Dispute Delays Construction of $52M LES Community Center

By Serena Solomon on October 17, 2012 7:25am 

LOWER EAST SIDE — A dispute between two Jewish organizations on the Lower East Side is delaying the completion of a multimillion-dollar community center. 

The Educational Alliance filed a lawsuit Monday claiming its neighbor, the United Hebrew Community of New York, has refused to give the Alliance access to United Hebrew's building at 201 East Broadway, preventing the Alliance from continuing construction on its new $52 million community center next door.

The 123-year-old Educational Alliance has been working on the Manny Cantor Center at 197 East Broadway for more than a year, but claims the project cannot move forward without access to United Hebrew Community's building and rear yard.

The Alliance needs access to install scaffolding for exterior work and a new elevator shaft, along with other "demolition, excavation and construction work," according to documents filed in New York State Supreme Court. The Alliance is also required by law to provide "site safety protections" for the surrounding buildings, including United Hebrew.

"It is simply not possible" to complete that work without access to the 201 East Broadway building, which United Hebrew purchased at the turn of the 20th century, the lawsuit states.

The work involving United Hebrew's property is expected to take 10 months, according to the documents. 

The Alliance has made repeated requests for access in the past eight months and offered "generous" compensation to United Hebrew for the inconvenience, according to the lawsuit.

If access is not granted, the Educational Alliance claims it will experience "undue hardships," the documents said.

However, the lawsuit came as a surprise to United Hebrew.

"We have not received any official notice that we are being sued. We have not been served nor provided with any papers," said David Jacobson, executive director of the United Hebrew Community of New York. "This makes it impossible for us to respond at this time."

He declined to discuss the matter further. The Alliance did not respond to a call for comment.

The Educational Alliance was founded to assist Jewish immigrants as they settled in the United States by providing services such as education to teenagers with financial hardships and setting up shelters for homeless adults, the mentally ill and those with substance-abuse problems. 

The renovations to the community center require the complete reconstruction of the organization's interior to add a state-of-the-art fitness center, classrooms and community rooms, according to the organization's website. The center was scheduled to be completed within the next 11 months.

The United Hebrew Community of New York was established in 1901 and states on its website that it is the "leading Jewish burial society in New York."

In its infancy the membership organization catered mostly to the Lower East Side's immigrant community, providing "a free synagogue and proper burial" to those who might not otherwise have access to one.

Now the organization's website claims to have 10,000 families as members, with its reach stretching beyond the neighborhood.

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