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Hospital for Special Surgery Eyes Expansion on UES Manufacturing Block

By Amy Zimmer | June 4, 2012 7:31am
Gary Gartenberg, owner of Marmin Collision Specialists, doesn't know where he'd go if he has to leave East 73rd Street.
Gary Gartenberg, owner of Marmin Collision Specialists, doesn't know where he'd go if he has to leave East 73rd Street.
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DNAinfo/Amy Zimmer

UPPER EAST SIDE — Amid a boom of medical centers that are expanding on the Upper East Side, the Hospital for Special Surgery is the latest institution hoping to increase its footprint.

The hospital, which recently added five new floors on top of its eight-story building at 535 East 70th St., is hoping to also build a 13-story ambulatory care facility.

HSS is proposing a structure just three blocks away that would stretch from 515-523 East 73rd St. and span across the block, to include 512-518 East 74th St., according to a notice for a public hearing at Community Board 8's land use committee meeting on June 13.

However, the businesses that currently operate in the buildings that the hospital would replace — two auto body repair shops and an orthopedic supply company — didn't know the hospital had plans for the buildings they lease space in. The two auto body shops have been on the block for decades.

Biodynamic Technologies, which sells orthopedic rehabilitation products — often to Hospital for Special Surgery patients — had completely renovated its space at 523 East 73rd St. before moving in less than two years ago.

The Hospital for Special Surgery bought the properties in July 2011, according to city records.

"They can't get us out for another 3.5 years," said Gary Gartenberg, owner of Marmin Collision Specialists, noting that he still had time left on his lease. "You work today and plan for tomorrow… Hospitals are in the business to make money and they have plenty of it, so no one can stop them."

His father founded the auto body shop in 1958, first opening Downtown on Spring Street before relocating to the Upper East Side, first on East 80th Street then on East 91st Street before moving to East 73rd Street, where it's been since 1996.

"When they move in, we move out. We'd have to relocate, which is hard to do," he said because of the dearth of manufacturing space left in Manhattan.

"There used to be garages and car dealerships on virtually every block here 10 to 15 years ago," Gartenberg said. "They were on all the blocks between York and East End."

He said the Bloomberg administration has made it difficult for the auto repair industry to survive on the East Side.

"Eveyone who has car damage has to go to Queens, the Bronx or New Jersey, making it difficult for us who live here."

Gartenberg, who employs roughly 25 people at his company, shares the 27,000-square foot building, which stretches to East 74th Street, with Sports & Classics, which does body work on luxury cars like Rolls Royces and Ferraris. 

"I've been here since 1974, and they've been talking about selling the building since 1974," Sports & Classics owner Harvey Luckman said. "I'll believe it when I see it."

His building had been sold before in 2008, and developer Arun Bhatia had proposed building a dorm there. That plan never materialized.

The Hospital for Special Surgery is at the very early stages of the public approval process and is seeking the community's approval because it is applying for a "bulk" variance from the Board of Standards and Appeals so it can build a bigger building than zoning would allow.

The hospital is hoping the BSA will waive a 20-foot setback required for building on East 73rd Street, increase the space allowed per floor, and increase the number of parking spaces permitted, according to the public hearing notice.

Hospital growth on the Upper East Side seems to have no limits. The Hospital for Special Surgery, for instance, recently opened a new outpatient center for pain management on East 75th Street.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center recently proposed a controversial 172,000-square-foot ambulatory facility  on the corner of York Avenue and East 61st Street that the community board did not support for a zoning variance.

There are also plans in the works by the city to sell its former sanitation facility on East 73rd Street — directly adjacent to the new building being eyed by HSS — to a hospital. The site's developer would agree to provide the city with property for a garage housing the trucks, street sweepers and snowplows.

For many local hospitals, the push to build facilities for outpatient, or ambulatory, services — medical procedures that can be done without an overnight stay — is an attempt to cut the costs of overnight stays as new health care laws will soon require.

The Hospital for Special Surgery did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The public hearing on the Hospital for Special Surgery's building proposal will be at Community Board 8's meeting, 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, June 13 at Christ Church, United Methodist, 520 Park Avenue.