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Old P.S. 64 / CHARAS auction thwarted after owner Gregg Singer files for bankruptcy reorganization

BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Protesters made a lifesize voodoo doll of bidders on the old P.S. 64 / CHARAS El Bohio, stuffed it with flour and sawdust — then, to put a curse on the new owner, tore it to pieces in the entrance of the DoubleTree Hilton.

But, in the end, the sale of the landmarked former East Village school building, at 605 E. Ninth St., was canceled after its current owner, Gregg Singer, declared bankruptcy. That means the foreclosure on the property by Singer’s lender, Madison Capital Realty, cannot go forward. Singer reportedly filed for Chapter 11 — to try to reorganize his debts and assets — at the very last minute, the day right before the auction.

About 30 people turned out at the Wed., March 22, demonstration outside the Midtown hotel, at 51st Street and Fifth Avenue, where the private auction had been slated to be held.

Some of the protesters from the demonstration are now dubbing themselves Occupy CHARAS. One of them posted on Facebook: “Please stay tuned. OCCUPY CHARAS plans to OCCUPY CHARAS! Soon!”

Meanwhile, in a statement, Save Our Community Center, CHARAS, former P.S. 64 — which did not support the protest — denounced what it called Singer’s “desperate attempt to stop the foreclosure auction” by filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. As opposed to the protesters, this group actually strongly wanted the sale to occur. In addition, they called on Mayor Adams now to take “immediate action” to reacquire the former home of CHARAS and return it to community use.

Representatives of the coalition Save Our Community Center, CHARAS, former P.S. 64 (SOCCC-64), celebrated the planned Wednesday, March 22 auction of the building that once housed the beloved cultural center,” the statement said. “Taking the building out of the hands of Gregg Singer, who purchased the structure at public auction in June 1998, would have been met with jubilation, because it would have allowed the city to begin negotiations to reacquire the building and return it as a cultural and community center to the neighborhood.

“We learned today that, in a desperate attempt to stave off the auction, Singer submitted on March 21 a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, which gave an immediate stay to the sale. The bankruptcy will now proceed on a schedule, until and unless the lender seeks relief from the stay.

“This is yet another in a long series of frivolous court actions to tie up the property and try and force a settlement that would allow Singer to violate the use restrictions on the building and construct a youth hostel that he is trying to pass off as a dormitory.

“On March 15, SOCCC-64, community leaders and residents hand-delivered a letter from local elected officials — Councilmember Carlina Rivera, Congressman Dan Goldman, Assemblymember Harvey Epstein and state Senator Brian Kavanagh — to City Hall, requesting a meeting as soon as possible to discuss reacquiring the center.

“The building at 605 East Ninth St. that housed the once-beloved community center was sold at public auction by Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 1998 and has remained vacant ever since. Now, 25 years later, the owner has been found in default of the mortgage and the former school was scheduled to be auctioned on March 22.

“Residents have fought for over 20 years to ensure compliance with the community-facility-use restrictions on the property and to maintain the landmarked building, which has been allowed to deteriorate to the point that the city stepped in to seal and secure it in December 2022.

“In October 2017, at a town hall meeting in the Lower East Side, then-Mayor de Blasio announced that the sale of the beloved community center was a historic mistake, and that he was ready to right the wrongs of the past and take steps to reacquire the building. He left office, however, without doing so.

“LES’ers now ask Mayor Adams to keep the city’s promise and seize this opportunity to reacquire and restore the once-beloved community center.”

A spokesperson for Singer, as usual, did not respond to a request for comment.

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