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Advocates Want City to Buy Senior Center to Stop it From Becoming Condos

By Serena Dai | June 23, 2014 10:49am | Updated on June 23, 2014 2:10pm
 A protester holds up a sign during a December community meeting in hopes of saving the Swinging Sixties Senior Center.
A protester holds up a sign during a December community meeting in hopes of saving the Swinging Sixties Senior Center.
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Facebook/St. Nicks

WILLIAMBSURG — Local elected officials and activists are pushing Mayor Bill de Blasio to buy a 40-year-old community center in Williamsburg after the center's owners hiked the rent and told tenants they're going to get the boot.

Advocates say the city needs to get involved to save the Swinging Sixties Senior Center at 211 Ainslie St. after its landlord increased rents by $7,000 per month late last year and then sent the center an eviction notice Christmas Eve — a move activists say is an attempt to kick them out to build luxury condos.

“For too long in Williamsburg, private profit has trumped public benefit," Councilman Antonio Reynoso said in a statement. 

He and his fellow proponents want the city to allocate capital funds to buy the center and to negotiate a fair purchase price.

"This center was built and supported for decades by this community. We’re asking that the Mayor step in and help us keep it in the community’s hands,” said Reynoso, who also has the support of Assemblywoman Maritza Davila, Assemblyman Joseph Lentol and council member Steve Levin.

In addition to the rent increases, the new lease agreement from father-son developers Victor and Harry Einhorn demands that the tenant take care of $500,000 worth of outstanding repairs — including work on elevators, plumbing and more — instead of the landlord, advocates say.

Nonprofit organization St. Nicks Alliance, which runs the center in conjunction with the Conselyea Street Block Assocation, is currently fighting the eviction proceedings in court, and is shelling out $40,000 per month in rent in the meantime under judge's orders, St. Nicks spokesman Greg Hanlon said.

The organization previously offered the former owner $6 million to buy the building but never heard back, Hanlon said. The Einhorns then later gave the center a $10.5 million selling price, a number St. Nicks deemed "way too high," Hanlon said.

"We’re asking for help to make a fair offer for the building," he said.

Company 207 Ainslie LLC paid $4.5 million to buy the building in December, according to Department of Finance records. The Einhorns have been communicating with the tenants as landlords since then.

The building's sudden sale to the Einhorns surprised locals and officials, some who thought the city would receive first right of refusal to purchase the property due to the public funds invested.

It's still unclear whether or not the city was contacted about the building's impending purchase, according to Edward Baker, Lentol's director of communications.

"The city's not telling us," Lentol told the assembly last week. "Maybe they did. Maybe they didn't."

The center also houses Small World Child Care, as well as a space for local seniors to gather. It has also been the site of Community Board 1 meetings, among other community programming.

Seniors have said it's a "second home" that provides critical services to locals.

The center struggled in recent years, nearly closing in 2012 after the city cut back funds. It was able to remain open after the city restored funding following public outcry.

Advocates plan on rallying outside the center on Monday, and St. Nicks has started an online petition asking de Blasio to allocate the funds.

Advocates said the Einhorns' reputation for underhanded dealing goes beyond the Swinging Sixties Center.

Victor Einhorn was convicted of $8 million fraud in 2002, where the judge said he had a "history of deceit," and he and his son are the subject of a lawsuit for allegedly not paying a $1 million fee to a brokerage company.

A call to the Einhorns' attorney was not returned.

Spokesman for the Mayor, Phil Walzak, said the administration "is eager to find a solution that satisfies all stakeholders."

"The administration shares the community's concerns about 211 Ainslie Street," he said.

Should the city make a move to buy the building, St. Nicks' offer to purchase the building for $6 million — with the city's participation — is still on the table, Hanlon said.

"It really is the heart and soul of North Brooklyn," he said. "If it were to be torn down for yet another luxury condo, that would be a tragedy."