People About Our Cause!
condemnation really needed on Orchard St.?
unusual case presents itself in the proposed condemnation by New
York State of a Lower East Side tenement. The Tenement Museum,
at 97 Orchard St., alleges that renovation work at 99 Orchard
St. next door has undermined its building as well as caused
cracks in the museum's facade. On one inspection, the Department
of Buildings did find cracks pointed out by the museum, another
time D.O.B. found nothing.
Meanwhile, the Empire State Development Corporation is
advocating the condemnation of the building - a newly-renovated
tenement with 15 residential apartments and a Chinese restaurant
with a staff of 40, according to the owner - as part of its
effort to link the museum with two other important historic
sites: the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
However, at this point, it's a bit unclear who is really
spearheading the call for condemnation, since the Tenement
Museum and E.S.D.C. are each citing different reasons for it:
the museum seems to be focusing on the construction damage;
E.S.D.C. doesn't mention the construction damage in its report
but focuses instead on the museum's need to expand.
According to a source at Community Board 3, the Tenement Museum
was not particularly forthcoming about notifying the board of
its plan, resulting in the issue being scheduled on Board 3's
agenda too late, so that the E.S.D.C. hearing occurred the night
before the board's housing committee meeting. As a result, Board
3's input at the E.S.D.C. hearing was necessarily weakened. This
was the first blatant misstep in this process so far, and from
now on the debate should proceed with all efforts to increase
It is incumbent on the state to determine if this condemnation
and acquisition of the property at a price calculated at market
rate is, as is required, for the greater public good. Clearly,
the Tenement Museum is an extraordinary place and one of the
Lower East Side's and the nation's great resources. The museum
has researched scores of histories of immigrant families who
peopled 97 Orchard St., and has re-created authentic period
apartments. To go there is to step back in time.
But consider that the museum's gift store is a half block away
and across the street. Does the museum really need to expand
right next door? Is the museum's opening a facility in the Essex
St. Market's Building D two blocks away an option, as Board 3
has recommended? That would obviously be a great place for an
exhibit on pushcart vendors, since Mayor LaGuardia built the
market for them. Also, if reports are true that the museum is
trying to purchase 91 and 93 Orchard Sts., is it necessary to
take over 97 Orchard by condemnation?
At the same time, one wonders if the owners of 97 Orchard were
asking too high a price for the property when, knowing the
museum coveted it, they offered to sell it several years ago for
There are unanswered questions here, and the state and museum
must make efforts to assure they are playing fair. One simple
idea is that the state hire an independent, third-party
appraiser to determine 97 Orchard's fair-market value.
Condemnation shouldn't be taken lightly. More public vetting of
the issues is needed.