Order in the Court (House)

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It looks like there’s finally some order in the court. Following many doubts due to slow progress, construction is now in full swing at the old courthouse on Beach 90th Street. Uri Kaufman of Harmony Group, which owns the building, provided some substantial updates at Community Board 14’s Economic Development Committee (EDC) meeting on Tuesday, March 26.

After a lack of answers from New York City Economic Development Corporation representatives that left many skeptical at the November 2018 meeting with CB 14’s EDC, Kaufman himself showed up on Tuesday and provided more confidence that the long-abandoned courthouse is well on its way to being transformed into a medical facility on the inside, while maintaining its historic aspects.

“This building has been sitting derelict since 1962, leaving Rockaway with 57 years of urban blight, so we’re pleased to get it back up and running,” Kaufman began. He expanded on the background of how Harmony Group came to own the building, saying, “The current building was built in 1932 and sold to our company after a Request for Proposals was released, which had a lot of competition, especially with former Senator Malcolm Smith, and we were fortunate enough to win it. The project had goals, including bringing back this idle site and because of a need of medical services with the closing of Peninsula Hospital, it was dedicated to medical use, and we will be using it for medical purposes exclusively,” Kaufman said, clearing up rumors that there may have been a hidden agenda for the building.

Kaufman provided a rundown of what has happened since the plan was first presented to the community in 2017. “We got permits in 2017 and managed to complete the asbestos remediation and environmental remediation in April 2018. We did all Phase 1 and Phase 2 testing, and everything came up squeaky clean. We’ve finished the demolition and construction is underway. We’re operating on schedule. We’ve closed on a loan from M&T Bank. We’re hoping to be done with core and shell by spring 2020. We demolished the chimney. We’ve excavated the basement. We've implemented resilient measures. This building is basically going to be a submarine. We’re working on the parapets and façade, which were in a dangerous condition, so we’re getting to the core and scraping it out and using concrete to put everything back, so it maintains the look and more,” Kaufman said during his presentation.

Kaufman also clarified a rumor about parts of the courthouse being used as a Pre-k, something that many still had questions about as the permits on the building still claim it will be used for this. Kaufman said this was nothing more than an oversight. “I apologize, as this was nothing but a typo. There was a time when one of the priorities was to put in UPK. We investigated it and it didn’t go through. The plans that were submitted to the Buildings Department still said medical center and Pre-K, so when we were issued a permit, it said Pre-K. We’re not building a Pre-K. We’re not putting in classrooms. The deed says it has to be a medical center. We’re planning a medical center. We’re renting to medical tenants,” Kaufman assured the Committee.

He did expand upon what would be in the building. At the November 2018 meeting, NYCEDC said there were no tenants at the time. Kaufman now says there is at least one definite tenant. “We have the first floor leased out by Fast Track Radiology,” he said, adding that this will accommodate for about one-third of the building space. Other tenants have signed letters of intent, including a chiropractor, a psychologist, a pharmacist and an urgent care chain, but have not yet signed leases. “We haven’t marketed in earnest yet. It’s still a little too soon,” Kaufman said. Signs remain on the building saying, “for rent.”

Kaufman says he still hopes to get a dialysis company on board, since it’s highly needed in the area. “We are targeting dialysis companies. We’ve had an expression of interest, but nothing really firm yet. I was told by someone who works in a local nursing home that 40 percent of the City’s nursing home beds are in Rockaway. Yet he turns away dialysis patients because they often have to go to Manhattan by ambulance for the service,” Kaufman explained.

The floor was then open to questions. Committee member John Cori asked about a previously mentioned partnership with Coney Island Hospital, to which Kaufman said, “We’re still talking to them. Ideally it would be for an ambulatory surgical center.”

Committee member Noreen Ellis had some concerns over parking. Kaufman explained that there will be 20 parking spaces in a lot next door to the property, plus there is an agreement with the nearby Knights of Columbus to utilize 43 spots in their lot during weekday hours, which would not conflict with nightly meetings or weekend events held at the hall.  While Ellis still expressed concern, Kaufman reassured her that there would be adequate parking. “In New York City, to find a medical center with 63 off-street parking spaces is very rare. We’re golden on parking. By code, we only needed to have 12 spaces. The city doesn’t require it, because if they did, nothing would get built in New York City,” he said, adding that he expects many staff members to utilize public transportation rather than cars. Kaufman said that if the center was to get something like a dialysis company, which may require ambulances to wait by the facility, there would be future discussions on the logistics of that.

Questions were also asked about entrances to the building. Kaufman explained that there would be several entrances on different sides of the building so patients could access whatever doctor they are seeing at the closest entrance. One entrance will have an elevator nearby. Some expressed concerns that there might be need for more elevators to serve patients. Kaufman insisted that only one was required, and that elevators are expensive to install, but he would consider adding more if a specific tenant requested it for their office.

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