Thursday, November 27, 2014

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The Bronx, Then & Now: Old Courthouse Remains Empty Despite Sale

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NY1 continues its celebration of The Bronx, Then & Now with a visit to a courthouse that has been a problem for decades. Borough reporter Dean Meminger filed the following report.

In the 90's there were plenty of battles over the old Bronx courthouse on Third Avenue. Residents wanted to use it for a school or community center, but it never happened.

Fast-forward to 2007: besides a good steam cleaning, nothing has changed. The building is still empty.

“It has been very painful, because there were so many dreams, so many dreams that we hoped to make reality by having that building become public domain,” says Anna Vincenty of Nos Quedamos.

In 1996 the Bronx group Nos Quedamos, which means “We Stay,” tried to buy the building in a city auction, but they were out bid. The person who won the bid didn't pay the $130,000, so the city auctioned it off again in 1998 for $300,000 to a private company, but the building remains closed.

"I wish we had control as a city of the site again,” says Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion. “It is in private hands, so we have to work with the energy of the private marketplace to make it happen. It is frustrating that after so many years to see the courthouse is still not used."

The courthouse a majestic French design was completed in 1915. Back then it cost a whopping $2 million to construct.

Some call it the Gray Lady because of a Justice statue at the front. After the borough's new courthouses were built, it was vacated in 1978 under Mayor Ed Koch and Borough President Stanley Simon.

An old rent sign still hangs on the property.

Reverend Timothy Birkett is hoping to be the first tenant, opening a charter school.

"Imagine Schools is in partnership with Urban Youth Alliance and they have over 40 charter school throughout the United States, and so they are experts in this area,” says Birkett. “They are going to provide the educational component that has been tried and proven."

The owner of the courthouse has been in discussions with Urban Youth Alliance about leasing the building, and the Department of Education is reviewing the group's Charter School application.

The reverend says another reason the courthouse would be a perfect place for a charter school, is that city has already announced a college is being built in the lot right behind the courthouse.

Local business owners who spoke with NY1 say like the plan.

"It’s something good for the community. That’s what we need: more schools and education," says Delicioso Coco Helado owner Alfredo Thiebaud.

However, it will take tens of millions of dollars to turn the courthouse into a school, which has stopped development of the building in the past.

Area residents hope that won’t happen this time.

— Dean Meminger
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