Amid massive political pressure from Williamsburg community leaders, the city is reconsidering its decision to award the $32-million redevelopment of the Greenpoint Hospital to an out-of-borough group.
The city awarded the plan to build 240-units of affordable housing on a Kingsland Avenue site to the Queens-based development group, TNS-Great American Construction Corporation and the Bronx-based financier, Lemle and Wolff in April.
Greenline, a local paper, first reported that Housing Commissioner Rafael Cestero met in July with community leaders, including mayoral representatives, who questioned why the contract was awarded to the outside group instead of the Williamsburg-based Greenpoint Renaissance Economic Corporation.
Cestero at that time promised to put the plan on hold, said two people who were at the meeting.
But a spokesman for the agency said only that the “hold” was merely a rumor and that the redevelopment plan would continue as planned.
“We agreed to hear their concerns and respond at a later date,” said the spokesman, Eric Bederman. “No commitment was made to reconsider the current developer designation or remove the developer from the project.”
The mixed messages come after three action-packed months when opponents held demonstrations, demanding transparency from the city, and hired an attorney, who filed formal requests for all documents relating to the award and exchanges between the city and the winning developer.
In August, opponents of the project rallied at City Hall with documents showing that the Queens-based developer and his Bronx financial partner contributed thousands of dollars to the campaign war chest of the neighborhood’s powerful assemblyman, Vito Lopez, and his political allies.
Lopez’s rival, Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D–Williamsburg), said that the Assemblyman steered the city toward Great American’s bid for the Greenpoint Hospital in retaliation for her objection to his Broadway Triangle rezoning plan.
Whatever the reason, Reyna and her allies’ pressure appears to have paid off, as Greenpoint Renaissance Economic Corporation Jan Peterson said that the city is now listening to the neighborhood development group.
“By the end of the meeting, we felt we made a strong point on two things,” said Peterson. “How could they make a decision to go to this private developer in the Bronx, and how did they make a decision when there’s not one single thing they’re saying showed that they had an advantage?”
City housing officials have stressed for months that the reason Great American and Lemle and Wolf won the Greenpoint hospital bid was because of its ability to raise private equity — an argument that housing officials from St. Nicks Alliance, one of the losing developers, shot down, pointing to a $500,000 private grant it received in December for the purpose of redeveloping the hospital site.
It is unclear whether the city will revoke its award to Great American Construction or simply continue the project with the winning developer after handing over documents requested by the lawyer from the Urban Justice Center.
But community leaders were optimistic that the city’s review of its bid process will produce a different result this time around.
“It gives us a sense that maybe we were able to reverse it,” said Tish Cianciotta, a Greenpoint Renaissance Economic Corporation member. “[Greenpoint Renaissance] should have been the lead group only because we worked at it for so many years and worked at it a lot. It’s something that really should have been ours.”