Another Greystone proposal won’t stop wrecking ball, state says

A Long Island realty company has proposed converting the historic Kirkbride building on the old Greystone psychiatric grounds into 550 luxury apartments, with some retail facilities and a public park or school.

Alma Realty’s $140 million proposed project is at least the seventh redevelopment plan pitched for the site on the Parsippany/Morris Plains border. But the state’s response is the same:

No thanks.

DATE WITH THE WRECKING BALL? Activists are trying to save the historic Greystone psychiatric hospital from demolition in early 2014. Photo courtesy of Preserve Greystone

 Activists are trying to save the historic Greystone psychiatric hospital from demolition in early 2014. Photo courtesy of Preserve Greystone

“The Kirkbride building no longer serves a public purpose and, unfortunately, the structure’s massive size, advanced deterioration, and challenging configuration present unique obstacles to an economically viable historic redevelopment,” state Treasury Department spokesman  Chris Santarelli said in a statement.

“We share the disappointment of many that the State will lose a remarkable building that has fallen into serious disrepair because of decades of neglect,” he said, noting that bids are being solicited for an environmental cleanup and demolition so 190 Greystone acres can be transformed into parkland and open space “for the public to enjoy as soon as possible.”

In addition to saving the state $50 million in demolition-related costs, Alma Realty’s proposal would “create a substantial tax ratable for the appropriate municipalities,” according to Vincent Nuzzi, a Dover-based attorney representing the company.

Headquartered in Long Island City, Alma Realty employs 300 people who specialize in re-purposing derelict or abandoned historical structures.

Some 700 buildings in the tri-state area have been rehabilitated since the company’s founding in 1986, according to the company, which is headed by Efstathios “Steve” Valiotis, a furniture maker who emigrated from Greece.  The company said it finances many of its projects.

“This puts the lie to Treasury’s claims that they have exhausted the possibilities for re-using this public heirloom,” John Heubner, president of the nonprofit Preserve Greystone, said in a statement.

“The developer has the money and the requisite experience. It’s clear that they are willing to work with the local community to address any concerns. So what’s the problem? Shouldn’t the State be talking to them?” Huebner said.

PARKING LOTS, LOFTS AND TOWERS

Alma Realty is converting a former psychiatric hospital in Belleville into residential units. Prior projects include the $75 million conversion of Brooklyn’s Interfaith Hospital into condos and retail space, the $60 million Center City conversion of Paterson parking lots into a mixed-use development, and the $14 million conversion of the former Luckey Platt department store in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

The company also converted a former Brooks Brothers factory in Queens, N.Y., into the City View Plaza office building. Factories in Brooklyn were turned into the Taffee Place Lofts. Alma Realty now is involved in construction of Vordonia Towers, a pair of 22-story luxury condos in Queens.

When Greystone Park opened in 1876, the 675,000-square-foot Kirkbride Building was the centerpiece of an operation that epitomized progressive care for the mentally ill. Generations of patients, including famed folksinger Woody Guthrie, passed through the ornate Second Empire Victorian structure before it closed in 2008.

“Although the existing building does not easily lend itself to other uses, the residential component of the building will help foster a demand for retail, commercial and recreational facilities for the general public,” Alma Realty said in its Kirkbride proposal.

The company pledged to observe all historic preservation guidelines, pursue grant money, and work closely with area officials to ensure that “architecturally historic features are restored and remain intact.”

LUXURY UNITS, OLYMPIC POOL AND PARK?

The proposed mix would include 225 one-bedroom apartments and 165 two-bedroom apartments at market rates.

Ancillary uses might be a grocery store, daycare, fitness center, dry cleaning service and restaurant.  Alma Realty envisions knocking down the Abel Dormitory, the fire house and other buildings to clear space for a park with open space and sports/training facilities to include an Olympic-sized pool.

Alternately, a school could be constructed on the grounds.

The developer would seek state tax credit legislation to qualify the project for historic preservation subsidies, along with tax abatements for the estimated 30-month construction period and fixed payments-in-lieu of property taxes.

In return, the company would pay for the cleanup and restoration of Kirkbride, contribute up to $10 million toward the new park or school and help fund new roadways through the property.

“Beyond the Kirkbride building and public facilities, the remaining land has the potential for further development ranging from athletic fields to condominium townhouses to a retail and hotel/conference center,” the proposal states.

‘RESPONSIBLE MANAGEMENT’ OR ‘DISGRACE’?

A consultant’s report last year estimated it would cost between $110 million and $125 million to renovate the Kirkbride Building; redevelopment plans floated at the time would lose millions, the report predicted.

Presently, plan call for 160 acres to be handed over to Morris County for open space after a cleanup of asbestos, lead and other hazardous materials and demolition of the structure.

Chris Santarelli, the Treasury spokesman, acknowledged Greystone’s historic role in the mental health field, and the passion of advocates striving to preserve Kirkbride. State officials have spoken with Preserve Greystone members, among other stakeholders, multiple times, he said.

“After over a year of extensive study, and in consideration of responsible management of State resources, the Department of Treasury has issued a Request for Proposal to qualify construction firms for the demolition and remediation of Greystone Hospital, including the Kirkbride Building.”

“The State claims it has no money for its obligations, but they have money for this?” John Heubner said.

“Fifty million dollars to destroy an historically significant local icon, just to make way for the Central Park of Morris County? Senator [Joseph] Pennachio calls the State’s Greystone demolition plan a coup for Morris County. I call it a disgrace. It’s an obscene waste of taxpayer money and property, and totally unnecessary,” he said.

The deadline for demolition bids is July 7, 2014, according to Preserve Greystone.

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