The proposed Union Square Tech Training Center took a big step forward Thursday, as the City Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning & Franchises gave its approval. Once again, newly elected District 2 Council member Carlina Rivera was in the hot seat, under pressure from different factions in the communities she serves. The full Council is set to vote on the measure next Wednesday, Aug. 8.
The center at 124 East 14th St. would rise 21-stories on a city-owned parcel that once housed a P.C. Richard & Son store. The partners — including RAL Development Services and the non-profit Civic Hall — hope to create a digital skills training center, flex-office space for startups, market rate office space for established firms and a food hall.
While many people are convinced the center will offer desperately needed technical skills training for low-income local residents, others are fearful the new complex would only set off a new wave of over-building in the neighborhood. The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) has insisted on zoning protections in the surrounding area. While campaigning for office, Rivera promised to demand zoning provisions to preserve neighborhood character.
Since the Council generally follows the lead of the local Council member, all eyes were on Rivera Thursday. Just a couple of weeks ago, she threatened to vote no, saying at a Council hearing that local concerns were not being taken seriously by the administration. But this week that outlook changed. Rivera announced her support yesterday, but not before reading a carefully worded statement. Here’s a part of what she had to say:
As I vote yes at this subcommittee hearing, I want to make it clear that I am doing this so that I can continue negotiations with the mayor’s office towards the possibility of reaching a deal that will satisfy all impacted communities before next week’s stated meeting. The mayor’s office came to the table with a set of proposals, and I appreciate their commitment to work with us. Over the next few days, I look forward to negotiations and getting to the point where I and stakeholders are satisfied. The fight to keep history is important and our vision for the neighborhood includes character and vibrancy for all generations to come.
In statements released after the vote, de Blasio administration officials singled out Rivera for praise. Alicia Glen, deputy mayor for housing and economic development, said, “I thank (Council) Speaker (Corey) Johnson, Council Member Rivera and the entire City Council for their partnership.” James Patchett, president and ceo of the Economic Development Corp., said, “We thank Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Member Rivera for being such steadfast advocates for New Yorkers, and helping to deliver a project that will truly change lives.”
GVSHP’s Andrew Berman, however, wasted no time in blasting the Council in general and Rivera in particular:
It is deeply disappointing that the Council would approve this rezoning without anything even remotely resembling the protections for the surrounding neighborhood that had been under discussion. This will turn Greenwich Village and the East Village into extensions of Silicon Alley and Midtown South, with more out-of-scale and out-of-character tech office buildings and condo high-rises going up in the area. Councilmember Rivera publicly pledged during her campaign that she would not vote for the Tech Hub without the comprehensive neighborhood protections which have been under discussion for more than two years. This falls very far short of that pledge she made to her constituents.
In February, Community Board 3 endorsed the tech hub and called for zoning protections in the area, but declined to issue an ultimatum to the city. A number of board members were uncomfortable with the idea of holding good paying jobs for disadvantaged youth hostage over what they saw as the separate issue of rezoning on 3rd and 4th Avenues. Here’s what Meghan Joye, chair of CB3’s Economic Development Committee, said yesterday:
I want to thank Carlina for her vote today that supports the CB 3 priority for a business incubator in our community and our support of training for our vulnerable youth for skilled tech jobs. The tech training center will help our youth be prepared for the good paying jobs they deserve and provide much needed community benefits. I know that Carlina will continue to work with the community board and community for needed neighborhood protections.
There was also support for Rivera beyond the borders of District 2. On the Lower East Side, NYCHA tenant leader Aixa Torres (Smith Houses) publicly thanked her.
Please join me in
Thanking Councilmember Carlina Rivera for making sure that our communities are given more opportunities to succeed by approving the tech training center!
Thank you for remembering the thousands of NYCHA families in District 2 and 1.
— Smith Houses (@smithhouses) August 3, 2018
It would be extraordinary (and unfortunate for Rivera) if the de Blasio administration did not come forward sometime before next week’s vote with something to address over-development concerns in the area. As Crain’s reported, “The city has balked at the idea of reducing the potential for office space, though Thursday’s vote indicates that some sort of agreement with Rivera, who campaigned on the issue under the watchful eye of the preservation group, is likely.”
A spokesperson for Council member Rivera declined to comment regarding any deal that might be in the works.