Housing + Development

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Council Member Defends ‘Tech Hub’ Vote in Wake of Heated Criticism

Rendering of the Union Square Tech Hub at 120 East 14th Street. (Courtesy of the Mayor’s Office).

As you may have heard, the city’s proposed (and controversial) $250 million, 21-story retail and tech center off of Union Square moved forward last week. Council Member Carlina Rivera was key to the City Council’s unanimous vote, as her district will be most severely impacted by the so-called “Tech Hub.” During last year’s election, Rivera had even campaigned in part on the tech center, proposed for the site of the former PC Richard & Son at 120 East 14th Street. In a previous hearing on it, Rivera had said that without additional zoning protections south of 14th Street for local tenants and assurances that the building would indeed serve low-income earners, immigrants and residents of color—including tuition scholarships for tech training—that her vote was “seriously in question.”

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Residents Say City Sold Former LES Nursing Facility ‘Like a Bag of Dope’

(Photos: Tara Yarlagadda)

Ribbons spanning all the colors of the rainbow hung from the gray walkway and black fences enclosing the trees perched in front of the salmon-pink Rivington House, a former public school that re-opened in the 1990s to assist individuals with HIV and AIDS. Scrawled on the ribbons in black marker were phrases and stories in support of the Rivington House in English, Chinese and Spanish. Each ribbon was dedicated to a specific bed number at Rivington House in honor of the individuals that the center served over the past two decades.

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Bushwick’s Glitzy New Luxury Building on the Rheingold Brewery Site Is Ready For Its Close-Up

(Photo courtesy of MySpace NYC)

The Denizen Bushwick, an eight-story luxury rental building on the site of the former Rheingold Brewery, has finally opened one of its buildings, consisting of 444 units ranging from $2,000 studios to two-bedrooms exceeding $4,000. The inspiration for the controversial project reportedly stemmed from the idea of a European village, but in reality, the Denizen Bushwick resembles more of a glitzy, almost overwhelming megalopolis that is unlike anything else in the neighborhood.

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‘Store Front’ Photographer Karla Murray Races Against Time to Document ‘Fun and Funky’ NYC

(Photo courtesy of James and Karla Murray)

Longtime East Village photographers James and Karla Murray installed a structure in Seward Park recreating the Lower East Side’s Cup and Saucer, which closed after more than 70 years in business. Now, they’ve set up a gallery show featuring photographs from their “Store Front” books just a few blocks away at The Storefront Project (70 Orchard Street). The exhibit, “Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York,” pays homage to the mom-and-pop shops of the Lower East Side and will remain open through August 12. Bedford + Bowery chatted with Karla Murray about her hopes and thoughts on the changing neighborhood. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

BB_Q(1)

I hope the opening reception went well.

BB_A(1)We got a lot of love and support from our friends and store owners as well. The granddaughter of Moe Albanese [of] Albanese Meats & Poultry on Elizabeth [Street]. Really the last butcher in Nolita. A neon sign fabricator who created the sign for Trash & Vaudeville and refurbished the Russ & Daughter’s sign was in attendance as well.

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

BB_Q(1)

Tell me about your hopes for the Orchard Street exhibit.

BB_A(1)The majority of the photos relate to the Lower East Side. You know, to relate back to the neighborhood that the gallery is in. We also have a smattering from our so-called other “favorite” ones, mostly departed stores like Zig Zag Records and the Ralph’s that you saw in the window. We included some others but concentrated on the Lower East Side because we wanted to continue our story. ‘Cuz certainly the Lower East Side has changed a lot with gentrification and different people moving in. Unfortunately, a lot of mom-and-pop stores have closed. Buildings have been knocked down—it’s not only the stores. They’ve destroyed a lot of old tenement buildings [that] have been replaced with newer developments. When that happens, what replaces them on the ground floor as far as retail [goes] is a massive space that usually doesn’t lend to a mom-and-pop store leasing it because it’s just too expensive.

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

BB_Q(1)

Are you mainly trying to preserve the legacy of these buildings or do you think there is some hope for activists to see your work and get inspired?

BB_A(1)Oh, of course. The way we’ve always thought of it is a celebration of the businesses that are still around. We always photograph vibrant, lively businesses. That’s why we always put the address with the cross street because we want people to be able to go to the stores and shop at them. That’s really the key to their survival, [which] is that they need customers.

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

BB_Q(1)

And how many businesses did you end up photographing as part of this project?

BB_A(1)It’s countless. Thousands of photos. There’s over 325 stores just in our first book. And we have three books on the subject. Too many to count and interviews with the store owners as well. It’s over twenty years now [that] we’ve been documenting these mom-and-pop stores.

