BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Updated Nov. 22, 5:30 p.m.: The news that the city has finally committed to build a long-delayed public school at Bleecker Street and LaGuardia Place was recently cheered by local politicians and Community Board 2 members.
But that development, in turn, has opened up another thorny question — namely, what now happens to the Morton Williams supermarket, depended on and valued by neighbors, that currently sits at the site?
The Village Sun recently broke the story of the city’s agreement to build the school at 130 Bleecker St. C.B. 2 and local politicians have advocated for it to be a citywide school for special-needs students.
According to Kevin Ortiz, a spokesperson for the city’s School Construction Authority, the deal is that New York University, which owns the lot, will turn it over for free to S.C.A., which will then build the public school there.
The lot is 17,000 square feet, with the supermarket occupying 14,500 square feet of that, meaning it fills up almost the entire site. The planned school would be 100,000 square feet in size, so likely might be around five stories tall.
Ortiz confirmed that the school would be built right on the spot where the supermarket is now.
Asked by The Village Sun if S.C.A. planned to include a supermarket in the project, Ortiz said no.
“It will be a stand-alone [building] that S.C.A. will construct,” he told The Village Sun.
As for when construction would start, Ortiz said, “We cannot provide a timeline until N.Y.U. turns the space over to us.”
Meanwhile, Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist representing the Morton Williams supermarket, reached out to The Village Sun to stress that the market’s future must be resolved, as well.
“The outstanding, unanswered question is what happens to the supermarket? And it’s complicated,” he acknowledged. “I believe it’s the only major supermarket in the West Village. We’re not looking to defeat the school at all. We’re looking for a win-win.”
He said that, so far, no one involved has told the market’s owner, Avi Kaner, anything about what’s going on.
“No one has talked to Morton Williams to let them know,” he said.
Previously, in years past, as part of its N.Y.U. 2031 large-scale development plan for its two South Village superblocks, university officials said that a supermarket might be located in 181 Mercer St., the large new building currently being completed at Mercer and Houston Streets.
However, Lipsky said, “That building wasn’t configured for a supermarket — but could be configured for it.”
‘N.Y.U. has no additional construction planned at this time or in the near future for the superblocks.’
— Lynne Brown, N.Y.U. senior V.P.
Lynne Brown, N.Y.U. senior vice president for university relations and public affairs, said N.Y.U. welcomes the public school. However, her statement notably did not address the supermarket issue.
“While we await the final notification from S.C.A. with attendant information about the requisite financing and needs analysis, from N.Y.U.’s standpoint, a new school for the neighborhood is a wonderful use for the southeast corner of La Guardia and Bleecker,” Brown said. “We are glad that the multiple extensions N.Y.U. provided over the past seven years enabled the city to make a final determination about the site’s use and find a way to fit it into their planning and budget process.
“Beyond the 181 Mercer St. building, N.Y.U. has no additional construction planned at this time or in the near future for the superblocks,” she said, adding, “By the terms of the ULURP, no further buildings would be allowed on the southern block.”
ULURP refers to the plan for the superblocks’ development that was hashed out and publicly reviewed back in 2012.
It’s also unclear if the public school project would impact — either temporarily or permanently — the adjacent LaGuardia Corner Gardens, a community garden just west of the supermarket site. N.Y.U. said S.C.A. would have to answer on that one.
The Village Sun also reached out for comment to C.B. 2 Chairperson Jeannine Kiely on the supermarket issue.
Brown’s response also answered the question of where the NYU 2031 plan, created nearly 10 years ago, now stands. Under that plan, the Morton Williams site was possibly eyed for a high-rise university building, with its base to be set aside for a community-facility use, such as a public school or day center for seniors. At the time, university officials indicated that the planned new building at Mercer and Houston Streets, where Coles Gym was still located, might contain a supermarket. However, again, according to Lipsky, the new building currently being completed at that site is not outfitted to accept a supermarket.
N.Y.U.’s northern superblock, currently home to Washington Square Village, was originally slated under N.Y.U. 2031 to have an additional two matching buildings shaped like giant lima beans squeezed onto it. But, based on Brown’s statement, that project sounds like it’s now off the table.
Meanwhile, loyal Morton Williams customers are feeling extremely anxious about losing their beloved, conveniently located supermarket. Several have posted their concerns on The Village Sun’s previous article breaking the news of the public school project.
“We are going to lose the only supermarket in our neighborhood,” one reader lamented. “This is horrible. I really hope they are able to figure out a way to keep the Morton Williams as we rely on this store in the area.”
“As a senior citizen, I cannot imagine what I will do without my supermarket,” one woman posted. “I of course support schools and especially for the disabled, but this will bring undue hardship to the neighborhood.”