Rivington House, 45 Rivington St., June 21, 2017.
As The Lo-Down first reported May 30, the Department of Buildings has allowed the owners of the Rivington House building to perform “exploratory work” for future renovations. A stop work order had been in place since April of 2016 at the former nursing home, where one of the biggest scandals of the de Blasio administration has played out. Now — on the same day Mayor de Blasio heads to the Lower East Side for a town hall meeting — work crews are on site to begin their explorations.
Activists with Neighbors to Save Rivington House have been on high alert since the Buildings Department approved the work permit. This morning, we received the photos you see here from Tessa Huxley, who lives next door to Rivington House. A truck from “Aquifer Drilling & Testing” arrived a short time ago. She reported hearing the sounds of jackhammers inside and witnessed workers taking soil samples.
The permit allows for the, “miscellaneous removal of areas of flooring, walls and ceiling finishes throughout the existing building in order to expose the existing structure and masonry elements… for future renovations.” In a June 6 letter to the mayor, local residents wrote, “We believe that this (work) could well do permanent damage to the property as well as foreclose options that may yet result from outstanding investigations.”
The city lifted deed restrictions on the Rivington House facility, clearing the way for Slate Property Group, Adam America Real Estate and China Vanke to purchase the building for $116 million. A luxury condo conversion is planned. The mayor has blasted the developers but insisted the city has no legal means of getting the building back for the community. The state attorney general has been investigating the matter for many months.
The mayor is hosting a town hall meeting tonight at the Houston Street Center. He’s sure to face sharp questions about his administration’s bungling of the Rivington House matter.
Meanwhile, Neighbors to Save Rivington House has urged people to call 311 to urge Mayor de Blasio to reinstate the stop work order at 45 Rivington St.
Here was the scene in front of the former Rivington House nursing facility Sunday morning. In this photo from Jon W., you can tell that some people have now taken up residence in the vestibule of the infamous Lower East Side property.
Residents who live nearby tell us they’ve been there for some time and that the conditions on the sidewalk alongside the building, 45 Rivington St., have improved of late. At least one man sleeping on Rivington House’s doorstep has been sweeping the sidewalk on a regular basis. There’s a sign perched on the steps that reads, “We Shall Overcome.”
Jon told us, “The new owners neglect to clean the sidewalks and stairs, leaving a daily mess for the community.
I was glad to see a group of homeless people have taken shelter and cleaned it up.”
As it turns out, the guys are apparently not homeless, at least not in the traditional sense. Christopher Marte, a community activist, told us he spoke with them a few days ago. They are young European travelers on a tight budget and were simply looking for a place to sleep. They had no clue about the significance of the spot they’d chosen as a crash pad.
Last spring, Slate Property Group, Adam America Real Estate and China Vanke purchased the property for $116 million after deed restrictions were mysteriously lifted. Multiple investigations have been swirling ever since. In the Wall Street Journal today, a spokesperson for the developers expressed confidence that they will eventually be able to move forward with their luxury condo conversion.
Other people are expressing themselves, using Rivington Street as a canvas. Here are a couple of additional photos from the Facebook page of Neighbors to Save Rivington House:
45 Rivington St.
New evidence emerged over the weekend that a senior official in the de Blasio administration knew of the Rivington House deal long before the mayor’s office has previously admitted.
In November of last year, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) lifted deed restrictions on the former nursing home building. The property was then sold the luxury condo developers for $116 million.
Now the New York Times has obtained two memos that show “a top official in the de Blasio administration was apprised on the progress in removing the restrictions… in the middle of 2015 — suggesting involvement and coordination by close advisers (to de Blasio) months earlier than the administration has acknowledged.”
The first memo was written on May 5, 2015 by then DCAS Commissioner Stacey Cumberbatch to Anthony Shorris, first deputy mayor. It referred to Joel Landau, a principal of the Allure Group. His company purchased the property for $28 million in February of 2015. Allure agreed to pay $16 million to remove restrictions requiring the building to be operated as a not-for-profit community health care facility. Cumberbatch stated:
“Landau seeks to remove the restrictions but intends to use the property as a for-profit nursing home… The next step is a public hearing prior to requesting a mayoral authorization document.”
The second memo, sent to Shorris in July, explained:
DCAS is proceeding to remove two use restrictions that were imposed when the Rivington House property was sold by the city in 1992. (The department) expects to have a formalized deed modification approved by the Law Department in July.
The Times also referenced a third memo written by Cumberbatch’s chief of staff, Sally Renfro, on Sept. 2, 2014. She told DCAS’s general counsel, “It looks like there is movement on the Rivington House issue.” Renfro indicated that a staff member “from DM Shorris’s office called to ask if there are any other steps required to remove the deed restriction on Rivington House…” At that time, Rivington House was owned by VillageCare, which balked at paying the $16 million fee.
Here’s why the new revelations are significant. Back in April, the mayor’s office said that Shorris didn’t know about the deal until after the sale had been completed (in February of this year). The mayor insisted he wasn’t personally aware of the situation until the story hit the mainstream media the following month. So — either the administration didn’t know what it knew or there’s a coverup.
