BY THE VILLAGE SUN | They probably won’t be toting pitchforks or burning torches — but at least some of them will be using walkers and canes, plus possibly pushing shopping carts.
A mass rally to save the Morton Williams supermarket at Bleecker Street and LaGuardia Place is set for Wed., Sept. 27, at 4 p.m. This time, though, local shoppers won’t be rallying outside the area’s only 24/7 full-service market, but marching two blocks north from the key food hub — not to the castle in “Young Frankenstein” — but to New York University’s own castle-like edifice, Bobst Library.
When the supermarket’s extra-wide “superblock” — which is owned by N.Y.U. — was rezoned more than 10 years ago, N.Y.U. promised that it would, if necessary, provide space for the store in its planned building at 181 Mercer St. The contingency was required since the city had an option to build a new public school at the supermarket site. Now, years later, it’s finally crunch time as the Department of Education and School Construction Authority are set to decide by the end of this year — just three months from now — if the new school will or won’t be built.
Somehow, though, the university’s pledge to provide space for the market was left out of the rezoning’s “restrictive declaration.” Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist for Morton Williams, said the suspicion is the “restrictive dec” was, in fact, penned by Bryan Cave, the international law firm, which was a consultant for N.Y.U. on the rezoning, then signed off on by the Department of City Planning’s legal office.
Former City Councilmember Alan Gerson, a lifelong resident of the block, is a leader of Save Our Supermarket, or S.O.S., a group supported by thousands of neighborhood residents who want the market to continue operating where it is without any interruption of service. More than 8,500 locals have signed a petition to save the store. Gerson and S.O.S. oppose the so-called co-location compromise, under which the current market would be razed, to be replaced by a new one that, in turn, would be topped by a new 100,000-square-foot school.
Gerson told The Village Sun he’s “in the process of filing” a Freedom of Information Law request with the city to try to uncover exactly why the pledge to provide potential space for the supermarket in 181 Mercer St. — which recently opened as the massive, new N.Y.U. Paulson Center — vanished from the final document. He said he’ll file the FOIL this coming week.
“We’re determined to keep the supermarket,” he declared. “It’s critical. There are alternatives. N.Y.U. should find a space for the school in one of its buildings — it would benefit N.Y.U. and its students and faculty.
“Even the School Construction Authority agrees that would be a difficult construction project,” Gerson said of the site’s small footprint. “This is not an ideal site for co-location. You’ll have to time the supermarket deliveries with school times throughout the year. It makes more sense to co-locate housing and a school than a supermarket.”
It’s estimated the entire construction project would take three years — during which the community would be without the critical amenity of the supermarket.
“And it would destroy the LaGuardia Corner Garden for three years and who knows what happens [to the garden after that],” Gerson added of the beloved green oasis that abuts the market’s west side.
“Co-location is just unfeasible,” he stressed. “It’s at least three years without a supermarket — and for the people that depend on it, that’s a lifetime.”
The former politician said the march is heading straight for Bobst — the soaring red sandstone edifice housing the N.Y.U. president’s and administration’s offices — to highlight that the onus is on the university to fix the problem it created by backing out of its promise. He said the university owns any number of properties in Greenwich Village, Soho, Noho, the East Village and elsewhere that could easily accommodate a school. Another option, he said, is for the school to be housed on a city-owned site.