Today’s news:

St. Barnabas promises to pave Grand Concourse lot

Under pressure from angry neighbors and its own physicians-in-training, St. Barnabas Hospital has announced that it plans to tidy up and pave over 2050 Grand Concourse, an empty lot where it hopes to build a health clinic one day.

St. Barnabas purchased 2050 Grand Concourse in 2007 and won Community Board 5 support in its effort to build a ten-story medical clinic on the lot. In early 2008, it demolished a 100-year old Elks Lodge. Abandoned by the Elks in 1995, the three-story building was temporarily used by the non-profit Citizen’s Advice Bureau. Neighbors challenged St. Barnabas on the demolition and on asbestos removed from the Elks Lodge, and questioned St. Barnabas at a series of public meetings.

The hospital’s clinic plan then collapsed in late 2008 when Wall Street faltered, Arlene Ortiz-Allende, senior vice-president of Community Affairs for St. Barnabas, told neighbors at a CB5 health and human services committee meeting on Thursday, November 19. Lately, neighbors have protested the empty lot’s appearance and raised concerns about rodents in the rubble.

“We know you are all concerned,” Ortiz-Allende said. “But we are not abandoning or disregarding the property.”

St. Barnabas has engaged a resident of the neighborhood to clean the sidewalk in front of the lot, Ortiz-Allende stated. Hospital security guards visit the lot daily and St. Barnabas senior staff members visit weekly, she added. The hospital also maintains a security fence and has paid for rodent traps at the lot since July, Ortiz-Allende said.

Neighbor Louella Hatch, who attends First Union Baptist Church on the same block as the empty lot, was dissatisfied with the report.

“Our church was appraised and its property value went down,” she informed Ortiz-Allende, believing the lot was responsible for lowering the church’s value.

Ortiz-Allende said, “We didn’t know that the banks would fail. We didn’t know that credit would dry up. We were doing business as usual…in good faith.”

St. Barnabas has reached out to elected officials and private developers in an effort to begin construction, and in the meantime plans to pave the lot, Ortiz-Allende said. CB5 Health and Human Services Committee chair Bernice Williams, who talked to St. Barnabas president Dr. Scott Cooper on November 19, asked neighbors to remain patient and estimated the cost of paving the lot at $200,000. Ortiz-Allende offered no timeline for the paving but Hatch demanded that it be completed five to ten days from November 19.

Posts to a blog maintained by the Committee of Interns and Residents at St. Barnabas Hospital have fueled neighborhood discontent over 2050 Grand Concourse.

One post refers to a planned $28 million new parking garage. Some neighbors think the hospital should spend on 2050 Grand Concourse instead.

The garage would be built thanks to federal stimulus funds designated for shovel-ready sites; it is shovel ready while 2050 Grand Concourse is not.

Reach reporter Daniel Beekman at 718 742-3383 or dbeekman@cnglocal.com

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