Previously, the Wall Street Journal reported that Avi Fink, a senior de Blasio adviser, met with Allure about the deed change in December of 2014. In a separate story, the Post reported that Emma Wolfe, another top aide, was briefed on the Rivington House situation in January of 2015.
The mayor’s new press secretary, Eric Phillips, declined to address the Shorris emails when contacted by the Times. “Our responsibility to protect the integrity of ongoing reviews prevents us from commenting on this,” he said.
There are three ongoing investigations of the Rivington House matter.
One other related note. Here’s an anonymous letter we received a few days ago:
Cumberbatch was reassigned to a position at NYC Health + Hospitals in January of this year. As the letter notes, she was replaced by Lisette Camilo, who played a role in the Rivington House deal in her previous assignment. We’ll be looking into these new angles in the days ahead.
45 Rivington St.
The state attorney general, city comptroller and city Department of Investigation are still looking into the Rivington House matter. It remains to be seen whether any of the ongoing investigations will lead to the restoration of the former nursing home at 45 Rivington St. as a community facility. But this week there are some encouraging new signs that a shady deal allowing the old school building to fall into the hands of luxury condo developers could potentially be reversed.
The attorney general’s charities bureau has decided to block the sale of two nursing homes to the Allure Group, the operator at the center of the Rivington House controversy. Allure has been trying to purchase the Greater Harlem Nursing Home & Rehabilitation Center and the Sts. Joachim and Anne Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Brooklyn. Those deals must be court-approved. In letters to lawyers representing the homes, the AG’s office stated:
(Allure Group executive) Joel Landau made misrepresentations to the Department of Health that New Rivington (the corporation set up to run the Lower East Side facility) would continue to operate a nursing facility at the site… The not-for-profit Rivington House entity, which the Allure Group came to control in 2015, did not, as was required under the Not-For-Profit Corporation Law, either seek to dissolve or to obtain approval for disposing of its nursing home operations at 45 Rivington Street.
The city lifted a deed restriction on Rivington House, setting the stage for the $72 million sale of the building. Regulators are also looking into Allure’s purchase of a nursing home in Bed-Stuy. A spokesperson for the attorney general told the New York Times:
Allure made clear and repeated promises to continue the operation of two nursing homes for the benefit of a vulnerable population — promises that proved to be false… Until we conclude our investigation, we will object to Allure buying additional nursing homes.
In response, a lawyer for Allure released the following statement:
At no time has Allure misled any public authority about its intentions or commitments. As the Department of Health-approved receiver for Greater Harlem, over the last two years, Allure has advanced many millions of dollars to renovate and upgrade Greater Harlem, which is now fully occupied. Allure is committed to running Greater Harlem as a nursing home as part of its mission to save needed facilities and jobs.
As previously noted, local residents are stepping up their efforts to return Rivington House to the community. A petition to the mayor now has 869 signatures. If you haven’t signed yet, you can add your voice here
. They’ve also set up a Facebook page
The Department of Buildings imposed a stop work order on the former Rivington House facility April 5, and the controversial site has been mostly quiet since that time. But local residents this morning have spotted workers in and around the building, hauling trash, sheet rock and other items out of 45 Rivington St.
Rivington House is the subject of at least four investigations, following the city’s decision to lift deed restrictions on the longtime Lower East Side nursing home. China Vanke Co., Slate Property Group and Adam America Real Estate hope to convert the property to luxury condos after paying $116 million for the building. Locals are determined to stop their plan.
According to the Buildings Department’s website, the stop work order is still in effect. It was ordered by the borough commissioner. City officials previously said a routine audit was being conducted on the developers’ construction permit for the “removal of flooring, walls and ceiling finishes.”
Neighbors wasted no time this morning in calling 311:
UPDATE 5/23/2016 An inspector was called to 45 Rivington St. in response to several complaints received by the Department of Buildings. A notation in the DOB computer system reads, “No violation warranted at time of inspection… No construction work observed in the building… Furniture move-out only.”
DCAS Commissioner Lisette Camilo. Photo via Council member Ben Kallos’ Twitter feed.
City Council members tried in vain Friday, during budget hearings, to learn more about the Rivington House fiasco.
Lisette Camilo, commissioner of the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) testified before the government operations committee. Her agency signed off on a deed change, allowing the owner of the former nursing home to sell the property to luxury condo developers for $116 million. The decision is now the subject of multiple investigations.
“Because we want to protect the integrity of the investigation, we’re not going to be able to speak to specifics,” Camilo told Council members. Camilo has only been in charge of DCAS since January. The deed change was approved by her predecessor, Stacey Cumberbatch, in November of last year. Camilo was formerly in charge of the city’s office of contract services, which also signed off on the removal of the deed restrictions.
During her testimony, Camilo said DCAS has put all pending deed change applications on hold while the investigations are conducted. There are 13 or 14 active requests, according to the commissioner. In its story, the Wall Street Journal highlighted the concerns of Council members, including committee chairman Ben Kallos:
Mr. Kallos said the Rivington deal was disturbing, in part because it allowed a building once designated for a nonprofit to be turned into condos when the city could have used the space for other needs. “We need schools like you wouldn’t believe. We also need homeless shelters. And affordable housing,” he said. Ms. Camilo said agency officials shared council members’ concerns about the Rivington deal. “No one was happy with the outcome,” she said.
