street, home to the Department of City Planning, would take 118 hotel rooms or 67 apartments. The biggest, 346 Broadway, has room for 598 hotel rooms or 364 apartments. That building was already approved for sale in 1998, so whether or not Mr. Stringer would be able to block it seems unclear.

“We look forward to working with our partners in government and all stakeholders, including those who have an advisory role,” Lauren Passalacqua, a spokesman for the mayor, said in an email.

Such sales and dispositions of city property are not unusual, and it could simply be that the borough president is looking to exercise what little power his office holds over such decisions. A spokesman for the borough president could not find a similar instances when such a sale was stopped, though the spokesman did point to the co-ops at Seward Park, built on former city land, where 50 percent of the property was set aside for affordable housing. The argument is not to stop the sale but to give the community a say in what happens to it first if there will be a sale.

“If you can settle Kingsbridge you should be able to settle a school and housing crises in Lower Manhattan,” Mr. Stringer said. “My office doesn’t block things, we afford to expand things. But we do want to draw a line in the sand. we don’t want to see a sell off of this property without community involvement.”

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