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Stuyvesant Town

 

Stuyvesant Town

Coordinates: 40°43′54″N 73°58′40″W / 40.73167°N 73.97778°W / 40.73167; -73.97778

Stuyvesant Town as seen from First Avenue, looking uptown (north-northeast) (2006)
Peter Cooper Village as seen from Stuyvesant Cove Park on the East River; the FDR Drive is in the foreground


Stuyvesant Town–Peter Cooper Village is a large private residential development on the East Side of the borough of Manhattan in New York City, and one of the most iconic and successful post-World War II private housing communities. Stuyvesant Town, known to its residents as "Stuy Town",[1] was named after Peter Stuyvesant, the last director-general of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, whose farm occupied the site in the 17th century. Peter Cooper Village is named after the 19th century industrialist, inventor and philanthropist Peter Cooper, who founded Cooper Union. The complex, which was planned beginning in 1942 and opened its first building in 1947, replaced the Gas House district of gas storage tanks.

The complex is a sprawling collection of red brick apartment buildings stretching from First Avenue to Avenue C, between 14th and 23rd Streets. It covers about 80 acres (320,000 m2) of land, a portion of which is utilized for playgrounds and parkland. The development located between 14th and 20th Streets, Stuyvesant Town, has 8,757 apartments in 35 residential buildings and with its sister development, Peter Cooper Village – located between 20th and 23rd Streets – the complex has a combined 56 residential buildings,[2] 11,250 apartments, and over 25,000 residents.

The combined development is bordered by the East River/Avenue C on the east, the Gramercy Park neighborhood on the west, the East Village and Alphabet City to the south, and Kips Bay to the north. The surrounding area to the west is notable for historic Stuyvesant Square, a two-block park surrounded by the old Stuyvesant High School, Saint George's Church, and the Beth Israel Medical Center.

History


By the late 19th century, the site of the complex had become known as the Gas House district[3] because of the many huge gas storage tanks that dominated the streetscapes. The tanks, which sometimes leaked, made the area undesirable, as did the Gas House Gang and other predators who operated in the area. With the construction of the East River Drive, now the "FDR Drive", the area began to improve. By the 1930s, all but four tanks were gone and, while shabby, the area was no more blighted than many parts of the city after the years of the Great Depression.

Before the construction of Stuyvesant Town, the neighborhood contained 18 city blocks, with public schools, churches, factories, private homes, apartments, small businesses and even relatively new modern-style apartment buildings. In all, 600 buildings, containing 3,100 families, 500 stores and small factories, three churches, three schools, and two theaters, were razed. As would be repeated in later urban renewal projects, some 11,000 persons were forced to move from the neighborhood. In 1945, The New York Times called the move from the site "the greatest and most significant mass movement of families in New York's history."[4] The last residents of the Gas House district, the Delman family, moved out in May 1946, allowing demolition to be completed shortly thereafter.[5]

Due to a housing crisis that had been growing since the Depression, Stuyvesant Town was already being planned as a post-war housing project in 1942–43, some years before the end of World War II. A provision was made that the rental applications of veterans would have selection priority.[6] The complex was developed by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, and was based on its earlier development in The Bronx, Parkchester, which was completed in 1942. The same companies and developers also built Riverton, which was completed around the same time.

Metropolitan Life president Frederick Ecker said of Stuyvesant Town in its initial offering that it would make it possible for generations of New Yorkers "to live in a park – to live in the country in the heart of New York."[7] On the first day the company received 7,000 applications; it would receive 100,000 applicants by the time of first occupancy. The complex's first tenants, two World War II veterans and their families, moved into the first completed building on August 1, 1947.[8] In 1947, rents ranged from $50 to $91 per month. Current rents range from $2,800+ for a one bedroom apartment to $7,000+ for a 5 bedroom unit.[9]

Controversy


Stuyvesant Town was controversial from the beginning. Although nominally a private development, it was championed by Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, who has been called the "dominant force in [the] creation" of both Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village.[10] At the behest of Mayor LaGuardia, Moses sought "to induce insurance companies and savings banks to enter the field of large-scale slum clearance."[11] It was enabled by various state laws and amendments which permitted private companies to enter what was previously a public field of action.[12]

The new public-private partnership, and the contract entered between the city and the developer, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, were the source of much debate. Among the issues at stake were use of the power of eminent domain for private purposes; the reversion of public streets and land, such as public school property, to private ownership; the 25-year tax exemption granted by the contract; and the rights of the company to discriminate in selecting tenants.

When the $50 million Stuyvesant Town plan was approved by the City Planning Commission on May 20, 1943 by a five to one vote, discrimination against African-Americans was already a significant topic of debate. Councilmen Stanley M. Isaacs and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. sought to introduce a provision into the contract that would prevent racial or religious discrimination in tenant selection. This provision was not accepted, with those rejecting it, including Robert Moses, arguing that the company's profitability would be harmed and that opponents were "obviously looking for a political issue and not for results in the form of actual slum clearance."[13] In the years after it opened, blacks were barred from living in the complex, with Metropolitan Life's president, Frederick H. Ecker, stating that "Negroes and whites do not mix."[14] Lee Lorch, a City College of New York professor, petitioned to allow African Americans into the development and was fired from his teaching position as a result of pressure from Metropolitan Life. Upon accepting a position at Pennsylvania State University, Lorch allowed a black family to occupy his apartment, thus circumventing the no Negroes rule.[15] As a result of pressure from Metropolitan Life, he was dismissed from his new position as well.[16][17]

Lawsuits were filed on the basis that the project was public or semi-public, and thus violated anti-discrimination laws for New York City public housing. In July 1947, the New York Supreme Court determined that the development was private and that, in the absence of laws to the contrary, the company could discriminate as it saw fit. The court wrote, "It is well settled that the landlord of a private apartment or dwelling house may, without violating any provision of the Federal or State Constitutions, select tenants of its own choice because of race, color, creed or religion... Clearly, housing accommodation is not a recognized civil right."[18] The suit brought by three African American war veterans was thus settled.