Friday’s hearing was held jointly with the finance committee. That panel’s chair, Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, asked the agency to provide information on all deed restrictions in the past five years. Camilo agreed.
On Friday, the New York Times reported on a deed change in Harlem that was also mishandled by DCAS.
The Council is anticipating a hearing next month specific to the Rivington House matter. Those detail have not yet been released.
45 Rivington St.
For the moment, the uproar in the mainstream media over the Rivington House debacle has died down.
Multiple investigations are ongoing into the city’s decision to lift a deed restriction that required the facility to be operated as a not-for-profit health care facility. A Buildings Department “stop work order” remains into effect, delaying for the moment conversion of the property to luxury condos. Meanwhile, Community Board 3 has sent another resolution to Mayor de Blasio regarding Rivington House.
As you might recall, CB3 sent an initial resolution to the mayor Jan. 27, detailing the controversial change by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services and urging a reversal of the decision. No one in authority apparently read the resolution. Weeks later, the issue became a scandal. Will anyone in the mayor’s office respond to this most recent letter? It was sent April 27. No reply so far.
You can read the full text here. Essentially, the new resolution underscores the board’s position that the deed restriction should be reinstated, that the building should be returned to the community and that it should resume operations as a skilled nursing facility. We previously explained the board’s thinking behind the new missive to the mayor.
Elected officials and other community leaders held a news conference at Rivington House April 7.
Community Board 3 tomorrow night is likely to take a stronger position than that of local elected officials in calling for the return of Rivington House to the Lower East Side as a health care facility.
On April 7, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council member Margaret Chin, along with CB3 Chairperson Gigi Li, held a news conference outside the former nursing home to “demand compensation for the loss of Rivington House” (press release). The city lifted a deed restriction, enabling the Allure Group to sell the property to luxury condo developers, profiting $72 million.
At last week’s executive committee meeting, Li said a new resolution was being proposed to drive home the point that it’s too early for talk of “compensating” the community for the loss of Rivington House. “We should not give up” on reversing the “deed change so easily,” she told other board members.
A draft resolution to be considered by the full board tomorrow night reads, in part, “CB3 is adamant that the sale of the deed restriction be reversed and the complete deed restriction for Rivington House be reinstated and now calls on Mayor de Blasio to return Rivington House to its use as a skilled nursing facility.”
On Jan. 27, Community Board 3 sent the mayor a resolution strongly criticizing the deed reversal, which had first been reported by The Lo-Down on Dec. 18. The resolution was apparently not read by anyone in the mayor’s office, at least not anyone in authority. The mayor has said he did not learn about the issue until March, when Comptroller Scott Stringer launched an investigation.
At the news conference earlier this month, Brewer said she’d like to see the deed restriction reinstated. But the emphasis was on compensation. “The city needs to invest in this community to replace a vital resource that has been lost,” said Brewer, referencing the loss of more than 200 nursing home beds.
The new resolution states, “…the City did not respond to CB3 in our attempts to save Rivington House as a nursing home which has now impacted the community’s ability to provide long-term affordable and skilled nursing care to its most vulnerable residents.” In addition to returning the property to the community, the board is calling on the city to keep a “stop work order” in place at the building until all investigations are complete.
One group advocating for a stronger resolution has been GOLES. Good Old Lower East Side. It is urging local City Council representatives to demand the reinstatement of the deed restrictions. Council member Ben Kallos, chairperson of the Governmental Operations Committee, will be holding a hearing on the Rivington House matter in early May. The Department of Citywide Administrative Services is under fire for approving the deed change.
45 Rivington St.
According to a report over the weekend in the New York Post, high-ranking officials in the de Blasio administration were “frantically” trying to reinstate the Rivington House deed restriction in late February.
There have been shifting stories from the administration about when the mayor’s office learned that the deed had been changed. The decision from the Department of Citywide Administrative Services in November allowed the Allure group to sell the former AIDS hospice to luxury condo developers for $116 million.
Mayor de Blasio said he only learned about it when the city’s comptroller launched an investigation of the matter (that was on March 7). The New York Times reported earlier this month that Anthony Shorris, first deputy mayor, had begun looking into the deed change in late February. Now the Post chimes in with new details that suggest another high-ranking official had been dealing with the situation:
On Feb. 24, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen’s chief of staff frantically offered a $16.1 million refund to The Allure Group… In return for the refund, Allure was told, the city sought a long-term care facility or affordable housing, according to a source close to the negotiations and evidence reviewed by The Post. Those two options were what “the Mayor’s Office wants,” James Patchett, chief of staff to Glen, told Allure’s rep, the source said… But a crestfallen Patchett — who blamed a bungling city agency for the whole mess — was told it was too late; the sale had already gone through. An increasingly desperate Patchett persisted, calling the situation an “important issue to us” and saying he would “highly encourage” Allure to change the outcome, the source said.
