Passions run just as high in Williamsburg with this project, a longtime community effort to build affordable housing and health care facilities on the site of the former hospital. The hospital, which shut its doors for good in 1982, now houses a homeless shelter run by the city.
The redevelopment plan for the site, proposed by the Greenpoint Renaissance Enterprise Corporation (GREC), a coalition of community groups that includes the St. Nicks Alliance, is one of several being reviewed by the city. A decision is expected in the coming months.
While it waits, the group can boast of one recent vote of confidence in its proposal: last month the Von Damm Family Foundation donated $500,000 to the St. Nick's Alliance for the GREC plan.
“To us [the donation] represents the community's input and the community's faith in the project,” said Frank Lang, St. Nick's housing director. The Von Damm family has roots in Williamsburg tracing to the mid-1800's.
GREC has also received support in the past from Community Board 1, and dozens of local organizations who want to see the vacant land in front of the hospital redeveloped. Now people involved with the project say the donation is yet another sign the city should turn the site over to the community.
“This community will never be the same if this project doesn't happen,” said Diane Jackson, a member of GREC and the president of Cooper Park Houses. “It's a major project that the community really wants.”
The GREC plan would build a 90-unit senior housing facility and an 175-unit, mixed-income residential building on the hospital campus. The new buildings would go up in front of the hospital in a parking lot and yard that face Maspeth Avenue.
The hospital campus itself - which includes eight buildings successfully redeveloped into low and moderate-income housing by St. Nick's Alliance and the group Neighborhood Women of Greenpoint/Williamsburg - is bounded by Jackson Street and Maspeth Avenue to the north and south, and Debevoise Street and Kingsland Avenue to east and west.
GREC would also create a senior health care facility, complete with a program of all-inclusive care for the elderly, and some senior units in an empty nurses residence building on the site.
Tish Cianciotta, a Community Board 1 and GREC member who has advocated for the plan for years, said the community coalition deserves a shot at redeveloping the site. “We feel that we should get it,” Cianciotta said. “We've been involved with this for” a long time.
If GREC isn't chosen, said Jan Peterson, the president of Neighborhood Women, residents of North Brooklyn already upset with the city approving the Broadway Triangle rezoning would grow angrier still.
“If the [community's] project does not happen,” said Jackson, “we're going back to the 60's. We're gonna take it back to the streets.”