May 12, 2022 By Michael Dorgan
An activist group that wants to keep a city-owned industrial building on Vernon Boulevard in public hands is holding a rally Saturday.
The Western Queens Community Land Trust, a non-profit group that aims to promote deeply affordable housing and low-cost commercial space, is holding the event as it looks to ensure that the Dept. of Education building located at 44-36 Vernon Blvd. is not sold off to private developers.
The group will be releasing plans Saturday outlining what can be done with the 650,000 square foot building.
The six-story building sits on public land that had been promised to Amazon when it announced plans in 2018 to build a sprawling campus at the Anable Basin inlet. The organization wants to make sure that the city doesn’t hand over the site to other corporations.
The event is scheduled for noon in front of the DOE building. Queens councilmembers Tiffany Cabán, Julie Won and Shekar Krishnan are scheduled to attend, organizers said.
The nonprofit wants to convert the site into a community land trust, which would involve the WQCLT managing the property with the primary goal of providing deeply affordable community space. The plans do not contain affordable housing units.
The organization will be presenting a feasibility study Saturday that outlines how the building could be repurposed as a CLT. The plans include concepts such as setting aside space for small and startup businesses, as well as space for artist studios, performance theaters and a workforce training center. The plans even include a rooftop farm and a rooftop event space.
Memo Salazar, the co-chair of WQCLT, said that the building would be put to better use if it were to be managed as a CLT as opposed to being in the hands of developers.
“Rent is so crazy expensive now that most people can’t even begin to fathom how they would go about opening a business or finding an affordable space to operate from,” Salazar said.
“Overheads alone are so much it’s become prohibitive…so the land trust really helps people in that regard.”
Salazar said the building could also be used by non-profits, community groups or artists who have been priced out of the market.
He said the group has enlisted an architectural firm that has come up with different design concepts for the DOE building. Bagchee Architects, a Manhattan-based firm, recently published its plans and WQCLT will be handing out brochures Saturday summarizing its designs.
The plans would see the CLT taking up around two-thirds of the 561,000 square foot building with the DOE occupying the remaining third.
Salazar said the organization aims to get feedback from the community Saturday, as the plans continue to evolve. He said the plans are the first step in a long process that will ultimately see the group approach the city with its design concepts.
“It’s really just the kickoff, alerting the community, the press and the city,” Salazar said. “It’s a very open event and we look forward to all kinds of feedback to see what people think.”
Non-profits and other stakeholders that could potentially use the building will also be present. There will also be live music performed by various local artists, he said.
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