New York Blood Center expansion plan heads for council vote amid opposition

When Barry Greene shows the research space at the New York Blood Center headquarters on East 67th Street, he’s both proud and frustrated.

He’s proud of the work the Upper East Side Center does to prevent HIV and treat sickle cell anemia – and frustrated by the cramped and archaic conditions of the four-story building, which opened as a trades school in the years. 1930 and was renovated in the 1960s.

The solution, said Greene, vice president of research for the Blood Center, is for city council to approve necessary rezoning to pave the way for a $ 750 million, 16-story tower on the site to house the operations of research and dozens of other life science companies.

“We are way behind our competitors in other cities in the life sciences by leaps and bounds,” he said. “We have the most researchers of any city, but we don’t have a meeting place. And without a place to meet, we’ll never close the gap.

Barry Greene, Vice President of Research, New York Blood Center
Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY

But looking at the Blood Center site across the street while standing under a banner proclaiming “Stop The Tower,” Rachel Levy of the Friends of the Upper East Side sees a threat.

The tower would deprive the Julia Richman educational complex, which houses five public schools, of all natural light, she said. He would do the same at St. Catherine’s Park at the end of the block during the crucial afternoon hours.

The planned building would also lead to increased commercial traffic in the narrow block, disrupting the school’s students, residents using the neighborhood library and the park, Levy said. And rezoning, she warned, would set a dangerous precedent by breaking strict rules governing height and density on side streets.

“It’s not just about the Upper East Side, but the character of the urban neighborhoods preserving side streets for residential use,” she said.

A bitter dead end

Several controversial and high-profile rezoning deals are in the process of being approved as the end of Blasio’s administration approaches.

But the Blood Center’s proposal may have sparked the most bitter stalemate as it pits the preservation of a neighborhood’s character against the needs of an area that could do public good while providing thousands of well-paying jobs. .

And in a twist, the Blood Center’s plan unfolds against determined opposition from local city council member Ben Kallos. Council is generally reluctant to approve a zoning change against the will of the local member.

For decades, city officials and the heads of city hospitals and research centers have wrestled with the fact that hundreds of researchers are developing new drugs and therapies in their labs, but as soon as they start to market their discoveries, they leave for the suburbs. or New Jersey or California.

A sign on the Julia Richman Education Complex campaigns against plans to expand the New York Blood Center across East 67th Street on October 4, 2021.

A sign on the Julia Richman Education Complex campaigns against plans to expand the New York Blood Center on East 67th Street.
Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY

In 2005, a pioneering public-private partnership created the Alexandria Center adjacent to NYU Langone’s 34th Street campus. The facility is now home to more than 50 tenants, including large pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Eli Lilly, as well as smaller startups.

In 2016, the state and city offered a total of $ 1.1 billion in incentives to help offset the high costs of real estate and building lab space in the city. In June, Mayor Bill de Blasio doubled the city’s commitment to the sector to $ 1 billion until 2026.

Some 990 life science companies have now made New York home, employing around 16,000 workers, according to a report released in April by the Partnership Fund for New York City, a longtime player trying to boost the industry. The average salary is $ 142,000.

The city’s earnings are best measured by the ratio of private investment to National Institute of Health funds, argues Maria Gotsch, CEO of the fund. In 2016, Massachusetts and California attracted $ 1.20 for every $ 1 of NIH money. New York State drew 6 cents.

The most recent figures show that the other two states receive just over $ 2 for every dollar from the NIH. New York City’s ratio jumped to 75 cents.

“We are doing well,” she said.

“We want this to be successful”

The Blood Center, which supplies 80% of the blood used by the city’s hospitals, presents its project as essential to the city’s ambitions in the life sciences. The building would be located at the heart of an unrivaled medical center that includes New York Presbyterian Hospital, Special Surgery Hospital, Memorial Sloan Kettering and Rockefeller University.

The Blood Center has partnered with Longfellow, a Boston-based company that has developed 5 million square feet of life science space across the country, and has an additional 7 million in the pipeline.

The nonprofit Blood Center, with a budget of nearly $ 500 million a year, would essentially get a third of the tower it will occupy for free while Longfellow earns his money leasing the rest of the space to operations of the life sciences. In addition to boosting research at the Blood Center, supporters say the building would create a hub for stimulating scientific collaboration on a scale unprecedented for New York City.

“Opponents never talk about the future of the Blood Center, the life sciences and the future of the city,” said Jamie Peschel, co-founder and senior partner at Longfellow. “For them, it’s about maintaining the present and the past.”

Opponents reject this characterization. The community would support changes that would allow the Blood Center to build a modern facility that would meet its needs – including a building that would provide the large floor plates that the center insists are needed as long as the tower serves purpose. lucrative is discarded, said Levy.

“No one in the community is against the Blood Center,” Levy insisted. “We want it to succeed and grow on the site, which it can do without disrupting the zoning.”

Rachel Levy of Friends of the Upper East Side said an extension of the New York Blood Center on East 67th Street will block light at the Julia Richman Education Complex on October 4, 2021.

Rachel Levy of Friends of the Upper East Side
Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY

Opponents also argue that with so much vacant space available in the city, there must be buildings that could be reused for the Blood Center.

Center officials say none of this is possible: all the other sites mentioned as alternatives simply do not meet its needs. He can’t afford to build without a partner, Green insists, as he has barely hit breakeven for many years and the Blood Center’s $ 350 million endowment, used to support research and its sometimes blood operations. losers, cannot be used for new construction.

The two camps have formed broad coalitions. The Blood Center, which agreed to have the project built with unionized workers, is supported by groups trying to diversify New York’s tech workforce and Laborers Local 79.

“Disdainful of the community”

The Coalition to Stop the Tower includes many neighborhood and preservation groups like Civitas NYC. In addition to Kallos, US Representative Carolyn Maloney has joined the opposition.

In an interview with THE CITY last week, Kallos, whose term is limited and who is leaving the Council at the end of the year, said the Blood Center had rejected a series of options he had suggested. He argues that what the zoning agreement would give the Center, in essence, amounts to a large grant which he decried as “strike money.”

He defended his position, noting that he does not accept election contributions from real estate interests.

“Everywhere else in New York, council members are taking developers’ money,” he said. “The elected officials say, ‘I have concerns,’ the elected official makes a deal behind the scenes and a development is built and the community gets an infrastructure that they should have had anyway.”

City Council Member Ben Kallos speaks on Roosevelt Island, June 2, 2021.

Municipal Councilor Ben Kallos
Emil Cohen / New York City Council

Council insiders say the stance has triggered a backlash in the Council, which is considering the proposal despite opposition from Kallos.

The Blood Center says it is continuing constructive conversations about possible compromises to gain approval. A council hearing is scheduled for later this month, following a 6-2 vote last month by the Planning Commission to approve the plan and send it to Council.

Gaining approval won’t be easy. In the eight years that de Blasio has been mayor, no project has been approved despite the objection of the local deputy.

Either way, the scars will remain.

“The actions of the Blood Center show that they don’t particularly care about community concerns,” said Elizabeth Rose, a member of the Stop the Tower Coalition who also sits on the local community’s board of directors. “It’s quite contemptuous of the community.”

About Ethel Nester

Ethel Nester

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