Volume 17 • Issue 25 | Nov. 12 - Nov. 19, 2004

K-8 school may join Ratner project

By Ronda Kaysen

Bruce Ratner’s planned 75-story Beekman St. tower may soon be home to a new East Side elementary school, if the developer and city officials can hammer out an agreement.

With Pace University no longer a player in the 1-million-square-foot apartment building — the school pulled out of the deal on Nov. 3 — community and city leaders are eyeing the 330,000 square feet of unclaimed space as a possible site for a new K-8 school and a community center.

The previously favored spot for the school — 250 Water St. — is owned by Milstein Properties and comes fraught with its own complications. The city would likely have to acquire the site, now a parking lot, through eminent domain, which would in all likelihood involve a lengthy legal battle. City Councilmember Alan Gerson told the Downtown Express in September that the city is obligated to try and find a location for the school that is east of Broadway and south of the Brooklyn Bridge. A failure to do so may derail other development plans for Tribeca. Pace’s sudden withdrawal from the Ratner deal — on the grounds that Forest City Ratner, Bruce Ratner’s company, dramatically raised the cost of the lease — may be more of a windfall for the community than a setback.

“A school would be done faster on the hospital site and we’re looking to expedite this as fast as possible,” said Madelyn Wils, Community Board 1’s chairperson.

A community center, also a high-ranking desire of the community, is less likely to occur since it lacks the funding that the school has already secured. The $69 million school will be funded with $44 million from the city’s capital budget and the remainder is expected to come from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. The community center, on the other hand, has no funding secured at this point.

“The rec center is more of a long shot,” said assistant district manager Judy Duffy at a C.B. 1 South Street Seaport/Civic Center committee meeting this week. Before the Pace announcement, community officials had been hoping to secure 50,000 square feet of community space in the tower for a pool and health center.

Without a large commercial tenant like Pace, the Ratner tower will no longer be eligible for $350 million in Liberty bonds, although 25,000 square feet is still allotted for an NYU Downtown Hospital outpatient facility. According to a recent article in the New York Post, Ratner may instead use an 80-20 tax abatement residential financing program for his project.

By all accounts, Ratner seems interested in the idea of a school in his Frank Gehry-designed tower. “This is a recent development and one that is certainly under consideration that is being reviewed very carefully,” said Michele DeMilly, a spokesperson for Forest City Ratner.

According to board member Paul Hovitz, Ratner’s office recently asked to see the plans for P.S. 89/I.S. 89 in Battery Park City, an elementary school that shares its space with a residential building. “How many schools do you know that were built from scratch in a residential building?” said Hovitz. “P.S. 89 is a good example of how architects worked a school into a residential building.”

Offering the community a school in return for a 75-story tower — the tallest building in Lower Manhattan after the planned Freedom Tower — may make an unpopular project more tolerable for residents. “Let’s say you don’t put a school there, that gives the community all of the downside with no givebacks,” said Hovitz. “It behooves us to do the best we can to try to provide the future tenants and the community residents with a needed amenity.”


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