By this date, Metropolitan Life was building a separate-but-equal housing project in Harlem, Riverton Houses. Some years later, the company admitted a few black families to Stuyvesant Town and a few white families to Riverton. Both projects, however, remain largely segregated.

A host of other issues and controversies surrounded Stuyvesant Town's planning and design. From the first debates in 1943, objections were made to the haste with which the project was approved and lack of public participation in the process; the project's population density; the absence of any public facilities such as schools, community centers, or shops in the development; the gated-community, private property character of the complex and the denial of city residents of the right to walk through a part of the city that was once public; and violations of the city's master plan. Lawsuits were brought by property owners of the land, but in February 1944 the Supreme Court of the United States refused to review the constitutionality of the New York State law that enabled the development, despite the taking of public property for private profit, the granting of tax exemptions, and the public benefits advanced by the developers and their advocates.


2006 sale

On October 17, 2006, MetLife agreed to sell Stuyvesant Town–Peter Cooper Village to Tishman Speyer Properties and the real estate arm of BlackRock for $5.4 billion. The sale was expected to close by November 15, 2006, according to documents which CB Richard Ellis, a commercial real estate broker representing Met Life, sent to bidders. MetLife hired a broker, who started registering bidders, and intended to name a winner by November 2006. The sale had drawn interest from dozens of prospective buyers, including New York's top real estate families, pension funds, international investment banks and investors from Dubai, according to the New York Times, citing real estate executives.[19]

New York City Council member Daniel Garodnick, a lifelong resident of Peter Cooper Village, attempted to organize tenants and investors to place a buyout bid on the complex. Initially, MetLife deemed the tenants group an unqualified bidder, but, after being pressured by elected officials, the company reversed itself, and distributed bid books to the tenant group; bids were to have been submitted by October 5, 2006.[20] Both the tenants' bid and one by Apollo Group fell short of Tishman Speyer's offer, though the latter came within $100 million of Speyer's $5.4 billion.[21]

On January 22, 2007, a class action lawsuit was filed against MetLife, Tishman Speyer Properties and their associates on behalf of the market rate tenants of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. The suit claimed that MetLife was improperly charging tenants "market rate" rents while at the same time receiving real estate tax benefits from the City of New York under the J-51 program, which requires property owners to maintain apartments as rent stabilized during the period in which they are receiving benefits. The lawsuit asked for a monetary award of between $215 million and $320 million in rent overcharges and damages. Furthermore, it called for the market rate apartments to revert to rent stabilization until the expiration of the J-51 benefit period, sometime after 2017.

2010 default

In January 2010, Tishman Speyer Properties defaulted on the mortgage. It was the largest commercial mortgage default in U.S. history. On January 24, 2010, Tishman Speyer Properties gave up control of the properties by handing the complex to creditors, thereby avoiding a bankruptcy of the site.[22] The default was predicted many months in advance; Fitch ratings downgraded the associated CMBS in August 2009.[23] As of January 2010, the complex was estimated to be worth around $1.9 billion or less than 40 percent of the $5.4 billion the property was purchased for in 2006.[24] While the legal battle over rent stabilization played a small role in the demise, it is likely Tishman Speyer would have defaulted even had it won the case. The assumptions underlying the $5.4 billion 2006 valuation were extremely aggressive; the valuation assumed that the income from the properties would triple by 2011.[25]

Security

The complex has its own public safety force, most of whom are sworn peace officers. While they are not permitted to carry firearms, they do carry batons, pepper spray, and handcuffs. As peace officers, they have full law enforcement powers, and they patrol the property in specialized vehicles.[26]

As of late March 2009, security cameras were installed and activated in all Stuyvesant Town buildings. In addition, sensors were installed on the roof doors to prevent unauthorized access. The requirement of photo ID card-keys was introduced in 2008. The parking garages along Avenue C, 20th Street, and 14th Street also implemented a key-card access system and installed security cameras.


Town & Village newspaper

The community has its own newspaper, Town & Village, also known as "the T&V". It was first published in 1947 and has been published every week since, covering news in Stuyvesant Town, Peter Cooper Village, Waterside Plaza, and Gramercy Park. The paper was founded by Charles G. Hagedorn and as of the late 2000s (decade) is published by Hagedorn Communications. Town & Village is independent and not affiliated with the ownership of the complex.

Notable residents

See also

References

Notes
Further reading
  • by Corinne Demas. State University of New York Press, 2000.

External links

  • Official Site for Peter Cooper Village-Stuyvesant Town
  • Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village timeline of sale
  • MetLife: making money at the government's expense?
  • MetLife May Sell Stuyvesant Town
  • Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association
  • Stuy Town's LUX LIVING – Stuyvesant Town's Watchdog Blog
  • The Stuyvesant Town Report Blog
  • "MetLife sells NYC apartment complex for $5.4 billion"
  • Photos of Stuyvesant Town
  • Video: ST/PCV is the largest commercial real estate default in US history


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