Push to restore Stanton storehouse to community

Advocates gathered outside the Stanton park  building on July 6 during one of three recent workshops to brainstorm ideas for the building’s reuse.  Photo by Michael Ossorguine

Advocates gathered outside the Stanton park building on July 6 during one of three recent workshops to brainstorm ideas for the building’s reuse. Photo by Michael Ossorguine

BY MICHAEL OSSORGUINE | The park building at Stanton St. in Sara D. Roosevelt Park was promised as a public resource in 1998, but it is currently being used for Parks Department storage and parking. The Stanton Building Task Force and NYCommons project is campaigning to restore the building to community use, which could also include acting as a safe haven in “times of disruption,” such as Hurricane Sandy.

Last Wednesday, advocates gathered outside the Lower East Side structure for three hours to showcase the community’s many ideas for using it. Among those present were the Sara D. Roosevelt Park Coalition, the LUNGS Youth Program, Solarize LES, LES Ready, The New York Mechanical Gardens Bike Co-op, 596 Acres and several more community groups. Surveys were handed out by the S.D.R. Park Coalition to gage what local residents’ wishes are for the building.

“We have a community center that’s been sitting, filled with storage, unavailable to a community that has been under-resourced for many years,” said Wendy Brawer, founding director of Green Map System. “So, today, instead of introducing some things that community centers do, like art or handicrafts, we want people to start thinking about resiliency a little bit.”

Stephanie Suazo, community liaison for Assemblymember Alice Cancel, was also on hand.

“I think we should use this space for something productive for our community,” Suazo said. “It would be great to have more people involved.”

Councilmember Margaret Chin and Borough President Gale Brewer recently allocated $1 million to renovate the bathrooms of the Stanton building, which would help address complaints that the park is used as a toilet for the local homeless. However, NYCommons believes the timing is perfect to reactivate the whole building for public use.

NYCommons is a project of the Urban Justice Center, Common Cause New York and the Fund for Public Advocacy. A citywide coalition, it seeks to influence policy around how the city deals with its public assets, such as parks, libraries, community gardens and housing.

Ray, a member of the S.D.R. Park Coalition, remembers playing ping pong when the Stanton building was a rec center decades ago. But in the 1980s, the Parks Department took the structure over for its own uses. The NYCommons coalition aims to reclaim the coveted space for an environmentally friendly purpose.

“NYCommons is going to be a set of tools that helps New Yorkers get control of public real estate assets that are otherwise sitting unused or being sold to the private market,” Paula Z. Segal, of 596 Acres, explained.

Partnering with NYCommons, 596 Acres is a “community land-access advocacy organization” that has previously helped establish public gardens and various inclusive programs in pockets of space across the city, like abandoned lots or old park buildings similar to the Stanton building. The organization is currently researching 10 Parks Department structures in Community Board 3 as potential community spaces.

The Stanton Building Task Force and NYCommons will host a third workshop, on Wed., July 27, for activists willing to devote more time to the cause. The purpose of these meetings is to build up capacity for leadership and discuss how to achieve the coalition’s ends. The meetings are being held at 30 Delancey St. — another building in S.D.R. Park. The effort’s leaders hope that, by the end of the discussions, they will have formulated some sensible proposals for use of the Stanton building.

“We are trying to get a real feel for what is needed and wanted here,” Kathleen Webster, president of the S.D.R. Park Coalition, said.

The building is one of the few publicly owned structures on the Lower East Side located outside of a flood zone. The campaign agrees with LES Ready, a recovery group formed in response to Hurricane Sandy, that the Stanton space must also be available as a resource for those vulnerable to potential emergency situations.

As of now, the Parks Department has not expressed willingness to give up this storage facility. Yet activists believe their efforts are finally gaining some traction.

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