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Stringer Vows to Stop the City's Sale of Downtown Buildings

By Jill Colvin | January 13, 2012 5:07pm | Updated on January 13, 2012 6:01pm
The Emigrant Savings Bank is serving as City Council Chambers during renovations.
The Emigrant Savings Bank is serving as City Council Chambers during renovations.
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LOWER MANHATTAN — Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is vowing to stop the city from selling off three historic buildings, including the Emigrant Saving Bank and a New York City Criminal Court.

During his State of the City address Thursday, the mayor announced plans to put three office buildings on the selling block to add more than $100 million in cash to the city’s starved coffers.

The buildings include 346 Broadway, which is used by the New York City Criminal Court, 22 Reade Street, the headquarters for the Department of City Planning, and 49-51 Chambers Street, the soaring Emigrant Saving’s Bank, where the City Council held its meetings while City Hall was under renovation, and which Downtown’s Community Board 1 calls home.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has vowed to halt the sales.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has vowed to halt the sales.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

Stu Loeser, the mayor's press secretary, told NY1 Thursday that that while the sale was intended to raise cash, the buildings in question were also “space that we don’t think we want or need.”

“The mayor has always emphasized that one-shots are not the way we run our government. But that said, if you have assets that you think can be put to other uses, then why keep them on the books?” he said, suggesting that one of the sites could even be turned into a hotel.

He said during the interview he didn’t believe the city required special approval for the sales.

But Stringer, who rallied with community leaders and parents at a press conference Friday afternoon outside of 49-51 Chambers St., accused the city of trying to bypass the standard review process and slammed the “one-shot sell-off,” which he said would “needlessly and hastily” waste precious downtown space.

He said the city could better use the buildings for schools or affordable housing, and vowed to halt the sale, which his office must weigh in on, as per City Charter rules.

“It is the responsibility of the city to think beyond the highest market value. They need to consider what public benefit these properties can provide,” he said. “Lower Manhattan doesn’t need another hotel. It needs schools and affordable housing.”

Eric Greenleaf, a P.S. 234 parent who has been one of the neighborhood’s most vocal advocates on school overcrowding, said that building new schools is extremely expensive, and that any vacant city space should be used for seats.

“Before the city decides it wants to sell off building to developers, it needs to think about how those buildings can be used to help ensure we have public schools,” he said.

Julie Menin, chair of CB1, said she was approached last week by representatives from the mayor’s office, who requested a meeting with the board’s planning to committee to discuss a new home for the board, which has operated for years from the bank.

“This is the first we’ve heard about it,” said Menin, who added that no potential alternative spaces have been mentioned yet.

But the mayor’s office insisted after the rally that the city has no intention of sidestepping any rules, and intends to work with the community to find the best use for the space.  

“We look forward to working with our partners in government and all stakeholders, including those who have an advisory role,” a spokeswoman said.

346 Broadway, she noted, has already been approved for sale by the City’s Planning Commission. The building  now serves as a satellite location for the Manhattan Criminal Court, where mainly quality of life and traffic "pink slip" summons cases are heard in five active courtrooms by 79 court personnel, the Office of Court Administration said.

The office could not immediately comment on where the courts would be relocated to.

With reporting by Shayna Jacobs