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Kips Bay Residents Want City to Restart Bellvue Building Redevelopment

By Amy Zimmer | January 6, 2011 3:49pm
The original Bellevue Psychiatric building, which is currently a men's homeless shelter.
The original Bellevue Psychiatric building, which is currently a men's homeless shelter.
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flikr/Carl MiKoy

By Amy Zimmer

DNAinfo News Editor

KIPS BAY — Residents are trying to light a fire under the city to ignite redevelopment of the former Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital.

The hospital space — currently operating as an 850-bed men’s homeless shelter — has been the subject of redevelopment proposals since the 1980s, when developers wanted to raze the building and replace it with a market rate residential tower.

The city’s most recent idea, to transform the dilapidated building on East 29th Street into a glittering hotel and conference center, was shelved in the spring, after the Department of Homeless Services stalled its relocation search as the economy tanked and shelter demand spiked.

“The city dropped the ball, and we’re trying to pick it up again,” said Edward Rubin, chair of CB6’s land use committee, which issued a resolution Wednesday night outlining its vision for the building’s redevelopment.

Residents in the area weren’t happy with the hotel tower proposed by the city’s Economic Development Corporation. But they’re also unhappy with the status quo, so they’re trying to jumpstart the process and get their ideas heard.

"Now is the time to do the planning" Rubin said. "When the market gets stronger [the city] will be back with new ideas."

Board members called for the building’s restoration to its former glory — without towers — and called for it be put on the National Register of Historic Places.

To turn it into a community resource, they suggested using it for extended stays for hospital patients and their families, accommodating seniors with housing or as a senior center, and including uses for nearby medical and scientific institutions.

There was no room for the men’s shelter in their plan.

"An 850-bed shelter anywhere in the city is not a good idea," said Rubin, due to its large, concentrated size.

Minna Elias, chief of staff for Rep. Carolyn Maloney, called it "inhumane" to keep the homeless men there.

"The Bellevue building is in terrible shape," she said. She has seen men sleeping on the floor in sweltering rooms without A/C during summer.  "It's not proper. It's not safe. It's not fair" to keep the men there, she said.

The Department of Homeless Services, however, doesn't intend to move the shelter anytime soon.

"Homeless Services meets regularly and works closely with the 30th Street Community Advisory Board," said DHS spokeswoman Heather Janik, "and has kept them up to date on the Agency’s need to keep the 30th Street facility open for the time being."

When the city's EDC began soliciting proposals for the hotel two years ago, DHS planned to relocated the Bellevue shelter to Crown Heights — an idea that generated a great deal of controversy.

Maloney's office supported the community's efforts to move things forward, Elias said, emphasizing the area’s need for senior services.

"It is a community with a huge number of ageing people, but there is nowhere to age in place," she said. "CB6 has no assisted living and no sub-acute care facilities, yet we have all these hospitals. So people leave one of these hospitals and then have to leave the neighborhood.

"Here's a community that needs services and here’s a building that needs love and care," she continued.

Rubin recounted the long, failed history of the site’s proposals, including a 1985 plan to turn this northern part of the former Bellevue campus into housing for doctors and nurses — at a time when residents were concerned the hospital might need the space to deal with the growing AIDS crisis — and a plan by NYU in 2000 to take over the buildings.

He acknowledged the community board’s limited power to lift the stalemate, but said they would continue to meet with would-be developers and tenants.

"We're not decisive," he said. "We can only be the generator of momentum."