Essex Crossing Developers: No Purchase of 75 Essex St. Planned

75 Essex St.

75 Essex St.
75 Essex St.

As preservationists move forward with their efforts to save the former Good Samaritan/Eastern District Dispensary building at 75 Essex St., at least one potential buyer reports it’s stepped away from the property.  This morning, a spokesperson for the Essex Crossing project tells The Lo-Down, “we are not considering a purchase at this time.” The spokesperson, Peter Schottenfels, added, “we explored the idea over the summer but did not see a way forward with the parameters the owner was seeking.”

In January, a preservation group, the Friends of the Lower East Side, formally asked the Landmarks Preservation Commission to evaluate whether the 1890 building is eligible for protection.  Writing in The Lo-Down earlier this month, a leader of the group, Joyce Mendelsohn, called the structure “an architectural treasure” that provides a crucial link between the present and past in a rapidly changing neighborhood. The current owner, Shalom Eisner, has been trying to sell the building for several years. The Essex Crossing developers are acquiring an adjacent parcel as part of their nearly 2 million square foot residential and retail project set to break ground in the spring of 2015.

Rendering: Site 1 of Essex Crossing project. 75 essex St. can be seen on the left side of this image.
Rendering: Site 1 of Essex Crossing project. 75 essex St. can be seen on the left side of this image.

The Friends of the Lower East Side went to the landmarks subcommittee of Community Board 3 earlier this month, looking for a resolution in support of the application before the landmarks commission.  This week, the full board kicked the issue back to the subcommittee because Eisner was not notified about the original hearing. The subcommittee will address the issue again March 6.

Tuesday evening, at CB3’s monthly meeting, Eisner spoke out against the landmarking proposal.  “When I bought the building (in 1985),” he said, “it was in very bad condition.”  Eisner Brothers’ sports apparel business has operated from the ground floor of 75 Essex for many years, and Mr. Eisner said he endured the bad old days on the Lower East Side. “We were beaten, robbed, burglarized for many, many years,” he explained. “Finally things changed and things are better (but) business is not that great anymore.”  Eisner told community board members that the shift of apparel sales to the internet has hobbled his brick-and-mortar operation. “Business there is zero,” he said.  “The only thing I have left is the property, and right now it is worth some money.”

Eisner asserted that landmarking would make the building less valuable. “I don’t think it’s fair to my family and just for the work that I’ve done all these years,” he said, while adding, “if there’s someone here who wants to pay the money I’m (asking), I’m more than happy to sell it.”  75 Essex is currently listed for $21 million. The building is “configured as 12,464 sq ft.,” according to the listing, (but there) are additional air rights to 31,776 sq ft.”  Site 1 of the Essex Crossing development wraps around Eisner’s property and sits directly across from the development’s future top attraction: an expanded Essex Street Market complex.

During this week’s community board hearing, a sizable contingent showed up to fight for preservation.  Mitchell Grubler, another prominent Friends of the Lower East Side member, stated, “this remarkably intact historic structure is vulnerable to demolition or inappropriate alterations.” He noted that 75 Essex and another endangered property, Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, “are the only two historic buildings in the immediate area of Essex Crossing.”  Grubler said, “the Seward Park Urban Renewal development, in just a few years, will be an entirely new neighborhood of high-rise and mid-rise glass buildings. This is your opportunity to do something to keep one historic building in that neighborhood.”

Mendelsohn argued that the city has a responsibility to respect the immigrant history of the Lower East Side by protecting important buildings, “while at the same time reaching for a reasonable balance between continuity and change. The plans for Essex Crossing present a vision for the future. The former dispensary at 75 Essex provides a reflection of the past.”

Others pointed out that landmark protection can actually make buildings more valuable. Examples included: The Forward Building (converted to condos) and the Jarmulowsky Bank Building (which is being restored and refashioned as a boutique hotel.)  Several non-profit organizations specialize in assisting owners of landmark protected buildings in acquiring grants for restoration and maintenance projects.