New Seward Park Board Seeks to Raise Co-op’s Profile

The Seward Park Co-op is making plans to revitalize the retail strip it owns on Grand and Clinton Streets — with the eventual goal of transforming the area into a shopping and dining destination. Three new board members were recently elected to represent the Co-op’s more than 17-hundred shareholders. Seward Park’s new president, Michael Tumminia, and two longtime directors, sat down with The Lo-Down recently to discuss their vision for the future.

The Co-op, one of the biggest market rate complexes of its kind in Manhattan, encompasses four large buildings on 13 acres, running from Essex Street to Montgomery Street. Built in the late 1950’s, the apartments could not be sold on the open market until the year 2000. Ten years later, the transformation, driven by dramatically escalating prices and a massive influx of new residents, is still playing out.

The struggling retail shops along Grand Street mirror the rest of the city. In the short-term, the Co-op is trying to find new tenants for several vacant spaces, including the former Isabella’s Oven location, as well as a dry cleaner’s and a shoe store that shut down in recent months. But the new board also wants to give the outdated single story retail structures a facelift, possibly building up and attracting buzz-worthy businesses that will draw shoppers below Delancey Street.

Board member Wei-Li Tjong says negotiations are ongoing with Jesse Hartman, the owner of the proposed restaurant “Grand Park.” Hartman’s plan, which includes a dramatic enclosed patio, won the support of Community Board 3, after he provided assurances that the patio could be soundproofed. Now that CB3 has given its blessing for a liquor license, the Seward Park Board is working through other details with Hartman. Tjong says, “I’m waiting to see if his architectural plans do indeed take (sound issues) into account and whether he can secure the financing to build an expensive structure. I have hopes that… this will go forward but very carefully and with a lot of oversight to make sure that the people who live nearby won’t be at all inconvenienced.” Generally, speaking Tjong says the board wants to attract businesses that both appeal to people from outside the neighborhood and also serve the needs of the increasingly diverse Co-op.

Seward Park is also looking at refurbishing a courtyard it owns at Essex and Hester Streets, which has gone unused for decades. One idea is to use the space, which is embedded in the public park, for a weekend artisan’s market. Board member Pietro Filardo is leading up a preliminary effort to find an operator interested in leasing the area and running a market. The Co-op will soon install security cameras and make other security enhancements to reassure residents that the courtyard is safe.

In recent months, as the economy soured, the Co-op has faced major financial challenges. In the last several years, high flip tax revenues gave the board the luxury of keeping maintenance fees low. Now, Tumminia says, it’s necessary to do a better job planning for the future. That planning has been complicated by the fact that the Co-op is in the middle of refurbishing its hallways and lobbies. But Tumminia believes a strong long-range financial plan, will put the cooperative on solid footing.

He also told me he’s committed to raising Seward Park’s profile in the community.  “We would like Manhattan to know we exist. We would like people to know we’re one of the most desirable places to live in, given our cost, our value and our location. We have our 50th anniversary coming up… we’re very interested in bringing the community together..”

Note: I have lived in the Seward Park Co-op since 2007.