By Jim Fouratt
The Park at 7th Ave South and Greenwich Avenue that was to have been the AIDS Memorial Park across the Street from the blood condos built on the site of St Vincents Hospital by the Rudin family opened with little fanfare and is now called 76 Greenwich Avenue. How that name came to be tells a lot about the powerful machinations of the Rudin Family.
Here is the back story:
St. Vincent’s hospital had previously been granted a variance on height in a historical district because it was a hospital. For the luxury condos the Rudins wanted on the site, they wanted to build even higher than St. Vincent’s.
Bill Rudin went into action to get the additional height. He struck a deal behind the scenes with Christine Quinn, then the District’s City Council representative and the Speaker of the City Council. He would ask for more height than he actually wanted from the Community Board and Quinn’s protegee (now State Senator) Brad Hoylman, CB2 Chair, would push it through after reducing the height to what Rudin actually wanted. Hoylman could then claim to have stood up to the Rudin family. And Bill Rudin got what he wanted.
Quinn and Rudin’s lawyers told him that under the City’s land use rules, to gain the height he wanted, he’d have to donate the land across the street to the City’s Parks Department. He agreed and got the variance with Hoylman’s help. When word got out, a community group formed in support of naming it the AIDS Memorial Park, commemorating the thousands of New York City residents who died of AIDS, many at St Vincent’s.
The group, along with hundreds of supporters, asked the Community Board to name it the AIDS Memorial Park. They presented plans that included using the operating rooms that ran under 7th Avenue and into the triangle land for an AIDS library and education center first to the CB2 Parks subcommittee.
That night I heard objections and/or questions to the proposal from a few CB2 members after the public comments finished. As I recall, Marilyn Dorato—head of the Neighborhood Block Associations—objected strongly because she wanted another playground. I heard the committee discuss the 12th Street Block association’s concern for tourist buses coming to the AIDS Memorial (Please, if only).
It was Brad Hoylman who knew in advance what the AMPC would be proposing. He had met with them. (Note his day job was as a highly paid attorney for the nonprofit Partnership for New York City run by and paid for by the real estate industry. Bill Rudin was the chair. This has been erased from Brad’s employment record, but I am told he made over $500,000 a year. Nice work if you can get it…even if it might put you in conflict of interest politically). Since Hoylman was chair of the CB2 St Vincent’s Omnibus committee, I suspect strongly that he discussed the AMPC proposal with Rudin. There was nothing that prohibited him from doing so, and the disgraced then-CB2-Chair Jo Hamilton was seen publicly lunching regularly with Rudin PR reps as they lobbied her It was Hoylman who said during the CB2 sub-committee meeting, in response to Dorato’s objection, “There will be no underground library.”
The Rudin family initially seemed to agree to the idea of the AIDS Memorial Park, but, as explained above, opposed any use of the underground space. The AIDS Memorial group then held a monument design competition and picked a design to place in the park. Activists and community residents expected the family to turn over the land as soon as demolition of the hospital began. They expected the Parks Department to be in charge and open to community involvement the discussion of the use and design of the park.
But that is not what happened.
The Rudins did not turn over the land and still have not turned over the land. They will. Putting it off allowed them to control the design of the park, with almost no community input—save for a couple of design hearings at a sub-committee of CB2, where the community even there was critical about the generic park design.
They quietly opened the park to the public on August 21, 2015.
I learned from an insider at City Hall that Rudin had rejected naming the park The AIDS Memorial Park. Instead, adding insult to injury, he planned to call it The St Vincent’s Park. The same people who tore down a hospital to build luxury condos would now name a park to commemorate their destruction of that hospital.
When word got out in the few days before the planned opening people who had advocated for and thought Rudin had agreed to name it the Aids Memorial Park, heard of the change in park name, were very upset. Since the Parks Commissioner is in charge of naming parks they were able to block the naming of the Park the day before it was scheduled to open.
Signage was quickly changed and the park is now named 78 Greenwich Avenue on signage in the name of the co-op owners LCC
That is not the end of the secret deals. Quinn had also worked out a deal aided by staff member Wayne Kawadler (who now works at the Lenox Hill Health Care Center in a job Quinn got for him) to help put even more money in Bill Rudin’s pocket.
A Quinn supporter active in the AIDS activist movement revealed to me the following: the Rudins were not donating the land to fulfill their height variance, but were to receive, per the deal Quinn negotiated behind the scenes, a payment of $3 million dollars and the additional height variance.
That’s right—the City would have to pay the billionaire real estate family $3,000,000 of taxpayers money.
This $3 million dollars is on top of the billion dollars from the sale of the apartments and the hundreds of thousands of dollars in yearly commercial rental income. Apparently only Hoylman knew. But no one else, that I am aware, on the Community Board or in public knew.
There are also rumors that the AIDS Memorial Park committee will be forced to pay $500,000 dollars upon the actual turning over of the land—though this rumor could not be confirmed by press time.
Rudin did agreed to pay a yearly maintenance fee of $250,000 to the Park’s Department for, I believe, twenty years although others said in perpetuity. Rudin spokespeople did not respond to query.
So once again we see the Rudin family is doing exactly what they wanted to do with no need to accommodate the public.
Remember they refused to address the demand for affordable housing. They kept the land when that should have turned it over to the Park’s Department when they started building.
That way Rudin completely controlled the design of the park. If he had donated to the Park’s Department as the public and the activists expected, Rudin would have lost complete control of the design and name of the park.
Some community residents and former employees advocated for a plaque on the condos buildings that commemorated the hospital that had served this community regardless of a person in need’s economic status for over one-hundred and fifty years.
Instead there is a hard-to-read commemorative insert in the ground at the entrances to the park —that people will walk over as they enter.
By refusing to name the park the AIDS Memorial Park, the Rudin family deprived the families, loved ones and friends of the thousands of people, mostly gay men, who died of AIDS in NYC.
Talk on the street is that the Rudins should refuse the $3.000.000 payment. They should continue to fund the maintenance for twenty years, and the AIDS Memorial Park committee should not be forced to pay anything.
The silence of the other elected officials from the district including Glick, Nadler and Hoylman and the community Board chair is noted.
Christine Quinn needs to take responsibility for her betrayal of the AIDS Memorial Park dream and her complicity in helping the Rudin family in finding the loopholes they used.
(cc Jim Fouratt)
A Footnote About Aids Memorial Park
By Arthur Schwartz
Jim Fouratt tells some interesting stories, and even if everything he heard is true, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. The behind the scenes politics which led to St. Vincent’s being closed are a sad chapter in Village politics. Despite public meetings and rallies, no one stood in the way of the closure, and lots of political help was given to the Rudin family to maximize the potential profitability of their about-to-open Village Mews.
Former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was looking for support from the real estate community in her run for Mayor, and wanted to show she could get the deal done with little blowback. The AIDs Memorial Park was a palliative designed to shut up part of the Community. And when Quinn needed something to keep Debra Glick off the case (not that she had much impact on the Mayor or the State Health Commissioner, who collaborated to make sure St Vincent’s closed) she coupled the approval of the Rudin’s Land Use Plan with a City Council Resolution—agreeing to purchase the NY State owned building on Morton Street to create a new middle school. This gave Debra something to claim that she “got” for the community.
In the end then CB2 Chair Brad Hoylman was lined up by Quinn and Glick to get a long resolution through CB2 which focused on “affordable housing” (there ain’t none at Village Mews). When I proposed a sentence stating that CB2 still would prefer to have a hospital on the site, I lost 48-1. I was the only “no” vote on the resolution.