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Chinatown residents come out against 40-story Rikers-replacing jail

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Hundreds of residents railed against the city’s plans at a town hall-style meeting on Wednesday night

The existing structure at 80 Center Street
Via Google Maps.

In a raucous meeting where city officials were often unable to complete a sentence, over a hundred Chinatown residents expressed their vehement opposition to plopping a 40-story jail in their neighborhood as part of the city’s plan to shutdown the Rikers Island prison over the next 10 years.

Less than a month after Chinatown residents learned that another jail was headed their way (two already exist in the neighborhood), local City Council member Margaret Chin called on the Mayor’s office to hold an information session to inform residents of what was to come. That resulted in a town hall meeting held at P.S. 124 on Wednesday night.

Local residents held up a variety of signs in opposition to the development, “Save Foley Square,” and “Mayor gives Rikers to realtors,” were among them. The residents Curbed spoke with at the meeting all concurred: they weren’t opposed to prison reform, they just didn’t like the idea of the city bringing a 40-story jail to their neighborhood without much notice or discussion.

As plans stand right now, the city wants to replace the nine-story government building at 80 Center Street with a 40-story prison, which would also have retail and public space at the base of the building. At present, Manhattan’s detention facilities are located at 124 and 125 White Street. Detainees housed in these buildings would be moved to the new facility at 80 Center Street, and the government services that currently operate out of 80 Center, like the marriage bureau will be moved to one of the two detention buildings. The other will be left open for development into some type of public-use space whether it be community centers or affordable housing.

A rendering of the proposed new jail at 80 Center Street.
Via NYC Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice

While the city has discussed its plans with community stakeholders in the past, including a community board meeting last week, this was the first major public forum at which local residents could voice their concerns and questions about the overall development—a point of frustration for many residents who said they needed more time to review the city’s 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, a 240-unit residential complex that’s located across from the proposed site of the prison. “De Blasio forever wants to be known as the ‘mayor who closed Rikers,’ and he’s willing to trample over members of this community.”

Many residents expressed concerns that the city was rushing through the process; some asked about the impact of the dust and debris from demolition work on the existing building and what it would mean for the community and its open space.

“Closing Rikers is a laudable goal,” said Nicholas Stabile, a board member at Chatham Green, a 420-unit co-op development in the neighborhood. “But the process employed by the Mayor’s office to achieve this goal focuses on only half the equation—the people inside the jail. It ignores the other half of the equation—the people in the surrounding community.”

Others still wondered about the fate of Rikers Island once the prison was shut down. Kong expressed concerns that the city would give Rikers Island to developers for large-scale development similar to Roosevelt Island, all at the expense of residents in the boroughs.

In the coming weeks, the city plans to hold meetings in each of the four boroughs set to receive new or expanded prisons as part of the plan to shut down Rikers. These meetings are being held as part of a City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR). After these meetings, the city will issue a Final Scope of Work—this document will be the basis for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), which will study the environmental impact of these projects on the surrounding areas. It’s after the issuance of this statement that the city will enter into the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).

So, the public still does have a significant amount of time to comment, but many residents complained that the work was presented to them as a done deal, instead of an ongoing discussion. Margaret Chin, the local City Council member, assured those present at Wednesday night’s meeting, that that wasn’t the case.

“This is the beginning of a long process—the result of which is far from certain,” said Chin, in a statement issued to Curbed. “This is not a done deal. The community’s concerns need to be taken into account in any proposal to move the current detention complex to 80 Centre St.”

Here is a schedule of the upcoming meetings, and their locations:

Borough of Brooklyn, September 20, 2018, 6:00 PM

P.S. 133 William A. Butler School

610 Baltic Street, Brooklyn, NY 11217

Borough of Queens, September 26, 2018, 6:00 PM

Queens Borough Hall

120-55 Queens Boulevard, Kew Gardens, NY 11424

Borough of Manhattan, September 27, 2018, 6:00 PM

Manhattan Municipal Building

1 Centre Street, New York, NY 10007

Borough of Bronx, October 3, 2018, 6:00 PM

Bronx County Courthouse

851 Grand Concourse, Bronx, NY 10451

Rikers Island Correctional Facility

1500 Hazen St, East Elmhurst, NY 11370 (212) 266-1500 Visit Website