BB_Q(1)

You [and James] have been East Village residents for how many years now?

BB_A(1)We’ve lived in the same apartment for 22 years now. So it’s been a long time. It’s changed a lot in the time that we’ve been there. To be honest: we wish we had photographed more. There’s many, many small businesses that we remember fondly, but frankly we didn’t ever take a photo of [them] because we didn’t think they would ever close. And then it was too late. It’s always been a race against time to document them because they seem to be closing almost on a daily basis. For the most part, if they don’t own the building they’re located in, with the cost of new real estate going up, the landlord will triple, quadruple [the rent]. One business, they increased the rent 15 times. I mean, no small business can absorb that kind of rent increase, so then they’re forced to close.

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

BB_Q(1)

So how do you feel about new developments like the Target in the East Village? Do you feel that kind of bodes ill for the mom-and-pop businesses?

BB_A(1)We live on that street.That was all mom-and-pop stores. We documented them on film in the ‘90s. There was a pizzeria. There was a Permacut [Beauty Salon]. There was an old dive bar. Blarney Cove. There was a little bodega. There was a 99 cent [store]. There was a whole strip of store after store after store. Mom-and-pop places. They knocked all that down and built that development. I mean, you can go anywhere and shop in Target. You don’t have to be in New York City. That doesn’t make a neighborhood. To us, it’s the mom-and-pop stores that define a community. The very reason we moved to the East Village years ago [was] that we thought it was fun and funky and had a lot of cool and interesting shops. When those types of stores close, the fabric of the neighborhood suffers.

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

James and Karla Murray will lead a walking tour from their Seward Park installation to the Orchard Street exhibit on Saturday, August 4th from 1-3 p.m. Check their Instagram and Facebook for further details coming soon.

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New Target Desperately Tries to Fit Into the East Village: Does It Hit the Mark?

(Photos: Tara Yarlagadda)

I had been caught in the pouring rain without an umbrella, and my shirt was soaked through like a wet dog on the night of the East Village Target’s soft opening. “This is a bad omen,” I muttered, the weather not improving my already lukewarm attitude toward the behemoth chain store right across from my home in the East Village. As a resident of 14th Street, I had walked by the 27,000-square-foot, two-floor Target at 500 East 14th Street nearly every day for the past year, spanning its early construction all the way up to its glitzy opening day. To confess: until yesterday, I– like many East Villagers— found the Target to be a mostly unwelcome eyesore and a reflection of the hyper-gentrification of the neighborhood. It didn’t help that one of my go-to Chinese food joints had been shuttered in 2017 in the same location. Sitting atop the Target are luxurious, $3,695-per-month apartment units.

As I peered into the store’s open windows and looked at the svelte mannequins sporting trendy summer dresses, I thought that it resembled something more akin to a Saks Off Fifth than the decidedly un-hip Targets of my suburban California childhood. But by the end of the store’s opening that night, I’d become mostly convinced that if a megastore must take over a corner of the East Village, it might as well be Target.

How did they convince me? Target plans to open up a new store on the Lower East Side in August and is coming to Kips Bay and Hell’s Kitchen next year. Part of the brand’s commercial success in metro New York may lie in its distinct appeal to the communities it serves. That’s evident from the moment you walk in the store and spot the pastel-pink mural designed by Vault49, which spans the length of the checkout area and references Avenue A and the Nuyorican community of the Village and LES. Or the kombucha in the grocery aisles and the sliced toasted coconut chips hanging near checkout, perhaps catering to the area’s millennial population.

A mural in homage to the East Village behind the Target checkout counter.

“When we think about going into a community, we spend a lot of time talking to guests and understanding what they would be looking for from Target,” said Target spokesperson Erin Conroy. “Making sure the store fits the flavor not just from an assortment perspective but from an aesthetic perspective as well.”

The East Village store’s team leader, Steve Dyba, echoed comments along a similar line. “I think we really have an opportunity to become the neighborhood store.”

Some might balk at the idea of Target becoming the “neighborhood” store in the once-burgeoning artists’ community. But gesturing towards a toy set which she intended to purchase for her grandchildren, Susan Stetzer, district manager for Community Board 3, said, “Where could I buy Harry Potter LEGO in our community? I can’t. I can’t. So I think people are excited about buying things that are no longer available in our community.”

I spoke with both Stetzer and Alysha Lewis-Coleman, chair of Community Board 3, near the first-floor produce section. Both were generally pleased with the new Target, which they said had been consulting with the community board prior to the store’s opening to hire local employees.

“Jobs are so needed and so scarce right now. I’m just happy they created another job source for families and young people in this area,” said Coleman. She added, “They wanted to do right by the community.”

A Target employee adjusts an item of clothing.