Allure purchased the building, 45 Rivington St., from VillageCare in February of 2015 for $28 million. According to the Post, Allure balked at paying $16 million to change the deed, which required the building to be used as a not-for-profit health care facility. De Blasio has said Allure promised to continue operating the Lower East Side nursing home. Now a source tells the Post that Allure made it clear to city officials it could not afford to keep the center open after paying the $16 million. The administration, says the tabloid, was intent on collecting its fee from the company:
The city Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which handled the negotiations, was determined to get all it could. In fact, DCAS was so anxious to get the cash that in January 2015 it urged Village Care, the former owner of the nursing home, to “expeditiously” submit documents to complete the deed deal. Assistant DCAS Commissioner Randal Fong wrote a Jan. 9, 2015, letter, obtained by The Post, to Emma DeVito, the CEO of the nonprofit Village Care, which ran the AIDS facility. It said: “Please confirm in writing that you agree to the value to remove the restrictions.”
Just in case you were having trouble drawing your own conclusions from the Post story, a separate editorial today spells it out:
On Sunday, The Post’s Isabel Vincent and Melissa Klein caught Mayor de Blasio himself in a lie… How could word of the coming public-relations nightmare not make it back to de Blasio? Unless his minions are simply afraid to bring him bad news, the mayor lied about when he learned of the mess.
The Daily News reports this morning that the State Attorney General had no idea Allure was pushing the city for the deed change. The AG approved the sale from VillageCare to Allure. “The Attorney General’s office did not approve either the lifting of the deed restriction, or the subsequent sale to a for-profit developer,” explained spokesman Matt Mittenthal. The AG is one of five entities investigating the Rivington House matter.
45 Rivington St.,
There are reports this morning that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is looking into the Rivington House mess. The de Blasio administration lifted a deed restriction this past November on the longtime community facility, clearing the way for luxury housing in the former nursing home.
There are already ongoing inquiries by the city’s Department of Investigation, the city comptroller and the state attorney general. Politico New York reports:
Attorneys working for Bharara, who is also probing two of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign donors in an unrelated case, attended a recent meeting about the deed restriction change with staff from other investigating agencies, according to a source with knowledge of the meeting and confirmed by two other sources. A spokesman for Bharara declined to comment.
A private nursing home operator, the Allure Group, purchased the building for $28 million, and then paid the city $16 million to change the deed. Allure flipped the property, selling it to luxury condo developers in February for $116 million. The mayor says he did not know about the suspicious transaction until this past month, after stories about the situation hit the mainstream media.
While Bharara’s office isn’t commenting about Rivington House, the U.S. Attorney did have this to say in a speech on Tuesday:
We will keep looking hard at corruption in our legislative branch, as we have been… But not just there: in the executive branch, too, both in city and in state government. Executive offices in government are far from immune from the creeping show-me-the-money culture that has been pervading New York for some time now.
Bharara, of course, successfully prosecuted former Assemblyman Sheldon Silver on corruption charges. Silver will be sentenced in May.
45 Rivington St.
Hardly a day goes by in which we don’t learn a few more details about the bungled Rivington House nursing home transaction. Here’s the latest.
A report in Politico New York offers new insight about the lifting of deed restrictions on the Lower East Side building, which is now primed for luxury redevelopment. On Oct. 29, 2014, Joel Landau of the Allure Group wrote to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) about a building his nursing home company wanted to buy at 45 Rivington St.
Landau indicated that he wished to “keep the home as it is, with the continued employment of the 250+ union employees currently working at the facility.” But in the email, Landau said he wanted the city to eliminate a not-for-profit requirement that was part of the deed.
After Allure Group purchased the building three months later, Landau contacted DCAS again. The following query was sent to Randal Fong, an assistant commissioner on April 27, 2015:
…With this letter we are requesting to remove both restrictions on the property. We engaged Peter Rastetter from Metropolitan Valuation Service to help us validate the value by conducting an independent appraisal.
The Times also reported details of the original October email today:
The email, shared by City Hall officials, appeared to be the only written assurance from Allure Group that it would operate a long-term care center in the building if the deed restriction was lifted. Mr. Landau, who also spoke about the building with local officials and the community board, did not respond to a request for comment. “We were just shocked when we heard that this Allure Group, that gave us the understanding that they were going to run it as a long-term care facility, turned around and sold it,” said Councilwoman Margaret Chin, a Democrat, who advocated keeping some sort of nursing home there. On May 11, 2015, for a single day, a public notice of a hearing on the proposed deed changes appeared in the City Record. On the same day, Allure Group went into contract to sell the property to the condominium developer. “This action is in the best interest of the city,” the notice read, as do all such notices. None of the local advocates and elected officials were alerted.
As Politico noted, there are a number of troubling issues around this story: “One question, as Mayor Bill de Blasio scrambles to react to the news, is why he’s acting so shocked that the developer could do such a thing.”
