EAST VILLAGE — Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday that the city will seek to buy a school building that has sat vacant on East Ninth Street for about two decades — despite the owner expressing no interest in selling the property.
Elected officials and neighborhood groups have vehemently opposed developer Gregg Singer's plan to convert the former P.S. 64 building at 605 E. Ninth St. into student dormitories for Adelphi University, insisting the property be transformed into a community center instead.
De Blasio conceded to that demand at Thursday's town hall forum at P.S. 188, lamenting the Giuliani administration's decision to auction off the school to a private developer and claiming he will now work to "right the wrongs of the past."
"For the administration to put that building into private hands failed miserably, and we’ve seen the negative affect that that has had on the community. So I'm announcing tonight the city's interest in re-acquiring that building," de Blasio said, eliciting cheers from the audience.
But Singer has no intention of selling the building, according to his spokeswoman, who said the property is appraised at $60 million and that the owner has already poured $80 million into upkeep.
"Singer has absolutely no plans to give the 'building' back," spokeswoman Nicole Epstein wrote in an email. "The city is trying to be a bully here."
The city has not contacted representatives Singer regarding the purchase, Epstein said.
A rendering depicting the renovated P.S. 64 building. (Singer Financial Corporation)
A spokeswoman for the mayor's office declined to respond to inquires regarding how the city planned to acquire the building — whether through eminent domain or other means — and how much it would be willing to pay.
A spokesman for Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, who has led the charge in opposing Singer's plan, said he was unaware of any specifics of the city's plan.
Singer has been fighting an uphill battle to develop the property for years while the Department of Buildings has placed his applications to bring dormitories to the space on hold.
An agreement with a prospective tenant was reached and approved by the DOB in 2013, but the agency in 2015 determined the plan was in violation of of the city's "Dorm Rule" and placed a stop work order on the building that has remained ever since.
Most recently, in March 2016, Singer submitted an application to lease several floors to Adelphi University for student dormitories while carrying out renovations on the remaining floors. The city signed off on a plan to work on several floors while listing the others as vacant, but never gave Adelphi the green light to occupy the space.
On Oct. 11, the university terminated its prospective lease due to the lack of progress in acquiring permits, according to a university representative.
Officials opposing the dorm plan wrote to the mayor imploring him to keep the conversion on hold, fretting that Singer was scheming to subvert the property's deed restriction. However, a student dormitory counts as community use per the building's deed restriction, and DOB would have carried out inspections every 60 to 90 days while the building was partially occupied to make sure it was being used properly.
Many community members, meanwhile, just want to see the vacant building restored. A neighbor and local business owner who lives a block away from the property helped gather roughly 900 signatures from locals living within a mile of it in support of the dorm plan, asking the city to allow it to move forward.
"We think this is a completely personal issue with a very vocal minority in my community and we have proved that the vast majority of the immediate community is in favor of this building permit going through as a dorm for Adelphi, because bottom line is it's a 100,000-square-foot eyesore that has been there forever for no reason," said Jorge de Yarza, who lives on 11th Street and Avenue B.
The massive building's prolonged vacancy has made the block dark and unsafe, and has encouraged loitering, de Yarza added.
"All the places in the immediate area, they suffer," he said. "It's one of those stretches of 10th Street you don't even want to walk by, and it's a shame."