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Seward Park Co-op Weighs Air Rights Sale to Developers of Bialystoker Property

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228 East Broadway.
228 East Broadway.

There have been some interesting revelations in the last couple of weeks about the future of the former Bialystoker nursing home.

Last month we reported that the city landmark at 228 East Broadway and development parcels on either side of the 1931 Art Deco building had been sold for $47.5 million.  The previous owners paid less than $18 million for the property after the home was shuttered a few years ago. In our original story, we noted that developer Rob Kaliner of the Ascend Group was weighing the purchase of air rights from the neighboring Seward Park Co-op.

Earlier this week, members of the co-op’s board of directors briefed residents of the large housing complex about the offer on the table. The developers, according to the presentation, are potentially planning new residential towers on either side of the Bialystoker building. They plan to create more apartments within the historic building after extensive renovations take place.

If the cooperative chooses to sell approximately 155,000 square feet in development rights, the project would span about 230,000 square feet in the two towers. Diagrams show a 31 story building on the east side of the landmark (where a four-story office building now stands) and a 19-story building on the corner of Clinton Street and East Broadway. In this scenario, both towers would have larger footprints. A portion of one building would hang 17 feet over a parking garage driveway on Seward Park’s property. If the co-op says “no” to the air rights transfer, developers are considering a number of options. One version shown to shareholders envisions 17 and 19 story towers.




During a recent interview, Kaliner and Wayne Heicklen, his business partner, declined to talk in detail about the possible acquisition of Seward Park’s air rights, out of deference to the co-op’s board of directors. They did, however, discuss in general terms the plan for the Lower East Side development site.

They indicated that SLCE, the architectural firm hired for the project, has not yet designed the buildings. The height and size of the towers could change significantly from the massing diagrams shared with the Seward Park Co-op. They emphasized that their as-of right-plan would likely involve building a single tall tower to the east of the Bialystoker building. Under current zoning and with no additional development rights, a narrow tower could rise above 20 stories, they said. The co-op buildings are 21 stories.

Kaliner and Heicklen said they’re not planning to put up “glassy” towers, but buildings that are “contextual” to both the Bialystoker building and the blocks immediately surrounding the development site. “The towers will look like they belong in that location,” said Kaliner. “We want to be respectful of the location. The mission for the architect is to evoke the feel of the Bialystoker.”

The condominium apartments in all three buildings will be luxury units, but the developers say they won’t be aimed at the “super-luxury market.” The apartments, he said, would be “tight and efficient.” A major selling point will be the spectacular, unobstructed views from the high floors in the new towers. The developers pointed to two previous projects – 133 West 22nd St. (a 12-story condo building in Chelsea) and the Georgica on the Upper East Side – as emblematic of the type of projects they build.

The air rights sale will only take place if two-thirds of the shareholders taking part in the vote agree. The co-op’s attorney, Deirdre Carson of Greenberg Traurig LLP, indicated that an offer has been received from the development team. While she did not indicate the proposed purchase price, Carson told residents the offer is, in her opinion, too low. “I think you could say with a certainty that the amount that could be realized from this sale would be at least $20 million,” Carson said. “We don’t know how much more than that would be possible.”

In a conversation Friday with Wei-Li Tjong, the board’s vice president, he said the price offered is $125/per square foot. That would work out to $19.3 million.

At the meeting, residents expressed a lot of skepticism. There were concerns about the loss of views and “light and air” in at least one building of the four building Seward Park complex. Others said they were worried about the influx of more residents in a neighborhood besieged with luxury development. Outside the confines of the meeting room, some residents were more enthusiastic about the offer. Given the cooperative’s financial strains (maintenance fees were recently increased), they’re at least willing to entertain the prospect of a multi-million dollar payday.

As Curbed reported several years ago, Seward Park holds more than one-million square feet in unused development rights on three different properties. At the time, it was estimated that those air rights could be worth $100 million.

A vote of the cooperative has not yet been scheduled. That won’t happen until the board of directors and its attorneys complete negotiations with the developers. The co-op has commissioned its own appraisal.According to Tjong, early indications from that appraisal show that the offer from the developers “significantly undervalues” Seward Park’s air rights.

The board has not taken a position on the potential air rights sale. “Our responsibility,” Tjong said, “is to negotiate the best deal that we can and put it to a vote.” He called the transaction, “potentially very valuable” to the more than 1700 shareholders in the Seward Park Co-op, but also “potentially very impactful to the quality of life of residents.”  The board will be required to detail for all shareholders how the proceeds from the air rights sale would be spent.

The developers have said they want to begin construction by the springtime, so there’s some pressure on the co-op to act quickly. In a followup interview today, Kaliner said it’s important to him that residents have all of the facts about the potential transaction. “I think everyone should be equipped with the information to make an educated decision,” he said.

Editor’s note: The publishers of The Lo-Down are residents of the Seward Park Cooperative. It is our policy to disclose any potential conflicts that arise in our reporting.


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