Sometimes Christmas comes early; sometimes it arrives on-time; sometimes it’s a bit late. But occasionally, when you’ve been really good, it comes on all three occasions. If that’s the case, then Village Preservation must have been really good indeed this past year.
The Early Present
The former P.S. 64 building at 605 East 9th Street once housed the popular CHARAS/El Bohío community center. For decades, CHARAS served thousands of visitors each year, hosting all kinds of events, from concerts, recitals and exhibits to community meetings and job training sessions. Then one year, a Grinch-like Mayor Giuliani took away this invaluable neighborhood resource, auctioning off the building in 1998 and then evicting CHARAS on December 27, 2001. In the years that followed, the developer who bought it, Gregg Singer, tried to demolish the historic building, even as it was being landmarked, and to develop the site in violation of zoning regulations and the property’s deed restrictions. Village Preservation, along with other community groups and numerous local leaders, successfully countered these attempts. In response, Singer left the building vacant and allowed it to fall into disrepair and to become a blight on the neighborhood. Then, five years ago, in a transparent attempt to intimidate those of us fighting to save this landmark and return it to community use, he filed a lawsuit against us, arguing that our efforts violated his rights. Because this claim was without merit, the court handed Singer defeat after defeat. But that didn’t stop him from wasting money on this legal campaign to bully us into submission. On December 12, the court dismissed his final appeal — a decision that we hope made its way into his empty Christmas stocking.
The Timely Present
On December 17, just a few days after the dismissal of Singer’s groundless lawsuit, we, along with elected officials and community residents and leaders, rallied in front of the old CHARAS building, calling on Mayor Adams to help return the building to the community. This plea referred back to a promise made by Mayor de Blasio at a 2017 local town hall meeting to take steps to re-acquire the building from Singer. Despite this promise, de Blasio’s term expired without his administration having made any apparent progress to fulfill it. At the rally, we all asked Mayor Adams to honor the City’s broken promise to the community.
As we stood before the imposing if dilapidated former home of CHARAS, the structure’s neglectful owner found himself in the middle of drawn out foreclosure proceedings. Then, on December 23rd, just in time to savor along with some eggnog, the New York State Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, finding Singer in default, ordering the foreclosure and sale of the property and payment to the plaintiff in the amount of almost $90 million for principal, interest on principal, late charges, and miscellaneous charges.
A Late Present?
The foreclosure of the former P.S.64 constitutes important progress in righting the wrong done by former Mayor Giuliani to the local community and all New Yorkers. A developer hell bent on demolishing the building has been forced to relinquish control of the property and to once and for all abandon his various ill-conceived development schemes for the site, all of which ran counter to its intended community-oriented purpose. While this does not achieve the ultimate goal of restoring the space to the community use that it so vitally served during the decades of CHARAS/El Bohío’s operation, it does present a critical opportunity to take a giant step in that direction. Now is the time for the City to step up and reacquire the site so that, together with the community, it may develop a plan to repair the blightful conditions that this neighborhood has endured for so many years and to restore the essential community center that was taken from it.
And because we have learned that good behavior sooner or later earns a present, we will continue fighting alongside our allies to ensure that our wish for the return of a once-vibrant community center comes true.
Learn more about the fight to preserve CHARAS/El Bohío at the former P.S. 64 here.