Developers Launch Campaign to Push Through Seward Park Air Rights Sale

Southwest view; development plan with air rights.
Southwest view; development plan with air rights.
Southwest view; development plan with air rights. Renderings are designed to illustrate massing alternatives. Actual architectural designs have not been publicly released.

Tonight the developers of the former Bialystoker nursing home site kick off a high stakes campaign to persuade the Seward Park Cooperative to sell some of its air rights for $48.6 million.

The team at the Ascend Group/Optimum Group is planning to convert the historic eight story building at 228 East Broadway to condos and to build residential towers on either side of the landmark-protected structure. In October, the coop’s board of directors signed a letter of intent to sell 162,000 square feet of development rights if shareholders approve the sale in a referendum. Informational sessions are beginning this week, and this evening the developers are opening an information center on Grand Street, complete with 3D models.

Before the Thanksgiving holiday, Seward Park residents received an “air rights FAQ” from the developers. In the referendum, which has not yet been scheduled, two-thirds of those voting must approve of the transaction for it to go forward.

If the air rights are acquired by Ascend/Optimum Group, the developers plan a 33-story tower to the east of the existing Bialystoker building. It would include a 12 foot cantilever over a ramp leading to Seward Park’s underground parking garage. They would also build a 22-story tower to the west of the Bialystoker, on the former Dora Cohen Memorial Park site. The two buildings together would total around 226,000 square feet.

In the memo to Seward Park residents, the developers are emphatic about building on the sites whether or not the coop sells its air rights. “At any moment,” the FAQ states, “and without the consent of the Coop, Ascend/Optimum can adopt its as-of-right plan or design a completely new one that conforms to its existing development rights.”

The current as-of-right plan calls for putting up a 17-story tower on the eastern lot and a 20-story tower on the western lot. In this scenario, the total square footage of the new buildings would be about 71,000 square feet, and there would be no cantilever.

Southwest view; as-of-right development plan.
Southwest view; as-of-right development plan.

The developers have hired a consulting firm, Global Strategies Group, to help sell the air rights plan to Seward Park residents. The coop has also brought on a consultant, NYC Meeting Facilitators, to coordinate outreach to shareholders. The proposal has already proved controversial. Some residents are convinced that the cash infusion would help relieve financial pressures brought on by spiraling property taxes. Others are weary of over-development in the neighborhood and believe the project would erode quality of life on the Lower East Side.

The developers have set up a website with more details about the project. The coop also has a site with additional information. Meanwhile, a group of concerned shareholders has established a website, which raises questions about the proposed air rights sale.

We’ll have more details as they become available.

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.