Singer to East Village: Don't Blame Me

Categories: In the Streets

You have to hand it to developer Gregg Singer. Last week he took out a full-page ad on the back of The Villager blaming local politicians for the looming "eyesore" of P.S. 64.

"Old P.S. 64 stands as an eyesore in your neighborhood because of inaction on the part of your representatives," begins the open letter to East Village residents signed by 9th and 10th Street LLC, the development corporation Singer formed. "Some of them have decided that the best thing for this community is to fight the owners, and keep the building vacant and deteriorating, rather than develop it to benefit the people in the community."

No matter that it was those same representatives who lobbied to landmark the old school, while Singer is actively wrecking it.

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Caution: Destruction in progress

On the morning of September 11, no less, Singer dispatched a demolition crew to resume stripping the facade of the century-old former elementary school. (He had to take a break last month after being cited for insufficient scaffolding.)

Now neighbors wake to the sound of his workers gnawing at the building like industrial woodpeckers. To date, the crew has managed to destroy eight of the 11 ornate dormer windows on the 10th Street side of the school.

So it takes some chutzpa to blame others for P.S. 64's "unsightly" condition.

That said, Singer has a point--local pols have been lame in spelling out what should or could happen with the building, given the nature of the owner they're dealing with.

By suing the city for $100 million, Singer has thus far only succeeded in giving Bloomberg officials an excuse not to deal with him.

Now chopping at the building has given East Village council rep Rosie Mendez an excuse not to deal with him.

Singer has accused former City Councilwoman Margarita Lopez and now Mendez of discouraging groups from leasing space in the building--charges they both deny. Regardless, there are plenty of arts and social service groups that would go in there now, if Singer would give them a decent price.

Singer says he can no longer "afford" to so so. Perhaps that's because he spent so much money hiring no fewer than four leading PR firms (Howard Rubenstein, hello?) and four different law firms (including Giuliani's ex-chief of staff Randy Mastro, who can't come cheap) to plead his case, even as he simultaneously managed to alienate anyone in office who might have helped him.

All of which makes it seem like he's just been maneuvering himself into the victim's seat all along.

According to the estimate on the permit application, the denuding of P.S. 64 alone is costing Singer $600,000.

In the backpage ad (which features a rendering of the still intact 9th Street side of P.S. 64), Singer continues to insist that replacing the school with a 19-story dorm would be a financial windfall for the neighborhood. Never mind that there are already numerous other megadorms in the area, or that many in the Village resent the notion of their neighborhood being turned into a university plantation.

One wonders whether the city's strategy at this point is simply to let Singer continue cutting off his nose to spite his face, with the hope that his facade demolition campaign will succeed only in depreciating the value of his property.

The facade work permit--approved before the building was landmarked--expires on October 25. Unless he hires an even bigger crew, it seems unlikely that Singer will finish stripping off all the terra cotta and limestone detail from the building, which he says he needs to do in order to challenge the building's landmark designation in court.

And City Hall is pushing forward a comprehensive rezoning plan for the East Village that would likely nix Singer's high-rise dorm anyway.

Meanwhile, over the past month, Mendez and staff from the area's other elected representatives have been meeting with community activists to brainstorm a “realistic, market-driven plan” for restoring the old school as a community facility.

They've asked development consultants to help come up with an alternative that is both economically viable yet still provides some measure of the social and arts programming that was lost with the eviction of CHARAS/El Bohio, the Latino community center that occupied the old school for 20 years before Singer purchased it.

Part of that effort, says one insider, involves putting a "realistic price tag" on the building--rather than the inflated $51 million to $87 million figure Singer has been floating (recall that he bought it for a mere $3.15 million back in 1998)--as well as a "realistic assessment" of what it would take to renovate and sustain the place.

So it's wrong to say that Mendez and the other reps are sitting on their hands. One just questions why they didn't get this real before the building was landmarked, let alone before Singer started jackhammering.


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