As we first reported, Community Board 3 sent a strongly worded resolution to the Mayor on Jan. 27, urging the administration to reverse the decision. We also brought the matter up with city officials four months ago. Here’s our email chain with the spokesperson for DCAS:
On Thursday, the city’s Department of Investigation subpoenaed records relating to the Rivington House deal. According to the Daily News, the agency “issued six subpoenas to a variety of parties, including the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.”
The editorial boards of both the Daily News and the New York Post this week slammed the de Blasio administration, calling its mishandling of the Rivington House situation a “scandal.” Today the Post wrote, “whether it was shear incompetence” or “under-the-table cronyism” that allowed a community asset to slip into the hands of luxury developers, “someone must be held accountable.” As we previously reported, Community Board 3 approved a resolution two months ago, strongly criticizing the decision to lift a deed restriction on the building at 45 Rivington St. This afternoon, we have more proof that this resolution went directly to the mayor.
It’s an important point because the mayor has said he only recently learned of the bungled real estate transaction at the former nursing home. His newly appointed commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services (DCAS), Lisette Camillo, has said she found out about it, as Politico New York reported, “during communication with a community board on March 1.” The resolution was sent to the mayor, Camillo and to the mayor’s Office of Community Affairs on Jan. 27. It called on the city to “disclose information” regarding the lifting of the deed restriction and to reverse the decision.
This was not the first time the de Blasio administration was alerted about the situation. Local activists reached out to community affairs liaison Tommy Lin on Dec. 1. Lin responded via email on Dec. 9 that he was “looking into the matter.” Also, The Lo-Down began asking questions of DCAS about the deed change on Dec. 18. But the letter shows that the community board made official and specific requests of the administration weeks before NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer launched an investigation of the matter.
In related news, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council member Margaret Chin sent a letter to DCAS Commissioner Camillo yesterday, asking for copies of all documents that were released to Stringer. The comptroller obtained through a subpoena.
One document of particular interest is an email referenced by the Wall Street Journal in a March 22 story:
Joel Landau, an Allure executive who signed the city’s deed modification, wrote in an October 2014 email to a city official that he planned to keep the building a nursing home, but a for-profit facility, according to records released by the city. In the email, Mr. Landau asked the city to help him, citing the community board’s support to keep the facility a nursing home.
Who was the “city official” and why didn’t DCAS take what seems like an obvious precaution — memorializing Landeau’s commitment with an actual legal contract? Those are two questions that must be addressed during the investigation.
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One other interesting note regarding this story. Shortly after news broke in the summer of 2014 that Rivington House would be closing, Friends of the Lower East Side (a preservation group) launched efforts to protect the former school building.
According to one of the organization’s leaders, Joyce Mendelsohn, a ‘request for evaluation” was submitted to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. The group collected letters of support and met with Council member Chin. The request was rejected by the Landmarks Commission on Dec. 22, 2014.
China Vanke Co., Slate Property Group and Adam America Real Estate purchased the building for $116 million. In a press release, the developers gave every indication they intend to keep the historic building, rather than demolishing it for new construction. “We’re confident that the flexibility of the existing structure, which has been transformed in the past to accommodate diverse tenants, allows for us to repurpose a historic and well-known building into a desirable residential destination,” said Dvir Cohen Hoshen, founder of Adam America. But since the Landmarks Commission declined to act, the developers are free to handle the renovations however they see fit.
Here’s a summary from Friends of the Lower East Side of their request:
On August 18, 2014, Friends of the Lower East Side submitted an urgent Request for Evaluation to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission to calendar, without delay, the former Public School 20, designed by Charles B. J. Snyder, renowned architect and Superintendent of New York City School Buildings from 1891 to 1923. The building was purchased from the city in 1993, converted into a nursing home for AIDS patients and renamed Rivington House. According to VillageCare, the non-profit organization that operates the facility, it is slated to close in November, 2014. The historic structure, across from Sara D. Roosevelt Park, commands the full block front on the south side of Rivington Street from Eldridge to Forsyth Streets. Landmark designation will ensure that a reuse will be sensitive to the significant architectural features of the building. Without such protection, it is a prime location for a teardown development.
P.S. 20 opened in 1899 when the Lower East Side was a neighborhood of poor immigrant families speaking many different languages living in crowded, dark and decaying tenements. In contrast, the public schools designed by C. B. J. Snyder offered a rigorous education in classrooms that maximized natural light, fresh air and cross ventilation. The fifth story of P.S. 20 contained a library, reading room, separate gyms for girls and boys and manual training rooms for carpentry, drafting and modeling. The rooftop playground offered a large space for a variety of open-air activities, far above the congested and dirty streets below.
In this healthful and stimulating environment, dedicated teachers encouraged children to seize the opportunity to rise above deprivation and become creative and productive adults. This was especially true of P.S. 20 whose student body reads like a Whose Who in America. Neighborhood alumni include composer George Gershwin, four-term U.S. Senator Jacob Javits, journalist and author Harry Golden, actors Edward G. Robinson and Paul Muni, and lyricist Irving Caesar.
