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BY CYNTHIA MAGNUS | Downtown youth will get a new media facility as part of the Civic Center building sales, but school advocates remain worried about the shortage of kindergarten seats.
Community Board 1’s Planning Committee unanimously approved a draft resolution May 2 recommending the sale of the city-owned property at 346 Broadway. It is part of the larger civic center real estate deal announced by the mayor in March, and is supposed to include a 16,000 square foot digital arts media facility for Downtown youth and, some C.B. 1 members hope, the wider community.
The measure will go before the full community board on May 28. The next step in the certain-to-be-approved property deal is for the matter to be presented at the next Borough Board meeting in June.
C.B. 1 chairperson Catherine McVay Hughes said, “The creation of a state-of-the-art digital arts community facility with an educational youth component that is available to all will be the first of its kind in New York City and shows that Downtown continues to be on the cutting edge. It was a collaborative effort with Borough President Stringer, Councilmember [Margaret] Chin, and Community Board 1.”
Hughes, who on May 7 attended the groundbreaking for the Downtown Community Television Center’s new all-documentary film theater — the city’s first movie house dedicated exclusively to documentaries — said the location of the two centers Downtown would offer a “positive synergy.”
On Mon., May 6, Chin called the facility a “good start” in a community that wanted more. “I think this goes a long way in terms of supplementing the education programs in our schools,” she said. Acknowledging the problems of overcrowding and the concurrent funding constraints for extra school programs, Chin said, “Hopefully this will meet that gap.”
Other community education advocates are less optimistic. Tricia Joyce, C.B.1’s chairperson of the Youth and Education Committee, said, “I would be excited about the digital media center if we didn’t have a 148-seat shortage,” referring to this year’s waiting list for kindergarten seats.
Joyce said she “is stunned at the disconnect” city administration demonstrates toward the needs of neighborhood residents. “The last thing Downtown needs is luxury housing,” said Joyce, adding that for those relocating to the neighborhood, “It’s important to know that there is not one seat in any local school for any family” considering such a move.
The city-owned property at 346 Broadway was sold to the New York and Miami based Peebles Corporation for $160 million, and will be developed into condominiums and hotel units.
“The city realized millions,” said Joyce, “I cannot understand how the city cannot afford to build two schools.” While acknowledging the work that the community board committed to winning the space for the new media facility, Joyce said, “The last thing any of us should do is be at odds with each other over the shortcomings of the city.” Joyce called the 16,000 square foot portion, though, “an insult.”
Joyce lambasted t he city’s ten-year campaign to promote Downtown as a residential mecca. “This was a planned development much like Levittown. The shortage of school seats was one of the most predictable and preventable situations,” she said. “Nowhere else in America would you see that many units built without accompanying school space.”
At the May 2 committee meeting, Hughes stressed the importance for inclusion in the resolution a requirement that the developer at 346 Broadway be required to complete the community’s digital arts and media facility in a similar time frame along with the commercial space, and agree to meet regularly with stakeholders who will monitor construction progress. “Just like any other project we want to make sure that with this vote we are still engaged in what’s happening — we just don’t want it to go away.”
The media center will not open for a few years and the operator will be chosen by the city. The space itself is awarded to the community rent-free in perpetuity.
New C.B. 1 member Kathleen Gupta noted at the meeting that Downtown has “very little in the way of senior centers, and that one of the most innovative new models is digital centers for seniors.” She suggested that the facility be made available to seniors when not in use by young people.
The non-profit facility, while a community amenity, will not be free of charge.
Michael Levine, C.B. 1‘s director of planning and land use, said the facility would be a “major accomplishment for the community. It gives us something we don’t have now, but it does not solve the problem of [school] overcrowding, and it’s not intended to — it’s intended to give the community an amenity it doesn’t have now — an additional educational facility for a growing population.”