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Masaryk Towers Finally Appears Ready to Close Rivington Street Walkway (Updated)

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Masaryk Towers Gate = entrance alongside Grand Street Settlement at 80 Pitt St.
Masaryk Towers Gate = entrance alongside Grand Street Settlement at 80 Pitt St.

Masaryk Towers, the middle income cooperative, has been talking about closing a passageway along a de-mapped section of Rivington Street for at least a decade. This past Friday, it appeared to some locals that the co-op’s board of directors had finally delivered on the controversial proposal. It turns out the closure was only temporary — to make some pavement repairs. But the permanent plan to close the gates appears to be coming in the not-too-distant future.

The passageway cutting through Masaryk Towers property between Columbia and Pitt streets is frequently used by residents in surrounding buildings. It’s the most convenient way to travel from east to west. The alternative is walking all the way around to East Houston Street or to Delancey Street. On Friday, the gate was locked on Pitt Street, while security prevented people from walking through the property from the Columbia Street side. There weren’t any signs posted to tell pedestrians what was happening.

Masaryk Towers entrance on Columbia Street.
Masaryk Towers entrance on Columbia Street.

We heard some grumbling from seniors at the Baruch Houses, who frequently use the passageway to get to programs at Grand Street Settlement, located at 80 Pitt St. Robert Cordero, executive director of the settlement house, told us:

We have been in touch with the leadership at Masaryk Towers regarding the gates and our primary concern is coordinating access for seniors, children, youth and families who reside in the neighborhood and receive services at our 80 Pitt St. community center. Ideally, there should be some type of community notice so that we can coordinate accordingly.

Not long after Cordero sent us the above statement, he heard from Masaryk Towers Board president Bernice McCallum. She assured him there would be advance warning before the permanent closure occurs.  In an email exchange last night, McCallum said she’d also let us know before the gates are shut for good. She said no exact date has been set; electrical work and other repairs need to be completed first. In the past, Masaryk Towers has cited high insurance costs and security concerns as reasons for the move.

Among the seniors angered by the decision is August Laguer, a longtime resident of the Baruch Houses. He’s been passing around a flyer in recent weeks to drum up opposition. “There’s been a dark cloud over our community for quite a few years,” he wrote, “since Masaryk Towers has decided to build a gated community.”  Laguer noted that the The NEST+m school (seen as exclusive/exclusionary by some longtime residents) also closed off part of Stanton Street a few years ago. “Racism plays an important part in this,” he argued, telling his neighbors, “You must stand up and be counted.” He raised the possibility of a boycott of Key Foods, a business that leases a storefront from Masaryk Towers on Columbia Street.

Masaryk Towers owns the walkway, so the privately-owned housing development is within its legal rights to close it. In the past, City Council member Rosie Mendez has raised concerns about the closure. We have a call into her office.

UPDATE 11/18 We heard again from Bernice McCallum, the board president at Masaryk Towers. She said, “the walkway will be available to the surrounding residents at designed times.” As for the reasons behind the closure, she said there have been in the past and continue to be “a considerable amount of trips and falls.” This, she indicated, puts the cooperative “at risk for not getting insurance or paying at a higher rate.” McCallum added, “we would like to continue to be good neighbors and assist wherever possible.” Regarding August Laguer’s comments regarding the closure on Stanton Street several years ago, she said no one raised there voice about that at the time. “To my knowledge,” McCallum said, “not even the politicians confronted the principal about closing the street. Perhaps the Board of Education was too Big to take on.”

 

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1 COMMENT

  1. Closing it would be crap. Great, let’s turn it back into a 1940s-style Superblock, so everyone including elderly people have to walk greater distances.

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