By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
EAST VILLAGE — Advocates pressing the new owner of a historic Cooper Square property to preserve the centuries-old building emerged "cautiously optimistic" after a meeting with the developer Tuesday to discuss future plans for the structure.
Local activists fighting to save 35 Cooper Square — the 1825 Federal-style row house near the corner of East 6th Street — met with developer Arun Bhatia to outline their proposal for how he could keep the building intact while still pursuing a feasible development plan for the prized East Village site.
"We sort of presented them with both our arguments for the why building is important, to kind of raise the possibility of finding some way of building on the site in such a way that would preserve the building," said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, who attended the meeting. "They basically said they'll think about."
The three-story structure at the head of the Bowery — sandwiched between the gleaming new Cooper Union academic building and the towering Cooper Square Hotel — was once owned by a descendant of Peter Stuyvesant before housing such luminaries as Liza Minelli and Beat Generation poet Diane DiPrima.
The property sold to Bhatia for $8.5 million late last year. Shortly afterward, rumors began swirling that the developer planned to raze the 1825 building, starting with the closure of its ground-floor restaurant. Bhatia filed a demolition application last month.
The developer also scooped up two lots adjacent to the property, broadening the scope of any future development at the site. Bhatia did not comment on the demolition plans at the meeting, nor did he discuss recent work on the structure that exposed the building's roof to the elements.
"It's really too soon to say, but we were really thankful that they actually came out and met with the community," said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, who also attended the meeting.
He explained that Bhatia and his team currently have no official plan for site, based on what attendees gathered at the meeting.
"We believe that there is a way they could do development on the site and retain the building," he added. "That's from our perspective, though."
A spokeswoman for Bhatia described the meeting as "pleasant," but said that preserving the property may present challenges based on the circumstances.
"My client wanted to hear what the community had to say and show respect for the process," said spokeswoman Jane Crotty.
"They asked for us to try and retain some portions of the building at 35 Cooper Square. We told them that it is a difficult site since it is so small. Arun and his team will discuss the issues and get back to them."
The city Landmarks Preservation Commission previously declined to consider designating 35 Cooper Square a landmark, citing the addition of stucco over the building's original brickwork, a commission spokeswoman said.
The Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, which has helped lead the charge to save 35 Cooper Square, has noted that the Bowery itself has been deemed eligible for inclusion in the state and National Register of Historic Place, meaning that the building could qualify to receive tax credits if the developer decides to preserve certain historic features.
Advocates hope the meeting was a good first step in building a dialogue with the owner.
"I'm an eternal optimist and doing what we do, we have to be," Berman added. "I'm hopeful that something good can come of this that will make things better than our worst fears."