Developer Meets on Fate of 35 Cooper

35 Cooper SQ.: The scrim of DeathTim Milk The developer of 35 Cooper Square met with preservationists this afternoon and listened to arguments for maintaining the historic site.

In a room filled with about 20 people at the Neighborhood Preservation Center, Arun Bhatia, the developer of 35 Cooper Square, mostly quietly sat and listened today to requests made by preservationists to keep the building standing.

At the meeting, which began at 4:30 p.m. and lasted an hour, Mr. Bhatia arrived with a team of four people, including his spokeswoman, Jane Crotty, his lawyer and historic preservation architect Richard Southwick. Also at the meeting were Andrew Berman of The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, David Mulkins of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, Kent Barwick of the Municipal Art Society of New York and a former Landmarks Preservation Commission chairman, Carolyn Ratcliffe of the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative, and representatives for City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez and State Senator Tom Duane.

“We appreciate they met with us and that we started a dialogue about exploring possibilities. We hope the conversation is going to continue,” said Mr. Berman. Asked what Mr. Bhatia said regarding demolition, Mr. Berman replied: “They didn’t give much detail in terms of exactly what their plans are at this point, which hopefully is a good thing that there are some possibilities. He was there to hear what we had to say. He heard it, and we’re going to wait and see what their response is.”

Kerri Culhane, an architectural historian who has meticulously documented the history of the building, said, “It was great that they came to meet, but this was just P.R. I am sure this building is going to be demolished. I got that from their responses, their reiterations, their glances, that this is just not feasible. I don’t think it’s impossible. From their standpoint, it’s improbable.”

“They‘re going to do what they’re going to do,” she said. “They’ve made the case that they’ve worked in historic districts, and that that site is so constrained they would not be able to in an economically feasible way develop the site. And they made the case that the building’s been stripped in the interior, and the building is of little value, in their estimation.”

Ms. Culhane said that she was not given a response when she asked Mr. Bhatia about whether they would honor preservationists’ request to cover the roof of the building, which is now exposed to the elements. “They gave each other knowing glances and didn’t comment,” she said.

“They said they’d be willing to document the history of the building, which is important,” she added.

35 Cooper SQ.: Destroyed RoofTim Milk The future of the site is still uncertain.

“They made no commitments, other than they would think about what we said,” Ms. Culhane said. “They were very smart. They did say the ideas were fairly unrealistic. I think that’s the only time that Arun Bhatia spoke, when he was talking about the setback requirements. That’s when he said when you constrain the site by preserving this building you end up with an impossibly small footprint on the upper stories, and that didn’t work for him, economically. He didn’t really make eye contact with anyone in the room.”

Mr. Barwick pointed out at the meeting that the Landmarks Preservation Commission has changed its mind in the past about buildings.

“They’re going to think about some of the things we said, and get back to us,” said Carolyn Ratcliffe of the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative. “We’re asking them to come up with a way to preserve the building and utilize the space in a way that would both help them and save the building. They said they have to look at the mass, and the numbers, and what options would be available to them. It was just left that they’ll consider what was discussed and get back to us. Hopefully we’ll be able to meet again and continue this discussion. It’s critical that we’re all concerned about the preservation of the building.”

Ms. Culhane said that at minimum, Mr. Bhatia now “carries the burden” of constructing something that will appease the community.

After the meeting, Mr. Bhatia declined to comment, but his spokeswoman, Ms. Crotty, said, “The meeting was pleasant and we wanted to hear what the community had to say and show respect for the process. We mentioned that Arun has built a building in a historic district and is sensitive to preservation. They asked us to save part of the building. We responded that this is a very small and difficult site. We told them that our team would discuss the request and get back to them.”