As part of his State of the City speech yesterday, Mayor Mike Bloomberg — in a discussion about revenue — said the city plans to sell three Lower Manhattan properties. It was just a few sentences, but it gave Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer a chance today to remind us all that his position, often seen as somewhat nebulous, does in fact matter.
Bloomberg broke the news while discussing how he would finance the many initiatives he outlined in his speech. He said that this year he will put up for sale three city-owned buildings (22 Reade Street, 49-51 Chambers Street, and 346 Broadway), which he anticipates will bring more than $100 million next year for the capital budget, $100 million in private sector tax revenue, and cost savings over the next 20 years. The properties are currently occupied by city agencies, including Corrections, City Planning, Parks and also Community Board 1, all of which would be relocated.
Not so fast, Stringer’s team said today, sending out a press release with the subheading “[Stringer] Promises to use his power under the City Charter to halt Mayor’s plan to unload buildings.”
Yes, he’s got power, folks! That seemed to be the underlying message of this response (a push that times well with our mention of Stringer in our “100 Most Powerless New Yorkers,” story this week, in which Steven Thrasher compared the borough president’s efforts to the mayor of Washington D.C. trying to influence federal government).
The borough president and community boards typically serve in advisory roles, but not this time. Stringer pointed out at the news conference outside 49-51 Chambers Street (in the frigid cold), that the city Charter mandates that when the city sells its properties in this way, it must get approval from the “Borough Board,” an entity we don’t really hear about that much. It’s chaired by Stringer and includes City Council members from the borough.
Stringer, joined by CB1 chair Julie Menin (a possible 2013 BP candidate) argued that the buildings could potentially be used for public purposes, such as much-needed school space or affordable housing in Lower Manhattan. He vowed to “use his power” to block the city from pushing forward with this until it makes a commitment to public uses.
“I’m here today to layout a smarter economic approach than a one-shot sell off of valuable public assets,” he told reporters. “Lower Manhattan doesn’t need another hotel. It needs schools and affordable housing.”
He underscored his office’s role at the end of the speech, “Let me reiterate [in this kind of sale]…you must go before the Manhattan Borough Board, and that’s where there will be final say. That’s why I’m here today to let the mayor know…that we’re all going to have to work together.”
He may be jumping the gun a bit with his call to block the mayor, since the city is planning to go through a public review process and could ultimately use the buildings for public space, depending on how that process goes.
“We look forward to working with our partners in government and all stakeholders, including those who have an advisory role,” Lauren Passalacqua, deputy press secretary for the mayor, wrote in an email to Runnin’ Scared.
The push to sell these buildings is part of the mayor’s plan to consolidate office space and sell underutilized property; the buildings will go through ULURP (our favorite acronym!), or the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure — one of them already has. But the city hasn’t started the review process yet, nor has it solicited proposals, so it could be a bit too soon to predict how the properties could be used. That said, Stringer’s office sent Runnin’ Scared a city document outlining this plan, which mentions possible re-uses of hotel space or residential property. This possibility was part of the reason Stringer was concerned, though the mayor’s office says that the list of “re-use options” are just estimations for what current zoning would allow.
Confused? Runnin’ Scared was and called up a real estate expert for some help. NYU real estate professor Barry Hersh said he couldn’t think of a past situation that played out in this way — with the BP halting a city sale like this, and added, “I don’t understand what Stringer is concerned about, other than he wants to be mayor.”
Still, Stringer’s office insists that his role is much more than advisory in this case and that he doesn’t want to attack the mayor, but just wants to ensure that public uses are considered. “We have a real role in this process,” he later said. Take that, Mr. Mayor.