A coalition of community members and merchants are claiming victory after obtaining a non-binding, signed ‘letter of intent’ from a controversial new building operator in their community.
The Throggs Neck Strong coalition met with representatives from Steward Redevelopment on Tuesday, October 3 to sign the letter with certain stipulations that they believe will please the community concerning the future use of 2800 Bruckner Boulevard.
“It is a great day in Throggs Neck,” said Bob Jaen, TNS co-chair, after the letter was signed following several meetings with Steward Redevelopment’s Michael Fernandes and Anthony Carbone and TNS’ core members and elected officials.
Steven Kaufman, TNS chairman, said that he believes that the group was able to prevent the owner from putting anything in the building that would be a detriment to the community.
“This (signed letter) reflects their intentions,” said Kaufman. “At least they have expressed them in writing.”
Kaufman said that their original intention had been to clear the entire building for some purpose, but now they appear to have backed away from that plan.
He said that both he and Jaen believe the new owners want to work with the community.
Jaen said that he believes that they caught the situation early, before evictions could be fully carried out and the situation could have been worse.
The building had become a lightning rod of controversy in the Throggs Neck community since the summer after Steward Redevelopment purchased the property’s limited liability corporation from Michael D’Alessio.
When this happened, commercial tenants with leases received eviction notices and tenants noticed that beds were moved into the building’s garage.
Now, with the non-legally binding letter of intent, the community at least has the word of Fernandes, Steward Redevelopment’s managing partner, concerning the planned uses for the building.
According to the letter, these will primarily be services for “autistic children, veterans suffering from (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), vocational training and counseling for persons who have already completed rehabilitation programs.”
It will not be home to transitional housing or a detox center, according to the letter, and multiple sources confirmed that it’s not zoned to be a homeless shelter or to have sleeping accommodations.
Steward Redevelopment is a for-profit company, said Carbone, and will maintain offices in the building.
Carbone said at least six original tenants remain on the building’s top floor, where the sensory gym for autistic youngsters will be located.
“We can turn a negative into a positive,” said Carbone, who called himself an assistant to Fernandes, acknowledging Steward’s missteps and saying that they are still in the process of finalizing the staffing for the facility.
Carbone’s ‘ballpark estimate’ of the space still being utilized by its current tenants is 45% to 50% of the building, though different estimates were offered from TNS and Senator Jeff Klein’s office.
According to its website, Steward Redevelopment operates supportive housing at other locations, and offers real estate investment products offering to put investors “on the fast track to huge profits.”
Klein’s staff analyzed two initial presentations that Steward Redevelopment made about their facility at 2800 Bruckner Boulevard, which they are calling Miracle City.
According to Klein’s staff’s research, they believe that one page from the initial presentation concerning internal medicine was copied, almost word for word, from the website of a wellness center in Portland, OR, actually mentioning Portland repeatedly in the presentation for Miracle City.
A second presentation on Miracle City appears to have information about a hyperbaric chamber taken from a website of another medical provider in Hilton Head, SC, according to Klein’s office.
Doctors and insurance companies that were supposed to be part of the project, based on conversations with Steward Redevelopment, have also told Klein’s office that they did not know of the company, said a Klein spokesman.
Representatives from Klein’s office said recently that state licenses had not yet been issued for some of the types of services the company has indicated would be offered at the building.
Carbone said the errors were made before he was handling marketing for Steward Redevelopment.
Fernandes and Carbone appeared in front of Community Board 10 on Thursday, September 28, when several board members pointed out inconsistencies in terms of what they were told and expressed skepticism.
One board member asked for a community board meeting with medical personnel who will oversee the programing, which as of press time, has not occurred.
Despite assurances, Klein said that Fernandes continues to be inconsistent in respect to the future uses of 2800 Bruckner Boulevard.
“His plans seem to change on a weekly basis, and have been repeatedly discredited by myself and my staff,” said Klein. “While Mr. Fernandes did appear in front of the community board, critical questions about the future use of the building remain unanswered.”
The senator said he couldn’t support the Miracle City proposal without complete clarity about the services that will be provided in the building.
At the CB 10 meeting, members of Steward Redevelopment were invited to further meetings with the board.
The company’s representatives promised greater transparency at the meeting.
Even so, Mary Jane Musano, a CB 10 member and Waterbury-LaSalle Community Association board member, expressed skepticism.
“I think the main problem is you cannot get (Fernandes) to be transparent, and when he does tell you something, it doesn’t check out,” she said.