By Josh Rogers
Arthur Gregory is not one to sugarcoat it. Like the other four Democratic candidates in the City Council race, he’s for building more affordable housing, but he made it clear he doesn’t think any of it should be for low-income people.
“We don’t need any more McDonald’s workers,” he said in an interview last week. “We need people for schools and we need people for doctors’ offices and that work in hospitals — the 40 to $70,000-a-year jobs.”
If elected, he said he would fight hard to make sure current low-income people living Downtown are able to stay, but he thinks any new developments should include set asides only for moderate-income people.
The World Trade Center site and the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area are two locations where Gregory, 55, would like to see below-market rate housing.
Gregory often answers questions about the World Trade Center by stressing the importance of rebuilding, which suggests he favors developer Larry Silverstein’s approach of building as many towers as possible now, but last week’s interview revealed he is actually closer to the Port Authority position.
Referencing the 53 friends and former bar/restaurant customers he lost on 9/11, he said “they would roll over in their graves if something wasn’t built. These were Wall St. people. Money was their business.” But a little while later he said, “I just want the one main office tower as a showing to the world.”
The Port is currently constructing the Freedom Tower (Gregory refers to it as the “Liberty Tower”), and Silverstein Properties is building W.T.C. Tower 4. The two parties remain at an impasse as Silverstein and the mayor are pressing the Port to guarantee enough financing to ensure that Tower 2 is constructed now.
Having seen Lower Manhattan recover from previous recessions and stock market crashes, Gregory suspects the real estate market will be ripe soon for more W.T.C. development, but like the Port, he doesn’t want any more subsidies to speed it along.
Gregory said he would use his “soapbox” to try and influence the discussions. He wants much of the basic plan to proceed, but he would alter some of the uses. For instance if it were up to him, he’d cut out about 50,000 square feet of the proposed mall for another school and he’d put some housing in one of the Church St. towers, presumably No. 4.
He thinks the district needs about 1,000 more school seats beyond what’s under construction now and said he would not deserve to be reelected four years from now if he didn’t make progress. “If I didn’t get any more schools down here, I’m out,” he said.
Gregory has sat on Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s school overcrowding task force. He got the idea of building a school at 26 Broadway a few months ago after Sports Museum employees came in for drinks at B4, a bar/restaurant he co-owned until recently, and told him the museum was closing. The Dept. of Education is now looking to expand its proposed school space there, but Gregory credits Silver for turning the idea into a real possibility.
The anecdote points to Gregory’s philosophy on how to get things done. He often cites his personal connections to politicians and the fact that he has their numbers programmed in his cell phone.
Gregory has an unconventional way to expand park space in Lower Manhattan: Acquire unused, low-rise Financial District buildings under eminent domain, then demolish them to create small plazas. If the economy rebounds, it could make those buildings more expensive to acquire, but Gregory thinks it will present a good opportunity because large Downtown firms will be willing to help pay for better outdoor spaces for their employees.
“There’s a lot of little buildings in the district that aren’t historic and a couple of them are in a row that someone’s warehousing,” he said.
He said there are a few such buildings on Water St. and there also may be some in Chinatown, although surprisingly, Gregory doesn’t think the neighborhood needs more open space.
“They have more parks than anywhere,” said Gregory, who includes Greenstreets as parks. Community Board 3, which covers most of Chinatown, is often cited as one of the most park-starved areas in the city.
Gregory, along with his opponents, is against the proposed redesign of Chatham Square in Chinatown, which is also opposed by C.B. 1 and 3. He suspects Mayor Bloomberg has delayed implementing the plan because of its problems. If he and the mayor win in November, Gregory would urge Bloomberg to look for the best traffic consultants around the world to come up with a better Chatham Square solution, but he did not know how he would be able to persuade the mayor to use outside consultants instead of city Dept. of Transportation engineers.
At a Downtown Express candidates’ forum two weeks ago, Gregory said Councilmember Alan Gerson was more qualified than he was. Gregory, in last week’s interview, did criticize Gerson in some areas, and said he thought change was needed after eight years, but he also said Gerson’s experience is an advantage.
“You don’t know what’s going on until you are inside,” he said.
Gregory is divorced with a young daughter and lives in the Financial District. In the ’70s, he was a young aide in New Jersey Gov. Brendan Byrne’s administration and he has worked mostly in the hospitality industry since. Currently, he co-owns a Century 21 franchise in New Jersey and for most of the last 10 years he has co-owned a number of Lower Manhattan restaurant/bars including A & M Roadhouse and B4.
He was forced out of A & M a few years ago when the controlling partner accused him of taking money from the business. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office investigated Gregory and did not charge him with anything. Gregory said the problem was the bookkeeper his ex-partner hired. Gregory sued for defamation of character but said he dropped the case recently when his ex-partner, who has in recent years declined to comment on the matter, agreed to apologize.
Gregory served on Community Board 1 from 2003 until 2006, when he was not reappointed. Gregory severely injured his ankle doing repair work four years ago and missed many board meetings as a result. His foot still bothers him and he sometimes uses a cane. He said he would not take a City Council parking placard if he wins because he already has a handicapped permit to park. He is sympathetic to Downtown parking difficulties and hopes to set up a parking permit system for residents.
He thinks small business owners know best what’s needed in the community and they are the first to see things like the need for schools.
“Why have all kids stores opened up down here and nothing else,” he said “Entrepreneurs know what’s going on down here. We’re not stupid.”