The 10,000-Foot Question: How to Use Civic Center Space?

One of two city buildings up for sale, 49-51 Chamber Street is currently office space for multiple city agencies, including Community Board 1. Photo by Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

What could the Downtown community do with an extra 10,000 square feet of flexible space in Lower Manhattan?

The answer: Not much.

That was the response to a question posed to Community Board 1’s Exec­utive Com­mittee last month, when it was asked by the city to come up with a top-five list of desired 10,000-square-foot amenities—a likely giveback from the sale of two city-owned buildings totaling 650,00 square feet in Down­town’s Civic Center area.

“I think that 10,000 square feet as a takeaway is irrelevant,” said board member and school overcrowding activist Tricia Joyce. “I’m spitting mad.”

The space, board members said, was about one-fourth the amount of space that would be needed for, say, a community center.

“What do we want in our 10,000 square feet?” said committee member Ro Sheffe. “We want a 50,000-square-foot school.”

Ten thousand square feet is about the size of P.S. 234’s five-classroom annex.

Sale of the buildings has been a contentious issue for the board and for elected officials such as Borough President Scott Stringer, who wanted to see the buildings used for affordable housing or other community amenities.

“We don’t want to see the sell-off of these properties for a one-shot to close a budget deficit,” Stringer said a year ago, when the proposed sale was announced.

Stringer had initially threatened to block the sale. He has that power as head of the Borough Board, made up of representatives of all of Manhattan’s community boards.  An announced candidate for the office of city comptroller, he has yet to take an official position on the current proposal. He will have the opportunity to weigh in after the Economic Devel­opment Corporation awards a contract to a bidder.

Three buildings were originally up for sale under the city’s proposal: 22 Reade Street, 346 Broadway and 49-51 Chambers Street. The City Council rejected the sale of 22 Reade Street in November (which some on the council would like to see become an African Burial Ground museum) but approved the disposition of the other two buildings, which currently house offices for more than a dozen city agencies.

Space given to the community could be in either of the two buildings being sold, but is more likely to be in 49-51 Chambers.

“There is nothing really east of West Broadway as a community amenity,” said Board Chair Catherine McVay Hughes, pointing to a map that showed community centers and two libraries on Lower Man­­hattan’s west side, but nothing on the east.

McVay Hughes is one of several community board members on a task force created last month by the EDC, which is conducting the sale, to weigh in on the disposition of the buildings.

Assemblywoman Deborah Glick de­clined to participate in the task force, after being told that she—and all other participants—would have to sign a nondisclosure agreement, which she called in a statement “a shocking and anti-democratic move.”

The city’s Eco­nomic Development Corp., which is conducting the sale and is expected to announce its chosen bidder this month, did not respond to a request for comment.

CB1’s Exec­utive Committee considered declining to provide a list of requested amenities and asking Stringer to block the sale instead. But it eventually opted to come up with its top five.

“They are asking us what we want and if we don’t tell them, we think that they will determine on their own without us,” said Michael Levine, the board’s director of land use and planning.

At the top of the board’s final list was public school space. That request is followed by a community center, nonprofit performing arts space, space for a senior support center and a library on the east side of the CB1 district.