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City scraps plan for Rikers-replacing 40-story Manhattan jail

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The De Blasio administration cited difficulty in moving tenants in the building chosen as a replacement

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The De Blasio administration’s plan to replace Rikers Island with smaller, borough-based jails throughout the city has hit a snag: According to the New York Daily News, plans for a 40-story complex in lower Manhattan at 80 Centre Street have been scrapped. The city is now reportedly considering replacing the existing Manhattan Detention Complex, better known as the Tombs, which is located at 125 White Street.

In the months since the city announced its proposal to replace Rikers Island with four smaller, borough-based jails, pushback in the communities where those new facilities would be located has been intense. Community members in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan all protested the proposed locations for their jails, with many complaining that they felt shut out of the process.

At a town hall in September, residents of the neighborhoods near the proposed Manhattan site came out against the proposal. “The city has been clear they want shovels in the ground before Mayor de Blasio is out,” said Nancy Kong, the president of Chatham Towers, told Curbed at the time. “De Blasio forever wants to be known as the ‘mayor who closed Rikers,’ and he’s willing to trample over members of this community.”

It’s unclear how much this affected the city’s abandonment of its plans for 80 Centre Street, which called for constructing a 40-story tower that would also have held retail and public space at the building’s base. According to the Daily News, the city cited the difficulty in relocating the building’s current tenants, including the Manhattan marriage bureau, as its reason for nixing those plans.

City Council member Margaret Chin, in whose district the proposed complex lies, said that the city’s decision is “a sign that the community’s concerns and input about the future of this facility matter.”

“By focusing the conversation on this existing detention site, we can ensure that this facility remains near the courts, and Columbus Park will no longer be placed under the shadow of a proposed 40-story jail at 80 Centre Street,” Chin said in a statement. But, she said, “[t]here remains a great deal of work to be done to make sure that true community engagement is achieved.”

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer echoed those concerns in a statement. ““The administration needed to change course on the location for the new facility, but the core problem here was that City Hall wanted to announce its plan before engaging with the community on how to craft it,” she said. “I hope that in the coming weeks and months, City Hall will engage in a more bottom-up process that builds support in Chinatown and Lower Manhattan, makes people feel like they were actually heard, and improves the plan—instead of repeating the mistakes that got us here.”