The New York Blood Center expansion project is spearheading the council’s vote amid the opposition


When Barry Greene demonstrates the research room at the headquarters of the New York Blood Center on East 67th Street, he is alternately proud and frustrated.

He is proud of the work the Upper East Side Center is doing to prevent HIV and treat sickle cell anemia – and frustrated by the cramped and archaic conditions in the four-story building that opened as a business school in the 1930s and opened in 2013 was renovated in the 1960s.

The solution, said Greene, the blood center’s vice president of research, is to get the city council to approve a zoning required to pave the way for a $ 750 million 16-story tower on the site that will house the Research activities and numerous other promising hosts life science companies.

“We are leaps and bounds behind our competitors in other cities in the life sciences,” he said. “We have the highest number of researchers in any city, but we don’t have a meeting place. And without a meeting point, we will never close the gap. “

Barry Greene, vice president of research for the New York Blood Center
Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY

But when Rachel Levy of the Friends of the Upper East Side stands under a banner that says “Stop the Tower” across the street, she sees a threat.

The tower would deprive the Julia Richman Education Complex, which houses five public schools, of any natural light, she said. It would do the same in St. Catherine’s Park at the end of the block during the crucial afternoon hours.

The proposed building would also bring a surge in business traffic to the narrow block, which would disrupt the school’s students, residents who use the neighborhood library and park, Levy said. And the reallocation, she warned, would set a dangerous precedent by violating strict rules on the height and density of back streets.

“This is not just about the Upper East Side, it’s about the character of neighborhoods that are being given side streets for residential use,” she said.

A bitter distance

Several controversial, high-profile rezoning offers are pending approval as the end of the de Blasio government approaches.

But the Blood Center’s proposal has sparked possibly the bitterest standoff as its pits preserve the character of a neighborhood against the needs of a sector that could do the common good while also providing thousands of high paying jobs.

And in a twist, the Blood Center’s plan goes against determined opposition from local councilor Ben Kallos. The council generally refuses to approve any reallocation against the will of the local member.

For decades, officials and heads of city hospitals and research centers have been wrestling hands over the fact that hundreds of researchers are developing new drugs and therapies in their laboratories, but once they start commercializing their breakthroughs, they move to the suburbs. or New Jersey or California.

A sign at the Julia Richman Education Complex opposes plans to expand the New York Blood Center across the street on East 67th, October 4, 2021.

A sign at the Julia Richman Education Complex opposes plans to expand the New York Blood Center over East 67th Street.
Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY

In 2005, a groundbreaking public-private partnership created the Alexandria Center adjacent to NYU Langone’s campus on 34th Street. The facility now houses more than 50 tenants, including large pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer and Eli Lilly, as well as smaller startups.

In 2016, the state and city offered a total of $ 1.1 billion in incentives to offset the high cost of real estate and laboratory space construction in the city. In June, Mayor Bill de Blasio doubled the city’s commitment to the sector to $ 1 billion by 2026.

According to a report released in April by the Partnership Fund for New York City, a long-time player in advancing the sector, New York City is currently home to around 990 life science companies and employing approximately 16,000 people. The average salary is $ 142,000.

The city’s profits can best be measured by the ratio of private investments to funds from the National Health Institute, argues Maria Gotsch, CEO of the fund. In 2016, Massachusetts and California attracted $ 1.20 for every US dollar in NIH funds. New York State attracted 6 cents.

The latest numbers show the other two states are getting a little more than $ 2 for every NIH dollar. The New York City ratio jumped to 75 cents.

“We’re making good progress,” she said.

“We want it to succeed”

The Blood Center, which supplies 80% of the blood used by city hospitals, says its project is critical to the city’s ambitions in life sciences. The building would be in the heart of an unrivaled medical center that would include the New York-Presbyterian Hospital, the Hospital for Special Surgery, Memorial Sloan Kettering, and Rockefeller University.

The Blood Center has partnered with Longfellow, a Boston-based company that has developed 5 million square feet of life science space across the country and has another 7 million in the pipeline.

The nonprofit Blood Center, with a budget of nearly $ 500 million a year, would essentially get a third of the tower for free, while Longfellow makes his living renting the rest of the space to life sciences. In addition to promoting research at the Blood Center, supporters say the building would create a center that will boost scientific collaboration on a scale unprecedented in New York City.

“Opponents never talk about the future of the Blood Center, the life sciences and the future of the city,” says Jamie Peschel, co-founder and senior partner at Longfellow. “For them, it’s about preserving the present and the past.”

Opponents reject this characterization. The community would support changes that would allow the Blood Center to build a modern facility to meet its needs – including a building that will provide the large floor slabs the center will need while the for-profit tower is scrapped, Levy said.

“Nobody in the community is against the blood center,” Levy insisted. “We want it to be successful and expand on the site, which it can do without disrupting the zoning.”

Rachel Levy of Friends of the Upper East Side says an extension to the New York Blood Center on East 67th Street would block lights for the Julia Richman Education Complex on October 4, 2021.

Rachel Levy of Friends of the Upper East Side
Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY

Opponents also argue that with so much free space in the city, there must be buildings that could be repurposed to house the blood center.

The center officials say none of this is possible: all the other sites mentioned as alternatives simply do not meet their needs. It can’t afford to build without a partner, stresses Green, because it barely breaks breakeven in many years and doesn’t use the Blood Center’s $ 350 million foundation, which is used to support research and its sometimes money-wasting blood surgeries, on new builds can be.

Both sides have formed broad coalitions. The Blood Center, which has agreed to have the project built with union workers, is supported by groups trying to diversify the New York tech workforce and Laborers Local 79.

“Contempt for the community”

The Coalition to Stop the Tower includes numerous neighborhood and monument protection groups such as Civitas NYC. In addition to Kallos, the US MP Carolyn Maloney has joined the opposition.

In an interview with THE CITY last week, Kallos, who is on a temporary basis and will leave the council at the end of the year, said the blood center had rejected a number of options he had suggested. He claims that what the zoning agreement would give the center essentially boils down to a large subsidy, which he denigrated as “minting coins”.

He defended his stance, noting that he was not accepting campaign donations from real estate interests.

“Councilors all over New York City take money from developers,” he said. “The elected officials say, ‘I have concerns’.

Alderman Ben Kallos speaks on Roosevelt Island on June 2, 2021.

Alderman Ben Kallos
Emil Cohen / New York City Councilor

Council insiders say this stance has sparked a backlash in the council, which is considering the proposal despite Kallos’ opposition.

The blood center says it is having constructive discussions about possible compromises in order to gain approval. A hearing in the council is scheduled for the end of this month after the town planning commission approved the plan with 6-2 votes last month and passed it on to the council.

Winning approval will not be easy. In the eight years that de Blasio was mayor, not a single project was approved against the local member’s objection.

The scars remain in any case.

“The Blood Center’s actions show that they are not particularly interested in community issues,” said Elizabeth Rose, a member of the Stop the Tower coalition who serves on the local community board. “It’s quite disdainful of the community.”


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