Chelsea Now: Bayview’s Future Not Locked Down, but it Won’t Go Condo
On January 17, the first perspective buyers of 550 West 20th Street, the former site of the Bayview Correctional Facility, took advantage of the city’s invite for a walkthrough of the site. By mid-February, all proposals must be filed for the newest incarnation of the beloved institution. One thing is already certain: the facility will keep its historical façade and the community amenities for which it has long been known.
“I’m very happy that the Bayview site won’t be converted into another luxury condominium development,” State Senator Brad Hoylman told Chelsea Now. “I’m grateful to the Governor and his team at Empire State Development for bringing the local community to the table and responding positively to our ideas for the future of the prison building.”
When Hurricane Sandy blew through the New York Metro area in October 2012, the 153 female inmates of the medium-security prison were evacuated to three upstate facilities as flood waters washed through the prison. But the die was already cast on Bayview’s future.
In his 2013–14 Fiscal Year Budget, Governor Andrew Cuomo determined that the prison was too costly to run, with a total staff cost per inmate of $74,385, as compared to the state’s benchmark of about $34,000. Cuomo projected that the prison closure would save the state $18.7 million in 2013–14 and $62 million in 2014–15, if Bayview Correctional Facility was closed and sold.
The New York State Urban Development Corporation, the state’s chief economic development agency, doing business as the Empire State Development Corporation, took over Bayview, and is now accepting request for proposals (RFPs) for its purchase and adaptive re-use. The area is zoned for a mix of development, including offices, hotels, retail, entertainment and residential apartments.
According to Community Board 4 (CB4) Co-Chair of the Housing, Health and Human Services Committee, Joe Restuccia, 22 perspective applicants toured the site on January 17, including Steinway & Sons, who recently sold their historical building on West 57th Street for $46M. But no matter whose proposal wins the bid, one thing is certain: Bayview will not be torn down and replaced by luxury condominiums.
NO CONDOS OR CO-OPS IN BAYVIEW’S FUTURE
Thanks to the hard work of Sen. Hoylman and CB4 on July 24, 2013, Empire State Development came to the table with local residents to discuss the future of the site, and they agreed to preserve the integrity of the original design, as well as its long history of community use. Later that day, CB4 voted to send a letter to ESD outlining the preliminary recommendations for reuse of the site.
CB4 was pleased to see that when the ESD released the Bayview RFP on December 23, 2013, they noted in the introduction that, “Proposals for residential uses will not be considered,” adding that, “any Proposal featuring the full demolition of the Site will not be considered, and all Proposals should include some community facility component.”
“We’ve achieved an important goal by the state including that in the RFP,” said Restuccia. “Although the devil is in the details, the response makes it clear that the state also wants this building preserved.”
As part of an effort to beat those devils, Restuccia said that his committee was putting together a tightly worded letter to ESD asking the new owner to keep the historically accurate windows and doors, and make provisions for the murals and stained glass to be used somewhere in the building’s new design.
An ESD spokesperson confirmed that residential uses are prohibited in the RFP, but noted that there were no prohibitions on the type of organizations that can bid for the property, including non-profits.
“The RFP incorporates a number of the community board’s priorities, including a community facility component and preservation of the historic structure through adaptive reuse of the building,” said Sen. Hoylman. “While I’d liked to have seen affordable housing in the mix, I appreciate that the RFP seeks to identify uses that create local jobs, rather than more luxury condos.”
Sen. Hoylman noted that the possibility still remained that the “community use” in the RFP could incorporate part of the historic mission of the Bayview facility, which was to rehabilitate incarcerated women. Many Chelsea residents were vocal in their support of the facility, which allowed its population of women to leave every morning for their jobs, and return in the evening, to serve their time.
LANDMARK STATUS SOUGHT
Back in 1931, the building was constructed by the notable firm of Shreve, Lamb & Harmon (architects of the Empire State Building) as the Seaman’s YMCA, complete with athletic equipment, a pool and numerous tiny rooms for visiting sailors. The building has Art Deco massing, a distinctive corner entrance and many polychrome terra cotta medallions, window surrounds and string courses featuring nautical themes.
To the end of keeping this history alive, CB4 members submitted a “request for evaluation” to the Landmarks Preservation Commission last summer urging that the site be designated as a New York City Landmark as soon as possible. A CB4 board member confirmed that Benfatto had inquired multiple times throughout the summer as to the status of the request, only to be told that it remained in the active pile.
According to CB4 District Manager Robert Benfatto, the request is still under “active review.” Benfatto said that the option to Landmark the building would “not be off the table, but harder to achieve” once the building was sold to a private owner.
And during a January 22 meeting of three CB4 subcommittees, Restuccia gave an impromptu update on the status of the request, reportedly saying that there “wasn’t a chance in hell” that the building would get Landmarked before it was sold.
“When I said that, I meant it in terms of practicality,” said Restuccia. The Landmarks process takes a long time, and in addition it’s a state building. I can’t imagine the state not objecting to this in the middle of a real estate deal.”
Restuccia said that because the state is not subject to the city’s laws, Landmark status would depend on how the deal is made, and whether the state is selling, leasing or retaining a nominal ownership for tax benefits. If the new owners view the building’s history as an asset, that may be an incentive to get it Landmarked.
The ESD confirmed that the site has been determined as eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. They also noted that any substantial changes to the building would require consultation with the State Historic Preservation Office of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation in accordance with the New York State Historic Preservation Act of 1980 in order to explore potential measures that would avoid, minimize, or mitigate any adverse impacts or effects to historic resources as guided by the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for rehabilitation.
PUSHES FOR A POOL, AS PART OF ‘COMMUNITY FACILITY’ ELEMENT
Although community members were pleased that Bayview’s historic façade would be preserved, several voiced the hope that the “community facility” element would come in the form of the Seaman’s YMCA pool, with its tilework murals of aquatic events and leaping dolphins, being refurbished and opened to the community.
The ESD made no promises as to what the “community facility” would entail, but promised that they would take into consideration this component in context of the overall proposal’s ability to meet the development goals and evaluation criteria outlined in the RFP, with a spokesperson adding that, once selected, the developer would be required to honor the terms of their proposal.
“The community benefit is what the community thinks is a benefit,” said Restuccia. “From the Community Board end, we are focusing on the pool and gym as being the community facility. Our district is 57 of 59 lowest in terms of recreation space, so anything they do would be helpful. There are a large number of teens and young people at Fulton Houses, and these are the kids that need this kind of rec space most. It is impossible in terms of the city budget to think of building gyms and pools, but the fact that it’s there and can be restored and reused makes this a possibility. Then we can work with the city to get funding for upkeep.”
This process seems perfectly in line with the ideal outcome for Bayview that CB4 hammered out with ESD last summer. With any luck, Chelsea will soon have another good neighbor in that location.
“CB4 is delighted that Senator Brad Hoylman obtained the preservation of the building itself and the inclusion of a community facility in the final redevelopment,” said CB4 Chair Christine Berthet. “Historically, this facility has been tightly woven in the human fabric of Chelsea. This redevelopment with jobs, history and a community facility will make sure it remains that way for years to come.”
The deadline for proposals for the purchase and adaptive re-use of Bayview Correctional Facility is February 12. Once the proposals have been submitted, the ESD will spend time reviewing each proposal and ultimately score the proposals based on the evaluation criteria articulated in the RFP.