BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Updated July 10, 5:30 p.m.: The long, drawn-out saga over whether a school will get built at the critically situated Morton Williams supermarket at Bleecker Street and LaGuardia Place recently has taken a number of new twists.
For starters, the city reportedly is no longer considering building a citywide special-needs school at the site — something for which Community Board 2 had advocated. Instead, the city is now said to be saying that, if any school gets built there, it would be a regular public school. C.B. 2, which supports a school at the location, had previously pivoted to advocating for a special-needs school after the city said the local school district did not need additional seats.
In addition, the new word reportedly now being used in connection with a potential school at the site is “co-location.” That means, instead of the supermarket having to find a new home if the school were to be O.K.’d, the site would be rebuilt with both a school and a supermarket. Previously, the city’s School Construction Authority had said that, if it green-lighted a project at the location, it would construct a 100,000-square-foot building containing exclusively a school, without a supermarket or any other uses.
Also newly added into the mix, Trinity Real Estate is now saying it will finally move ahead with a long-delayed, new office tower project at Duarte Square, at Sixth Avenue and Canal Street, that has sat in limbo for around 10 years. The Trinity project is slated to include a new public school in its base. In March, Community Board 2 members did a walk-through of the site, which is in Hudson Square, and reported that the building’s construction would take place “from 2025 through 2026.”
Former Councilmember Alan Gerson, a leader of the ad hoc group Save Our Supermarket, and others recently met with S.C.A. officials to lobby for saving the Morton Williams, which local residents stress is an essential, 24-hour, full-service food hub for the community. More than 3,000 locals shop at the store daily, and 8,500 have signed a petition saying the market must be saved at its current location or nearby.
“We met with the S.C.A. and they were very clear: If there is going to be a school, it won’t be a special-needs school,” Gerson said. “The philosophy is to mainstream special-needs kids, not to segregate them,” he noted.
Plus, the S.C.A. reportedly felt the site is too small for a special-needs school, which requires large floor plates. The lot is just 17,000 square feet, of which the current supermarket covers 14,500 square feet.
The former councilmember, who is a lifelong resident of 505 LaGuardia Place, located just south of the Morton Williams, added that the Duarte Square school now throws into question the need for a school at the supermarket site.
As for co-location, Gerson and other S.O.S. members strongly oppose it, saying it would take the Morton Williams offline for at least a few years.
“Co-location we do not accept,” he said. “The ship has sailed on that because it means we’ll be without a supermarket, under the best of circumstances, for three years. Another thing with co-location is — until we reach the point with electric trucks — we’d have diesel trucks delivering [to the supermarket] where kids would be.”
It would also cost from $2 million to $3 million to fit out a new supermarket space, and it’s not clear who would foot that bill.
Recently writing a letter to Morton Williams urging co-location were a group of local politicians, including Congressmember Dan Goldman and Assemblymember Deborah Glick — along with several others who no longer represent the district due to redistricting, including Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, state Senator Brad Hoylman and Councilmember Christopher Marte.
Meanwhile, Gerson and the opponents hark back to New York University’s pledge of more than 10 years ago — when the block was rezoned so the university could construct more buildings on it — that N.Y.U. would, if needed, provide a home for the market in its new building at 181 Mercer St. That massive, 735,000-square-foot building, dubbed the Paulson Center, opened this January — but without the 29,000 square feet of retail space (or 4 percent of the building’s total space) that had, at one point, been promised.
Gerson said, even so, the university has plenty of other options for where it could house not the supermarket but the new public school, if need be, and let the supermarket stay where it is.
“We know N.Y.U. owns other property, including in Noho,” he said.
If the school project goes forward, N.Y.U. would give the corner property — which C.B. 2 has valued at more than $60 million — to the city.
A lobbyist representing Morton Williams said of the politicians’ letter, “I think they’re misreading the situation and not representing their community. Co-location is not supported by the community.”
However, he noted, “Co-location is what the S.C.A. has told the community. They’re looking seriously at that.”
However, despite the opponents averring that they were plainly told co-location and the scrapping of the special-needs school plan are the current talking points, an S.C.A. spokesperson denied both.
“As we have communicated to members of the community, the S.C.A. will make a decision on the site by the end of the year,” Kevin Ortiz said. “To that end, the notion that we are pushing for a co-location or that a decision has been made on the use of the proposed school is simply inaccurate.”
Although the Morton Williams has a long-term lease at its current location, the lease contains a demolition clause, under which the market would have to vacate if a school project is approved there.
Currently, the latest word is that the S.C.A. is doing a feasibility study of the Morton Willams site, assessing at the scenario of co-locating a new public school with a full-service supermarket.
In addition, the S.C.A. and Department of Education are still determining if the local school district has a need for an additional public school at the Bleecker St. location. Again, even without the expected Duarte Square school, it wasn’t clear that the Greenwich Village/Tribeca area had a need for more school seats. But an updated district assessment is in the works. The city is supposed to make a decision on the school one way or the other by the end of this year.
The original plan for the Duarte Square tower called for 800 residential apartments and a 450-seat, pre-K-to-5 school in its base, plus a community amenity, a gym. The project has since been retooled as a 420-foot-tall, 29-story commercial tower, with extra-high, loft-style ceilings, geared toward “boutique finance” and tech tenants. The school would be on the first five floors. YIMBY reported that permits were filed for the project last June. Currently, though, the lot is being used by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority as a staging area for major construction work to upgrade an electrical-power substation across Sixth Avenue between Grand and Canal Streets.
“That building was supposed to happen in 2013,” said Darlene Lutz, who lives just north of the Duarte vacant lot and has endured years of noisy pop-up events and a nightspot with noxious grilling there. “There were people who moved into my building who thought their kids were going to go to that school — and their kids are now like 12 years old.”
For its part, Community Board 2 continues to prioritize siting a new school at the current supermarket site — but apparently does not endorse the co-location option. Contrary to Gerson, who says N.Y.U. should find an alternative site for the school, the community board feels N.Y.U. should find one for the supermarket.
Particia Laraia, the chairperson of the C.B. 2 Schools & Education Committee, said, “With increased school capacity needed to meet the five-year plan to reduce class sizes in New York City public schools, C.B. 2 is hopeful that the city will exercise its option to build the Bleecker School by the end of this year — an option valued at $65 million for New York City taxpayers. Meanwhile, we encourage N.Y.U. to continue to work with Morton Williams to find a solution for keeping the grocery store on the N.Y.U. superblocks (as originally promised) to continue to serve the local seniors aging in place, N.Y.U. faculty and the Greenwich Village community.”
Last November, in a joint statement, N.Y.U. and local politicians announced that they were working together “to create a long-term solution that will allow a school to be built while still preserving the grocery store at or near the current location.”