HELL'S KITCHEN — Four years since St. Vincent's Midtown hospital closed, developers are finally moving forward on a plan to turn the buildings into apartments.
The buildings' owner, the Chetrit group, has told local officials it expects to start construction next month.
The 415 West 51st St. site has prompted many complaints after it closed with millions of dollars in debt in 2007. Residents say the buildings have become a breeding ground for rats, that standing water stinks, that scaffolding on the site lacked proper lighting and that homeless people were squatting there.
The problems have been going on for at least two years, residents say.
"You kind of get used to it, but it's still pretty bad," said Jose Simms, 22, who often visits his daughter and her mother at a Covenant House shelter across from the former hospital site. "Homeless folks break glass to get in, and then what happens if a kid puts their hand in there?"
Simms also pointed to white stains on the sidewalk outside of the boarded-up site.
"Three days ago someone was chucking eggs out of the building onto the street," he said. "It's disgusting."
The rundown building was founded in 1934 as St. Clare's Hospital, and many on the block still call it by its original name.
"It's more than creepy and eerie. It's gross and digusting," said Lisa Daglian, a community board member who used to live around the corner from the hospital. "It's a vacant eyesore in the middle of a bustling neighborhood."
Nobody from the Chetrit Group, the developer that also recently purchased the Hotel Chelsea, could be reached for comment.
On Friday, electrical workers were going in and out of the building, but would not comment on what they were doing.
While local elected officials are optimistic many issues will go away once the development is completed, they've met several times with The Chetrit Group about the ongoing problems. In response, the developer promised to tighten security and improve efforts to get rid of rats, though such pledges haven't always been implemented.
"In public meetings, they've been responsive," said Sarah Meier-Zimbler, who liases with the area for State Senator Tom Duane.
"But outside of those meetings they've been less responsive. Sometimes it's hard to track them down."
According to Department of Buildings records, the property has accumulated numerous violations over the years, including a citation in July 2010 for failing to maintain the building after inspectors found the basement and sub-basement filled with water, which fire officials had to pump.
At an Aug. 18 meeting with Duane's office and the local block association, the Chetrit Group pledged to provide a single contact person for the project, who would meet with the block association once a month.
Daglian said she and many friends are still uneasy walking down that side of the street, but are looking forward to the start of construction.
"As soon as they take an actual interest in the property, it'll be good," she said.
"That building is going to make someone very wealthy, I am sure."