Grand Street Settlement Planning Think Cafe + Senior Center at Essex Crossing
We have new information this morning about Grand Street Settlement’s plans at Essex Crossing, the 1.9 million sq. ft. development rising on the former Seward Park urban renewal site.
The century-old Lower East Side social services agency is the lead community partner for the mixed-use project. In an interview with The Lo-Down on Friday, Grand Street Executive Director Robert Cordero detailed the vision for an innovative cafe in partnership with Think Coffee and a new senior center.
Both facilities will be situated on Site 6 of Essex Crossing, located on the northeast corner of Clinton and Broome streets (the actual address is 175 Delancey St.) The 15-story building is also to include 100 apartments for low-income seniors and a 40,000 sq. ft. health center (likely run by NYU Langone Medical Center).
The cafe will take 2500 sq. ft. on the ground floor. It’s being designed as a community gathering space using a social enterprise model. Young adults from Grand Street Settlement and other local organizations will work in the restaurant and participate in a job training program. The profits will be funneled back into the settlement house’s community building initiatives.
Shortly after being appointed executive director in June, Cordero reached out to Jason Scherr, who runs Think Coffee, a socially responsible chain with eight locations in New York City (including on the Bowery). He’s a Grand Street board member. Scherr was intrigued by the entrepreneurial approach in a non-profit setting. “He loved the idea that it will be a really structured job training program for teens and young adults who are having trouble cracking into that first job,” said Cordero.
“It’s a high risk, potentially high impact, high reward proposition,” he added.
The plan is to use a proven social enterprise program called Catalyst Kitchens, a collaborative network “dedicated to empowering lives through job training.” It will be run by Grand Street Settlement with involvement from local groups such as the Lower East Side Employment Network. Cordero has talked with the heads of other LES settlement houses about linking the cafe with their teen and job placement programs.
The full Think Coffee menu will be available. Items will be market price with discounts for building residents and members of the senior center. Cordero said he’s had conversations with executives at the Tenement Museum and Clemente Soto Velez Cuiltural Center about a robust cultural calendar within the cafe. The space will be divisible, so sections can be blocked off for private rentals while the cafe continues to operate.
L+M Development, one of three Essex Crossing partners, was enthusiastic about the concept, Cordero said, and agreed to “build a top-notch” cafe space for the community. He hopes local residents, including Lower East Side artists, will become involved in the programming. Cordero added, “Anyone in the community can walk into the cafe and support the cause of Grand Street Settlement (simply by buying a cup of coffee).”
The settlement house’s other initiative on Site 6 is a 10,500 sq. ft. senior center located on the fourth floor. It includes a large, versatile community room for dining, activities and meetings.
There are also two smaller rooms meant for support groups, computer users and activities for smaller activities, such as dance classes. The center will share an outdoor space with building residents. Cordero said a health care provider would be brought on to offer geriatric services.
The new facility will allow Grand Street Settlement to alleviate a serious crowding problem at its main Lower East Side facility at 80 Pitt St. (alongside the Gompers Houses). Right now, it’s shared by the organization’s early childhood, young adult and senior programs. In 2018, when the Essex Crossing building is scheduled to open, all senior services will be relocated.
At the same time, Grand Street will be embarking on a $15 million renovation of 80 Pitt St., a building constructed in collaboration with the New York City Housing Authority in the 1970s. $5 million has already been raised to pay for “deferred maintenance” projects (mostly improving mechanical systems). The organization is launching a capital campaign to raise another $10 million. One part of the project includes relocating the building entrance from Rivington Street to Pitt Street. It became necessary when Masaryk Towers, which controls the Rivington Street passageway, decided to close off the area (they’re going to be putting up a gate).
Cordero said the Essex Crossing project was put on hold in the past year, as his predecessor (Margarita Rosa) handed over the leadership reigns. But now the organization is moving quickly to, literally, build for the future. Grand Street maintains a robust presence on the Lower East Side, but in recent years has been expanding into other neighborhoods, as well. Half of its programs are now based in Brooklyn.
The developers are working on lining up financing for Site 6. When it’s secured, construction will begin on the parcel. The overall project includes 1,000 apartments and 850,000 sq. ft. of commercial space on nine lots near the Williamsburg Bridge.