Stephen G. Kliegerman
President of Development Marketing
By ELIZABETH A. HARRIS
REINVENTING buildings to meet New York City’s changing needs is an important part of fitting millions of people into tight spaces, while hanging on to a bit of the city’s character. Many New Yorkers live in converted carriage houses or in factories transformed into lofts, for instance. Soon, some will be able to call a former public school home. L+M Development Partners is taking a classroom-packed 1906 building in Harlem and making it into a mix of market-rate and moderate-income apartments.
The building, the former Public School 90, on 148th Street between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevards, has been abandoned since 1978. The fiscal crisis of the 1970s shuttered many New York City public schools; P.S. 90 was done in by low enrollment.
The ensuing 30 years of neglect have left leaks in the roof, holes in the floor and a pressing need for costly repairs.
As for restoring the structure for use as a public school, “the expense to rehab it wasn’t justified,” said Holly Leicht, the deputy commissioner for development at the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
So instead the city turned the site over to L+M, which has been around since 1984 and has built and redeveloped buildings all along that block.
“It was a huge remediation, with millions of dollars of asbestos removal,” said Ron Moelis, chairman of L+M. But the expense, he added, seemed worth it for the sake of a distinctive historic structure. “We thought it was a pretty cool-looking building.”
The school, H-shaped with a limestone, terra-cotta and brick facade, was designed by Charles B. J. Snyder, who produced many noteworthy structures during his tenure as the chief architect for city school buildings from 1891 to the early 1920s.
The footprints of classrooms at P.S. 90 have been torn out to make room for studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments (there is also a single three-bedroom). The finished project will have a gym and an art room for residents, and a space in the cavernous 26,000-square-foot basement has been set aside for a community center. The rest of the building covers more than 100,000 square feet in six stories.
“I think we made the right decision,” Mr. Moelis said. “Rather than having another new brick building, we have this unusual one.”
Halstead Property, the marketing agent, has priced the 54 market-rate units at $450,000 to $899,000. Twenty other apartments, costing $204,000 to $365,000, will be sold to families with incomes of $57,000 to $134,710. These units will be outfitted with less expensive appliances and finishes than the market-rate neighbors, which will each have a Bosch washer and dryer. The remaining apartment will be for the building’s superintendent.
In exchange for including affordable housing in the project, L+M was able to buy the building from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development for $1.
According to Ms. Leicht, the department once had a huge inventory of property to offer for redevelopment. After a rash of foreclosures and disinvestment in the 1970s, she said, the department owned 60 percent of the buildings in Harlem. The P.S. 90 conversion, she added, was “typical of deals we were able to do when the market was strong.”
Though the market has weakened significantly in the last year, forcing L+M to price the apartments much lower than it had expected, Mr. Moelis says that the firm had room in the financing to do so. “We didn’t go underwriting crazy,” he said. “The market was getting tighter and we were pretty conservative. That was spring of ’08.”
The project will cost about $40 million, and the first units, which became available for sale last month, should be ready for occupancy in 2010.
The building still looks much like a school from the street. And a gargoyle still glares from the roof, taunting pedestrians below by sticking out its tongue — this was an elementary school, after all.
Friday, October 09, 2009