Snyder’s 1898-99 Renaissance Revival style building exemplifies the high level of sophistication the city invested in its civic architecture. The five story symmetrical façade of the brick and terra cotta building is organized into five bays with two slightly recessed bays flanking a central bay. The first floor entrance in the central bay is marked by three arched openings with molded surrounds and supported by square piers with recessed panels. The entrance is flanked by rectangular window openings with flared terra cotta lintels and projecting keystones. The first floor of the central bay is further articulated by projecting horizontal bands of stone suggesting rustication. Flanking the entrance are two large, highly detailed terra cotta roundels in high relief. The east roundel is a representation of the seal of the City of New York. The west roundel has the incised word, “Excelsior” and includes numerous symbols appropriate for a school building including an eagle with scales of justice suspended from its beak, a lyre, a book, a globe, a lamp of knowledge, an artist’s palette with brushes and others symbols.
Known for his concern for the health of children, the architect’s innovative plans that brought more air and light into classrooms is evident in the treatment of the fenestration. The second floor of the central bay has large tripartite window openings flanked by single windows with flared terra cotta lintels and projecting keystones. The fourth floor is distinguished by large tripartite arched window openings with pilasters. The fifth floor is ornamented by large terra cotta plaques with detailed foliate motifs between the window bays. The Eldridge and Forsyth Street facades exhibit similar architectural treatments and very large window openings with molded surrounds.
Since 2008, when the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed the Lower East Side on its list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, rampant development continues to obliterate the special character of the neighborhood. With the imminent closing of Rivington House, the threat has now become quite real of losing another piece of its architectural and cultural history. Landmark designation of Rivington House offers the only secure path towards ensuring that this significant building can survive as a resource in the community and a potent symbol of the vibrant immigrant legacy of the Lower East Side.
Mayor de Blasio with former DCAS Commissioner Cumberbach.
There’s now a money trail leading from Rivington House to Mayor de Blasio. The former nursing home for AIDS patients was sold for $116 million to luxury developers after the city’s Department of Administrative Services (DCAS) lifted a deed restriction.
The Daily News reports that influential lobbyist James Capalino “steered $50,000 in donations to Mayor de Blasio after pressing the city for a deed change that allows one of his clients to turn a building restricted for use as a nursing home into luxury condos.” And according to the Wall Street Journal, the former property owner, Joel Landau, contributed $4950 to the de Blasio campaign in 2013.
City officials said they did not know before lifting the deed restriction that The Allure Group had already signed a deal to sell the property, profiting more than $70 million. Scott Stringer, the city’s comptroller, is investigating the transaction. On Friday, the mayor’s spokespeople announced, that the city’s Office of Investigation is also looking into the matter. “The mayor is deeply concerned about the result of what was clearly a flawed process,” First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris told the Journal.
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Here’s the timeline that’s emerging from the controversial transaction on the Lower East Side:
Jan. 2014: Capalino & Company was hired by VillageCare, the not-for-profit organization that operated Rivington House from 1995-2014. Between February and July of 2014, Capalino met with DCAS employees and other unnamed city staffers three times. “Based on what I have been able to obtain,” mayoral spokesperson Karen Hinton told the News, “no one remembers anyone from the mayor’s office attending any meeting with Allure or Capalino on this deal.”
Feb. 19, 2014: Capalino sent a letter to DCAS Commissioner Stacey Cumberbach “regarding a potential sale of the Rivington House property without the deed restrictions imposed by the City.”
July 2014: VillageCare announced that it planned to close Rivington House.
Sept. 2014: VillageCare officials appeared before CB3’s human services committee. Matthew Lesieur, director of public policy, said the organization was focused on changing the terms of the deed, asking the city to drop the not-for-profit requirement. “There are a lot of health care providers,” he explained, “but they are profit driven, throughout the country, who would readily grab and buy the building and maintain it as a nursing home.” Members of the human services committee expressed reservations about turning the facility into a for-profit venture. They passed a resolution calling for a collaborative effort with local elected officials to keep Rivington House as a community asset.
Oct. 7, 2014: At a public meeting, community board leaders indicated that about a half dozen companies responded to VillageCare’s request for offers to purchase the building. A winning bid had been selected, although it was not disclosed which company came out on top. Later in the month, the board passed a resolution in support of dropping the building’s “not-for-profit” status. It also called for keeping Rivington House open as a skilled nursing facility.
Oct. 2014: Per the Journal, Joel Landau of The Allure Group wrote an email to a city official in which he outlined plans to buy the building, advocated for the deed change and promised to maintain the property as a nursing home. In the email, he highlighted the community board’s support for the changes.
Nov. 2014: Rivington House closed after its residents were transferred to other facilities.
Feb. 9, 2015: VillageCare sold the building, located at 45 Rivington St., to The Allure Group for $28 million. A short time later, Rivington House reopened as the Rivington Center for Nursing & Rehabilitation.
April 2015: Slate Property Group hired Capalino, but the lobbyist’s spokesperson, Risa Heller, said he “did not represent Slate” on the Rivington House deal.
April 27, 2015: The Allure Group applied to lift the deed restriction.
May 2015: Capalino wrote a $10,000 check to Campaign For One New York, de Blasio’s not-for-profit fundraising organization.
