Blocking the Raze

New foes for CHARAS developer

"He's trying to destroy any reason for landmarking it," says Rosen.

Singer calls the allegation "silly," and says the permit is merely a renewal of an application to repair the façade that was filed over a year ago.

While Rosen concedes it would be "disingenuous" to say he wasn't compelled to save the Christadora's panoramic views, which the dorm would have blocked, he insists he's fighting for something larger.

135,000 square feet of prime real estate, empty
photo: Clayton Patterson
135,000 square feet of prime real estate, empty

"I can buy views. I can't replace the preciousness of this neighborhood." Indeed, these days he sounds like a Jane Jacobs acolyte, extemporizing about the "soul" of the Lower East Side and the need to turn the whole area into a "historic district" to prevent further high-rise incursion.

On June 12, Stopthedorm is calling a rally in Tompkins Square to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the school built by famed architect C. B. J. Snyder. They're also trying to form a coalition to buy back the building. There's talk of transforming it into a "Smithsonian of the Counterculture" or bringing in an alternative high school, with CHARAS playing a leading role.

That does little to ease the wariness of CHARAS veterans like Susan Howard, who fear these new and more monied defenders will usurp CHARAS's role. "Where were they when we were fighting to save CHARAS? They're just trying to divvy it up for their own interests."

But CHARAS's ability to fight is limited; its board members are currently prohibited from speaking out against Singer or his development plans until May 2005 because of a legal stipulation they signed to settle a defamation suit. And even CHARAS's strongest supporters concede the group is in no position to finance or administer the building on its own.

Beyond meeting Singer's price, it could take $20 million to make the building viable. But with seasoned players like Rosen and Phil Hartman, the owner of Two Boots Pizza and the Pioneer movie theater, battling alongside the dogged lefties and artists of the Lower East Side, observers like Clayton Patterson say one thing is clear: "Gregg Singer just bought himself a much bigger headache."

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