Ben Kallos still wants to talk to the New York Blood Center.
“I am still reaching out to them asking them to come to the table,” Kallos told Community Board 8 on Wednesday night.
“It’s hard to stomach all this happening without the community being at the table. So please keep your hopes up. Please fight, fight, fight to the very end because you never know.”
Kallos was referring in particular to a deal the New York Blood Center and its development partner, Longfellow Real Estate, made with other members of the City Council to build a new, 233 foot biotech tower on the footprint of the Blood Center’s three story headquarters in the middle of the block on 67th Street between First and Second Avenues.
The community board, which had unanimously opposed the project, heard from several local residents and community representatives who warned that the deal undermined both the deference traditionally paid to local council members and the zoning that protects many brownstone neighborhoods across the city from midblock development.
“This really wasn’t about blood,” Kallos said. “Its all about this Longfellow commercial tower. The Longfellow commercial tower offers their tenants something called Elevate, which is curated experiences from yoga to Peletons ... to free flowing wine and beer. This was something that was particularly important for their experience because according to Longfellow ‘nobody goes to work to work anymore.’ And it seems like we were taking a lot of steps to make Longfellow happy in this process so they would give money to what is essentially a worthy nonprofit.”
Kallos noted that Longfellow and the city had been discussing a major tax break of some $100 million for the project.
As part of this “luxury” commercial space most of the ceilings will be nearly double height, Kallos said. “They’re trying to make 1000 a square foot.”
“Eleven stories is 110 feet except in this project,” Kallos said. “Could they just lower their heights? Could they get rid of 37 feet of mechanical in the middle of the building? Could they go to having 20 foot floors and 18 foot floors to a more reasonable 14 feet?”
Rob Purvis, executive vice president and chief of staff of the New York Blood Center, rejected Kallos’s attack on the project.
“The councilman mischaracterizes the Blood Center proposal as an “office tower”; it is, in fact, a lab building,” Purvis wrote in a letter to the Daily News. “Labs require more mechanical infrastructure, which is why the plan has higher floor heights. This is not “ultra-luxury,” it is a critical design for the research these spaces support.”
The chances that the council member, who leaves office at the end of the year, will actually get to negotiate directly with the Blood Center or Longfellow probably hinges on a simple bit of political math. Can he find 12 other council members to stand with him?
Because of a protest filed by neighbors of the Blood Center, Kallos explained, 39 members, three quarters of the Council, must vote yes to approve the project. That means he can still block it if he convinces 12 other members to support his opposition.
“If you know any council members feel free to reach out, particularly if I’m not your council member,” Kallos told the community board. “I’m asking folks to vote with me for member deference to oppose the project. I’m still hopeful that the Blood Center and Longfellow will come to their senses and agree to remove a lot of the empty mechanical space and reduce the height on a building. Eleven stories just doesn’t need to be 233 feet tall. They don’t need 20-foot floors so I think that’s reasonable. I think that’s a fair request.”
The Council has scheduled a vote on the project for Tuesday, November 23.
The Community Board also heard from a key figure in the deal, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who had dropped her opposition to the project when the Blood Center agreed to lower the height of the building.
She seemed almost apologetic for her reversal. “I do not know how the city council will vote,” she said.
“I couldn’t get the number down from 233 down to 210 or under 200. I tried. Many, many meetings. I was unable to do it. At that point I said ‘I can’t do anything else.’”
Which is, she said, when she and Council Member Keith Powers, who represents an adjacent district, decided to support the Blood Center project, but “not enthusiastically at all.”
Brewer and Powers are both running for Speaker in the new council that will convene in January. There are eight candidates and the winner will surely require the support of unions and Black and Latino members, who have been supporting the Blood Center project.
“Maybe there is some other way to bring in opportunities to lower the height I have not been able to do it.”