There’s some news this afternoon about 135 Bowery, the former site of a 194-year-old federal row house that was torn down to make way for an eight story commercial building.
The property was listed for $8.5 million by its owner, First American International Bank, after the row house was demolished and the new foundation poured. Now that the project is completed, John Ciraulo of Massey Knakal Realty confirms it will be going back on the market — this time for $20 million.
In 2011, the Landmarks Preservation Commission moved to designate the historic structure, which was located just above Grand Street. City Council member Margaret Chin initially supported the move but changed her mind after the owner argued that the building had been significantly altered and wasn’t worth saving. She was swayed by a promise from bank executives to create affordable office space in the new project. That fall the City Council voted to reject the landmark application. The outcome was deeply disappointing to local preservationists and the episode became an issue in Chin’s re-election campaign.
Staff members in Chin’s office met with bank executives recently to discuss their plans to sell the building. It will, of course, be up to a new owner to determine commercial rents. But the bank has agreed to devote the third floor of the property to community facilities, with rents set 20% below market prices in perpetuity. When a buyer is identified, this requirement is supposed to be written into the deed. The bank has also acknowledged that zoning prevents residential use of the property.
Patrick Yau, a bank executive, talked with us this afternoon about the decision to sell the property. He noted that preservation architect Page Cowley served as a consultant on the project, helping design a building that is ‘contextual with its neighbors” and is respectful of the historic nature of the Bowery. While very little of the original row house was salvageable, Yau said original architectural details such as Flemish bond brick and distinctive window casings were replicated in the new structure. “The building,” he said, “represents good preservation work that could be a great example” for other developers on the Bowery.
Yau said the bank is proud to have delivered a building offering reasonable commercial rents, which he said is sorely lacking in Chinatown. Asked about the commitment made three years ago to create affordable office space, he acknowledged that a new owner would be free to establish market-rate rents. “The most important thing,” he added, “is that the building will be providing commercial space in the neighborhood.” The bank, he explained, intended to occupy part of the building and retain ownership. When those plans changed, it decided to sell the property.
Last year, Chin’s challenger in the Democratic Primary, Jenifer Rajkumar, alleged that the Council member sided with the bank because Yau is a financial supporter. Chin strongly disputed the allegation, saying Yau was just one of many supporters. Today Yau said he believes politics was not a factor. Chin chose to oppose landmark designation, he argued, after studying the situation, balancing many perspectives and determining that the bank’s project would fulfill a community need.
Since the 2011 controversy, some local activists have been somewhat heartened by Chin’s support on other preservation issues. For example, she backed the designation of the former Bialystoker Nursing Home building on East Broadway and pressed city officials to protect the east side of the Bowery from redevelopment. The previous mayoral administration rejected those overtures. it remains to be seen whether Chin will make a new push for Bowery preservation with the de Blasio Administration.
For the moment, Chin has declined to comment about the proposed sale of 135 Bowery.