Over the course of the night, I did, however, learn that not all store employees were from the area. Not including senior Target team leaders or communications officials, I spoke to two of the store’s 110 employees. Neither of them lived in the East Village. Many employees who were not from the area seemed to be part of the extended Target family, such as Teresa G., a lively young woman who had been promoted from her previous station in Queens to oversee home goods and other items here in the East Village.

The star of last night’s show was the iconic English bull terrier and Target mascot Bullseye. I wondered how they had managed to paint the Target emblem—a bullseye, of course—around the pooch’s eye. I then decided better of it. Attendees gleefully posed for photos with the terrier, who was perched atop his own pedestal.

Employees pose for a picture with the Target mascot.

Following that, attendees sipped red wine, chowed down on mini Korean BBQ tacos being passed around by servers, and explored the store’s wares, which included an array of women’s wear and reasonably-priced produce on the first floor, as well as apparel and home goods—including a Target-owned men’s clothing brand and candles affixed with the image of Jesus Christ—on the lower level. The odd, but somehow fitting assortment of items made me think that while this Target would never become a beloved neighborhood fixture, it was going to do just fine. Maybe I would even stop by and pick up some of their $2.99 mini watermelons to make a summer slushie. But as I left, I frowned, asking myself, “Am I a sellout? Or just adjusting to the changing reality of the East Village?”

The East Village Target is located at 500 E 14th St.  The store launched for its soft opening yesterday. Its grand opening will take place on July 21.

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What’s Up With the Lower East Side Ferry?

(image: Tara Yarlagadda)

On a cloudy May morning, maintenance workers were busy prepping the launch pad of the Stuyvesant Cove/Town stop on the Lower East Side ferry route. But the boarding ramp connecting the East River Bikeway along FDR Drive with the ferry launch pad remained roped off. An older gentleman named Bruce Goldstein, passing by on his Citi Bike, halted to inquire about this still-closed stop. Keep Reading »

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City Seeks to Streamline Landmarking Process, But Public Doesn’t Want to Be Shut Out

(Sign provided by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation)

The Landmarks Preservation Commission wants to speed up its approval of certain building modifications by eliminating public hearings, but preservationists argued yesterday that the move would silence New Yorkers concerned about the historic fabric of their neighborhoods. At a hearing replete with criticism, pleas, hissing, and head-shaking, the crowd spilled out into the hall, brandishing signs that read KEEP YOUR PRESERVATION HATS ON and DON’T CUT THE PUBLIC OUT OF THE PROCESS. Keep Reading »

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Williamsburg’s Dime Savings Bank Is a Newly Minted Landmark

(Photo via CharneyConstruction.com)

Williamsburg’s Dime Savings Bank has been declared a New York City landmark. The unanimous vote at a Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing today was cast two weeks after a public hearing in which the historical designation was supported by individuals such as the property owner and City Council member Antonio Reynoso. As an LPC staff member noted, the building’s elegant design along with the history associated with Williamsburg’s historic financial center were significant reasons to justify the building as a landmark.  Keep Reading »

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Lawsuit Temporarily Halts Controversial Development at Pfizer Site in Williamsburg

The developer of a controversial project in South Williamsburg was hit with a restraining order yesterday that temporarily bars the construction of eight buildings on the former Pfizer site. The move came after several Brooklyn residents and activist groups filed a lawsuit claiming that the city failed to protect communities of color when it cleared the way for the new buildings in the Broadway Triangle area. Plaintiffs claim that the city and Mayor de Blasio ignored their obligations under federal law when they approved a rezoning for the project.

The plaintiffs, led by a coalition of churches in the Broadway Triangle area, argue that the Pfizer project will raise rents in the surrounding area, causing residents of color, and especially Latino families, to be pushed out. Three of the plaintiffs have already suffered landlord harassment and are in danger of losing their homes, the suit claims. Keep Reading »

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LES Landlord Sami Mahfar Settles Tenant Harassment Case

The State Attorney General has reached a settlement with Sassan “Sami” Mahfar, the embattled landlord accused of illegally harassing tenants of his Lower East Side buildings in an effort to displace them. As part of the $225,000 settlement, companies owned by Sassan “Sami” Mahfar and Sina Mahfar will pay $175,000 to the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development and its efforts to combat lead poisoning.

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Greenpoint’s Astral Apartments, a Tumultuous Refuge for the Working Class

This week and next, we present a series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

The Astral’s Franklin Street exterior

The Astral in Greenpoint has status in the National Register of Historic Places and as a New York City landmark, but not for the murder and mayhem that has emanated from 184 Franklin Avenue since its completion as housing for Charles Pratt’s employees link 131 years ago, in 1886.

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