May 11, 2015: Slate and The Allure Group signed a contact for the sale of the Lower East Side property. “At the time,” Slate executive Martin Nussbaum told the Journal, “there was a deed restriction on the property, but our contract was to purchase a property that was of residential use. To the extent that it was not residential use, we would not have purchased the property.” The sale was contingent on the deed change.
June 24, 2015: A public hearing was held on the proposed deed change. While notice of the meeting was published in the City Record, local elected officials and the community board were not notified.
October 2015-Present: Capalino “collects $40,000 in checks for de Blasio’s 2017 re-election bid,” according to the News.
Nov. 11, 2015: The Allure Group paid the city $16 million and, in return, the deed restriction was lifted. According to officials cited by the Journal, “Mr. de Blasio’s administration didn’t have a written contract or other documentation forcing Allure to keep the property a nursing home and didn’t limit changes when it removed the deed restriction.”
Dec. 2015: The Allure Group closed the nursing home. An Allure executive told CB3 that the property had not yet been sold and that the nursing facility would reopen elsewhere on the Lower East Side. The reason for the closure, the executive claimed, was that state Medicaid reimbursements could not be obtained for the property. According to CB3 District Manager Susan Stetzer, Allure’s Joel Landau said he had no knowledge of a deal with Slate Property Group. Residents in a neighboring building were reporting that a rep of Slate had approached them about construction issues.
Jan. 2016: DCAS Commissioner Cumberbach was reassigned to another city agency.
Feb. 2016: The Allure Group finalized its agreement, selling the property to Slate and partners China Vanke Co. and Adam America Real Estate for $116 million.
On Friday, the administration said it would be changing its procedures, sending all deed modification proposals to the borough president, appropriate City Council member and community board. De Blasio says he will return the 2013 campaign donation from Landau.
45 Rivington St.,
On Tuesday, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer announced his office is trying to find out how the former Rivington House community facility on the Lower East Side slipped into the control of luxury developers. It’s a story The Lo-Down has been reporting for the past four months. Following a Wall Street Journal report on Wednesday, there are now followups today in the New York Times, the New York Post and Politico New York.
Even after this week’s revelations, the Times noted, city bureaucrats were still slow to hand over information requested by the comptroller on March 7:
The de Blasio administration has turned over documents in response to a subpoena by the New York City comptroller, Scott M. Stringer, over the lifting of deed restrictions and the sale of a building on the Lower East Side of Manhattan that made a $72 million profit for a private nursing home operator. The city had initially delayed responding to a request by Mr. Stringer to provide information about two sales in close succession of a building at 45 Rivington Street. It had been under a restrictive New York City covenant that required it to be used as a nonprofit residential health care center. After not receiving a response by Wednesday, Mr. Stringer filed the subpoena — a rarity, his office said. The city produced documents hours later. They are currently under review.
The former nursing home for AIDS patients was shuttered by VillageCare in 2014 and sold to a for-profit nursing provider called the The Allure Group for $28 million. “Before the sale,” the Times reported, “Allure lobbied the city to have the covenant lifted and, in an email in October 2014, promised to maintain the center as a for-profit nursing home.” Last month, it was revealed that three firms — China Vanke Co., Slate Property Group and Adam America Real Estate — purchased the former school building for $116 million. They’re converting the building to luxury apartments. Now bureaucrats are struggling to explain how they bungled the deed application:
City officials said on Thursday that the decision to lift the covenant was a mistake and that Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, had been angered after learning of it this month. The city has halted all applications to change deed restrictions as the process is re-evaluated, Austin Finan, a spokesman for the mayor, said.
Mayor de Blasio at Seward Park in 2014. Photo by Melissa Shiffman.
Politico New York reported that:
The new DCAS commissioner, Lisette Camillo, discovered the issue during communication with a community board on March 1, before Stringer’s inquiry. She ceased lifting all deed restrictions and called for a review, mayoral press secretary Karen Hinton said.
Meanwhile, we’ve received a letter sent by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council member Margaret Chin to Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen. It was dated yesterday, March 24. In the letter, Brewer and Chin said they had been working through Glen’s office to set up a meeting with representatives of The Allure Group before last month’s sale became public knowledge. “We understand that a brief meeting eventually did occur at which the former owner stated that he no longer had an interest in the property,” they wrote.
“It appears we have lost the chance,” the elected officials added, “to push for this property to be sold to a developer who would commit to creating a community resource on the site. It is our sincere hope that the administration will work with our offices and Community Board 3 to ensure that the neighborhood’s residents are duly compensated for this disheartening loss.”
They went one step further, telling Glen:
…The community deserves to be made whole. The decision to lift these deed restrictions was a mistake that must be corrected, and the local community is rightfully distraught over the outcome. We therefore request that the city use the $16,150,000 it made from the deal to create a community resource facility, affordable housing or both in Community District 3 as near the Rivington House site as possible. The city should also push the new owner to develop a community facility and/or affordable housing on the site. Finally, the city must work to replace the number of medical beds (215) lost at Rivington House in the community.
