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Preservationists resurrect Union Square Tech Hub complaints

“This entire process is riddled with conflicts of interest,” a neighborhood advocate said

NYCEDC

Members of a Greenwich Village preservation group have voiced their concerns regarding a deal struck last year between developers and the de Blasio administration to build a tech training center in Union Square.

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) claims that there are conflict of interest issues with the tech hub at 124 East 14th Street, which they say came to light after receiving FOIA records about the deal, the New York Daily News first reported. The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) chose RAL Development Services to build the new tech hub, which will have retail, a home for the nonprofit technology organization Civic Hall, space for workforce development, and office space, among other features.

Community Board 3 approved a land use application for the 21-story commercial project a year ago, but some Greenwich Village residents—including GVSHP—were concerned at the time about a lack of zoning protections that they say could lead to overdevelopment in the area.

GVSHP requested notes and scoring sheets regarding the selection of RAL as the developer over other applicants, and received a response from EDC saying that there were “no responsive records,” the Daily News reported.

“There were no written records, no scoring system, no objective criteria whatsoever used for choosing this proposal over other proposals,” Andrew Berman, executive director of GVSHP, told Curbed. “The only thing that we know that distinguishes this from other proposals is that the developer was a generous donor to [Mayor de Blasio’s] fundraising arm, the Campaign for One New York.” RAL donated $10,000 to CONY in 2015.

“We’re incredibly pleased to move forward with a project enjoying enormous support and offering a multitude of benefits to the City and its workforce through the agreement with EDC,” a spokesperson for RAL Development Services said in a statement. “We have worked diligently with all stakeholders on a compelling proposal that went through a rigorous review process and was approved—we believe in the value of the Tech Hub for the City and we’re proud to build it.”

“GVSHP and Andrew Berman continue to surprise us with their creative attempts to slander the project and its process,” the RAL spokesperson added.

According to GVSHP’s research, RAL was the only one among the developers who submitted other plans for the site to request an upzoning “so that they could maximize the amount of commercial office space.”

Berman also noted that the previous tenant of the site, P.C. Richard and Sons, paid less in annual rent than the tech hub would initially pay. According to the Daily News, P.C. Richard and Sons paid $1.7 million a year in rent for a two-story building, while RAL would pay about $1.6 million annually for the first three years (and $2.3 million per year on the following five years) for the 21-story building.

“We still have no rational bases for the choice of this plan over the other plans that were submitted,” Berman added. “This entire process is riddled with conflicts of interest.”

“Following a public and competitive RFP process, EDC selected the proposal that committed to using city-owned land to provide affordable, valuable tools for our youth to succeed in the jobs of the future,” an EDC spokesperson said in a statement. “We’re proud that Community Board 3, the City Planning Commission, and City Council recognized the importance of this project, and voted unanimously for its approval.”