City Seeks Food Vendor For Abandoned Allen Street Building

Allen Street at Delancey Street.
Allen Street at Delancey Street.
Allen Street at Delancey Street.

The city’s Parks Department outlined plans last night to reactivate this Beaux Arts-style building on Allen street, a structure that was abandoned more than 60 years ago. Over the years, there’s been talk of creating some kind of community center in the facility that once housed bathrooms serving elevated train passengers. The city is about to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a food concession inside the building.

Alex Han, deputy director of concessions, briefed members of Community Board’s parks committee about the RFP for the building, located inside an un-renovated portion of the Allen Street pedestrian mall at Delancey Street. It will be released at the end of March.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. (LMDC) allocated $1 million for the renovation of the building and the city added another $1 million for the project. Parks Department officials said, however, they want the food service contractor to pay for renovations. They hope to use the $2 million already budgeted for the area around the structure. Nine out of 14 blocks making up the Allen Street and Pike Street pedestrian malls remain untouched. Finding money to renovate the entire stretch from East Houston Street to the East River has been an impossible task. If the LMDC agrees (and that’s not a given), the city would divert the funds for mall restoration.

Susan Stetzer, CB3’s district manager, noted that there are already a lot of food options in the immediate area. She asked whether the building could be used for something other than a food concession. Back in 2008, there was a community visioning process for the Allen/Pike Street malls. It was led by a coalition that include many different Lower East Side organizations. Suggestions for the Delancey Street building included: a community space of some kind, public bathrooms, food vendors/concessions, a library/gallery and a visitors’ center.

Last night, Wendy Brawer of the not-for-profit group Green Map System, noted that her group was invited by the Borough President in 2009 to come up with ideas for the building. Along with the environmental group, Time’s Up, they proposed a “Go Green Pit Stop,” described as a “vibrant community center, addressing sustainable transportation and urban greening.” Their plan was to create a “demonstration center for green roofs, rainwater collection, and solar energy, as well as a cycling resource offering repair classes and open workshops to empower and educate cyclists.”

Han said the city’s rules for franchises would not allow a bike repair center. “That’s not what parkland is for,” he explained. Following the meeting, Brawer told us a one-day demonstration project was held after the groups submitted their proposal. Due to the heavy automobile traffic in the area, they concluded the building was not the best spot for a bike repair center. But other groups have suggested alternative uses for the building, as well. In 2012, Hester Street Collaborative and Asian Americans for Equality pushed the city to consider creative ideas for the space.

At one point last night, Parks officials were asked whether revenues from the concessions could be used to pay for maintenance of the Allen/Pike malls. They said it would not be possible. Residents have often complained in recent years about the sorry state of the blocks that have been renovated. Benches were destroyed, plantings are neglected and trash is often strewn throughout seating areas and planters. At the moment, though, no one is coming forward with a solution for taking care of this neglected public space.

Parks Department officials said they will return to the community board when a vendor is identified and contacts are ready to be signed.