On Tuesday, mayoral spokesman Austin Finan asserted, “The city was as disappointed as local residents to later learn not only that the property would no longer provide needed health services but that the valuation of the deed restriction did not reflect current market values that could have generated affordable housing or other uses for the public’s benefit.” Local activists were more than a little taken aback by the statement, since they and elected officials have been trying to get the administration’s attention on the Rivington House snafu for at least 14 weeks.
A review of The Lo-Down’s archives and notes illustrates their point:
–Based on a tip from a former employee of the nursing facility, we reported on Dec. 2 that the center would be closing and the building sold. Records showed that The Allure Group had paid $16,150,000 to acquire the deed from the city and that the deed restriction had been lifted.
–The previous evening, Dec. 1, local activist K Webster made contact with Tommy Lin, a community liaison in the mayor’s office, asking for his help in investigating the Rivington House situation. After Webster followed up on Dec. 9, Lin responded that he was “looking into this matter” and would “get back to (Webster) shortly.” Lin said he had also been speaking with CB3 District Manager Susan Stetzer.
–On Dec. 18, a spokesperson from the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) responded to a request for information from The Lo-Down. Cathy Hansen, the spokesperson said, “The deed restrictions were lifted after a request by the owner to allow the property to be run by for-profit and/or non-profit operators. The deed modifications were approved following a public hearing on June 24, 2015.” Asked whether any steps had been taken to make sure the building remained a community facility, Hansen said there were no stipulations with the property owner other than those contained in the deed transfer agreement.
–Also on Dec. 18, a spokesperson for Council member Chin said, “We’re disappointed by the recent closure of Rivington House, which for years has served a community with few other nursing home options. We’re currently looking into the status of the limitations on Rivington House’s deed, and will continue to monitor the situation closely.” At the same time, the Sara D. Roosevelt Park Coalition, a local advocacy group, launched a letter writing campaign, pleading with the mayor’s office for help.
–At a community board meeting in January, representatives from the offices of Chin and Brewer said they had been trying, unsuccessfully, to learn more from DCAS about the lifting of the deed restriction. At the end of January, CB3 approved a strongly worded resolution and forwarded it to DCAS. The resolution read, in part, “CB3 calls on the City to disclose information as to what transpired with respect to this transaction, and CB3 calls on the City to explore options to reverse this decision immediately.”
According to Department of Buildings records, the owners filed on Feb. 16 for, “interior demolition of existing community facility.” The permit application was “disapproved” on Feb. 22. The “managing agent is listed as Michael Zampetti of the Slate Property Group. The architect is John Cetra of CetraRuddy Architecture.
41 Rivington St. Deed by The Lo-Down
45 Rivington St.
After months of silence from the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio, city officials finally appear to be taking at least a somewhat serious look at the loss of a community facility on Rivington Street.
As The Lo-Down first reported Dec. 18, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) lifted a deed restriction on the former Rivington House nursing home building at 45 Rivington St. The onetime facility for AIDS patients, was sold to the Allure Group last year. The firm briefly operated a general services nursing home from the building but re-sold the property to luxury developers in a $118 million deal that came to light last month.
Last night at a meeting of Community Board 3, a representative of NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer passed out a letter written to DCAS Commissioner Lisette Camilo on March 7. “Based on the facts and circumstances of the sale as we understand them,” Stringer wrote, “this matter requires greater transparency and disclosure to the general public.”
The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) is reporting on the comptroller’s inquiry:
The New York City comptroller is examining a decision by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration to lift deed restrictions on a Manhattan building, a move that led to a nursing home operator making a $72 million profit off the property’s sale. Comptroller Scott Stringer has asked a city agency for details on its decision last year to remove restrictions that had limited the use of Rivington House on the Lower East Side to a not-for-profit residential health-care center. The 118-year-old, 150,000-square-foot building at 45 Rivington St. had previously served HIV/AIDS patients.
Austin Finan, a mayoral spokesperson, told the Journal:
The city was as disappointed as local residents to later learn not only that the property would no longer provide needed health services but that the valuation of the deed restriction did not reflect current market values that could have generated affordable housing or other uses for the public’s benefit.
According to Finan, all deed restriction applications have been put on hold while a review is conducted. A new commissioner has been on the job at DCAS since January. The “processes by which deed restrictions are valued, and restriction removals are authorized” are under review and “subject to overhaul,” said Finan.
In a statement, Stringer said:
It is incomprehensible that this property, which provided long-term care for patients with HIV/AIDS for more than two decades, would reportedly be converted into market-rate luxury housing without robust discussion, transparency and input from the community it serves.
Community Board 3 in January approved a resolution that read, in part:
This action to lift the deed restriction occurred out of public view, with a total lack of transparency and without fair or reasonable public notice… CB3 calls on the City to disclose information as to what transpired with respect to this transaction.
While the offices of City Council member Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer have been looking into the matter, they have refrained from making expansive public statements about the Rivington House situation. In the Journal, Chin is quoted as saying, “We thought everything was going to be fine… Now we might get stuck with a luxury condo building. This is not what the community fought for.”