LOWER MANHATTAN — Pace University and department store Century 21 have joined a growing number of angry Financial District residents trying to stop the city from moving a probation office that monitors convicted criminals into their neighborhood.
“I have 2,000 students Downtown I have to worry about,” said an irate Marijo Russell-O’Grady, dean of students for Pace University, which has a dormitory down the block from the planned 66 John St. probation office. “[The move] doesn’t make any sense.”
Russell-O’Grady spoke before a Community Board 1 meeting Wednesday night packed with neighbors furious at the idea of having the probation office foisted on their quiet “stroller-filled” block, which also includes popular preschool, the Downtown Little School.
As of Thursday morning, more than 1,100 Downtown residents had signed a petition aiming to derail the plan, which they see as a safety risk.
The new 35,000-square-foot office at 66 John St. — which is being moved from a building that’s closer to the Civic Center on Broadway in TriBeCa — will contain kiosks where convicts who are sentenced to probation instead of prison time must regularly check in as part of their court-ordered supervision.
The office's clients will not include sex offenders, Department of Probation spokesman Ryan Dodge reiterated at Wednesday night's meeting, but they will include men and women convicted of misdemeanors and felonies.
About 40 convicts per day will visit the John Street location, which is also home to offices for the city's Department of Finance, Dodge said at the meeting — and will handle the DOP’s "lowest-risk probation clients." The top three offenses for people in that category are drug-related crimes, grand larceny and DWIs, Dodge said.
That information, however, did not allay the fears of the riled-up crowd of parents, residents and business owners.
Millie Gillon, a mother who lives near 66 John St., approached the microphone holding her young daughter in her arms.
"This is Claire, today is her 8-month birthday," Gillon told the city officials at the meeting. "I want you to look her in the eye and tell her you want her to be a victim of a crime."
The officials did not respond directly to Gillion, or to the many others who voiced concerns.
"We are against this," said Betty Cohen, Century 21's director or corporate relations and government affairs. "I am very wary of anything that’s done under cover of darkness, anything that’s done as sneakily as this was."
Residents and CB1 have complained that news of the controversial move was only revealed two weeks ago, when Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway pitched the probation office's move from the recently sold city building at 346 Broadway in TriBeCa to the Financial District as a "significant improvement in the [TriBeCa] community."
City officials said public hearings on the proposal were held in April and June, with notices posted in the City Record, but the crowd balked at the idea that ads placed in city publication were adequate notice.
While furious parents said they would not let the probation office open, the city has already signed a lease to place the probation office at 66 John St. and plans to move in early 2014, according to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services and the DOP.
It remains unclear whether the city would consider altering its plans.
The DOP and DCAS did not immediately respond to requests for comment.