BY THE VILLAGE SUN | It’s official. There finally is a new owner of the East Village’s old P.S. 64. Exactly who that owner is, though — well, no one is saying. …
On Monday, Denham Wolf Real Estate Services, a real estate adviser serving the nonprofit community, announced, in a brief press release, that 605 E. Ninth St. has been purchased by “a philanthropic entity with the purpose of returning the property to community use.”
“The new owner,” the statement said, “is committed to ensuring that the landmarked building becomes and remains an integral part of the surrounding neighborhoods.
“605 E. Ninth St. has been vacant for 25 years, and substantial time and resources are needed to restore the building. The new owner intends to initiate a process that will achieve its long-term goal of returning 605 E. Ninth St. to community use. The process will include input from members of the community.”
Paul Wolf, Denham Wolf’s managing principal and C.E.O., said, “We are thrilled to be supporting the return of 605 E. Ninth St. to community use. We look forward to working with the new owner to achieve its goals for the building.”
Although the philanthropic entity is being referred to as “it,” it’s widely believed local hedge-fund “angel investor” Aaron Sosnick is behind the purchase of the historic school building.
At the end of last year, the debt on the building held by Madison Realty Capital was reportedly bought for $55 million by an entity called 605 East 9th Community Holdings.
Asked for more specifics about exactly who comprises the philanthropic entity, a Denham Wolf representative told The Village Sun, “The philanthropic entity has chosen to remain anonymous.”
Susan Howard, organizer of the Save Our Community Center, former CHARAS/ P.S. 64 a.k.a. SOCCC-64, did not immediately respond to a request to identify the building’s new owner.
Sosnick is the only trustee of the La Vida Feliz Foundation, which purchased the former Boys Club of New York building, at Avenue A and 10th Street, four years ago.
The sprawling, 100,000-square-foot old P.S. 64, which stretches between Ninth and 10th Streets just east of Tompkins Square Park, formerly housed CHARAS / El Bohio, a Puerto Rican-led cultural and community center. A group of Lower East Side youth gang members-turned-activists, CHARAS cleared drug dealers and sex workers out of the decommissioned old school, transforming it into a vital community hub for workshops, meetings, organizing and art.
In 1998, developer Gregg Singer bought the property for $3.2 million at an auction of city-owned properties. He went on to evict CHARAS at the end of 2001.
In nearly 25 years of ownership, though, in the face of staunch opposition from both the community and City Hall, Singer was unable to fulfill his dream of turning the building into a lucrative student dorm — whether by demolishing it and replacing it with a wildly out-of-place, soaring, modernistic high-rise tower (his initial plan) or renovating it (his later plans).
Lender Madison Realty Capital eventually foreclosed on Singer for failure to repay his multimillion-dollar building loan, setting the stage for the property to be auctioned. To buy time, Singer declared bankruptcy last March. Yet, after some delay, a judge finally set the auction date for November. Potential bidders, however, were all scared off by Singer’s epic, decades-long fail in redeveloping the property. As a result, the auction was canceled, and the philanthropic entity swooped in and bought the building’s loan note at a bargain price. Singer is suing the city for frustrating his development plans.
In related news, Ernie Harburg, 97, the son of “The Wizard of Oz” lyricist “Yip” Harburg — who went to school at the old P.S. 64 — and his wife, Deena Harburg, reportedly love the mural of Harburg and the Tin Man and Cowardly Lion that’s painted on the building’s Ninth Street side. The Village Sun ran a photo of the mural in its article last month on the building’s loan note being sold. The artwork is by Sabrina Jones, who signed it Sab Jonze.
The Harburgs, who live in the East Village, run the Yip Harburg Lyrics Foundation. After the lyricist’s death in 1981, the foundation was created to carry on his legacy and to promote educational opportunity, social and economic justice and world peace. After Ernie stepped down as the foundation’s president in 2017, Deena took over the group’s leadership.