Members of Manhattan Community Board 8 gathered over Zoom Tuesday night to voice their concerns about a proposed 334-foot research tower that the New York Blood Center hopes will replace their current building on East 67th Street on the Upper East Side.
Plans for the new tower, known as “Center East,” emerged last October as part of Mayor Bill De Blasio’s intention to revamp New York’s public health sector as part of the city’s economic recovery. Center East’s detractors argue that the construction, located near a number of local schools, would distract students.
They also note that shadows from the tower would undermine neighboring St. Catherine’s Park’s utility as a playground for them.
Robert Purvis, New York Blood Center’s chief of staff and executive vice president, explained what he considered the tower’s value to the city and how they managed to accomplish getting the rights to build it along with the aid of Longfellow Real Estate Partners.
“There has not been a true hub of commercial life sciences,” he said. “The Blood Center and Longfellow will each own a condominium within the building. We have considered a capital campaign to raise money for the tower, but we have found it is not feasible.”
Michele Birnbaum, co-chair of the board’s Vendor Committee, insisted that it is not necessary for the New York Blood Center to have such a tower, citing their competition.
“There are plenty of places to donate blood. We want the blood center to be a good neighbor,” she said. “It’s not up to us to satisfy all their needs and those of Longfellow. There’s nothing in this proposal that benefits us and nothing that can’t be mitigated.”
Other board members expressed concern that the sound of the tower’s construction would be particularly overwhelming for autistic students with sensory difficulties.
Meanwhile, Paul Selver, co-chair of land use at Kramer Levin, downplayed these concerns, noting that zoning decisions can change over time.
“We’re all more productive when we work in person. … That’s why scientists like to get together on a regular basis at conventions, and why we chose to live in New York City,” said Selver. “There is nothing here that says zoning should not change.”
Also in attendance was City Council Member Ben Kallos, who grilled the Blood Center’s lack of transparency of the tower project.
“I’m so disappointed in the Blood Center for failing to answer our questions,” he said. “[Congresswoman] Carolyn Maloney opposes it, [state Senator] Liz Krueger opposes it, [Assemblywoman] Rebecca Seawright opposes it, and [City Council Member] Keith Powers and I oppose it.”