Business / Economy

HRA moves into BankNote Building

Cole Rosengren

HRA’s new space at the BankNote Building is now open for business.

Almost 2,000 per day will visit Hunts Point for social services

After two years of planning and renovations, the city’s Human Resources Administration has moved its Bronx operations from four other offices to Hunts Point’s historic BankNote building.

The move coincides with the building’s sale, which its former landlord, Taconic Investment Partners, announced in September. The white shoe firm sold the landmarked former mint for $114 million to a consortium comprising investment firms Madison Marquette and Perella Weinberg. Taconic originally bought the building in 2007 for $32 million and embarked on an ambitious renovation project it says cost $58 million.

The city agency will take up about half of the building’s 410,000 square feet of floor space, and will provide services including child support enforcement, home health care, Medicaid, food stamps and HIV/AIDS assistance to about 1,700 clients per day.

Although HRA officials promised in a September press release that the move “will provide clients in the Bronx with a more convenient ‘one stop’ experience and will improve the work atmosphere for staff,” some workers, residents and officials are questioning it. Some staff members argue that having to cross eight lanes of Bruckner Boulevard traffic to get to and from work is not just a hassle; it’s a job hazard.

Madison Marquette, the managing partner, declined requests for comment.

At an Oct. 29 Community Board 2 meeting, an HRA employee and union delegate, Terry Payton, said employees are upset.

“My members are terrified to come out of work,” said Payton, citing dimly lit streets around the BankNote. In addition, he said, workers have complained about limited transportation and a shortage of bathrooms.

“It’s like singing to the choir,” responded board chair Ian Amritt, adding that the 41st Precinct will be forced to send more police officers to the building, further stretching slim resources. The board vigorously opposed the move when Taconic and HRA officials proposed it in 2011.

An official from Local 371, the union that represents the city’s social services workers, wrote in a statement that his group is aware of its constituents’ worries.

“We will continue to address worker concerns at the building,” wrote Anthony Wells, 371’s president. “We did a walk through of the building and we’ve talked to HRA security about securing necessary NYPD patrols in the area.”

Community Board 2’s district manager, Rafael Salamanca, said that the board has requested additional police officers and street lights in the 2015 budget, and is pushing to ensure that local residents can access the new offices. Some local ZIP codes are currently excluded.

“The agreement was, ‘you have to service our residents, they shouldn’t have to travel anywhere else,’” Salamanca said.

At an Oct. 30 meeting at the office of Community Board 1, a few blocks from HRA’s former Melrose office, board members raised similar concerns about Mott Haven residents having to travel to Hunts Point now that their local social service office is closing.

“People have been coming to us saying, ‘how are we supposed to get there?’” said board member Brenda Goodwin. Families from Mott Haven’s many homeless shelters, she said, have told her that getting to the BankNote has proved one more in a series of hardships.

Not all of HRA’s clients see the move as a downgrade, however. Sherrie Everly, a client who used to go to the former Melrose office on East 161st Street, said that office was congested and dingy compared with the new facility.

“It’s actually nicer than the old one, and cleaner. In that regard, I guess it’s worth the trip,” she said.

Some in Hunts Point are eager to profit from the huge new tenant. Drawn by the promise of more than 2,000 people crossing the Bruckner every weekday, vendors have been jockeying for spots in front of the BankNote’s Barretto Street entrances. HRA said in its September press release that the new operation will “help with the continued revitalization of the neighborhood” by providing “an estimated $650,000 to over $1.3 million in annual food purchases by HRA staff alone.”

Although BankNote management officials have worried that incoming HRA clients could clash with residents from the homeless shelter on Barretto Street and others, they say so far the move has been peaceful.

“I had my force fields up, I was ready to go to war,” said Raymond Arroyo, the building’s general manager, adding that he has requested additional lighting and cameras in his own budget.

The block-wide brick building has undergone drastic changes in recent years. When Taconic bought the BankNote in 2007, it hoped to use its historic cache and expansive views of the Manhattan skyline to lure deep-pocketed renters, but the economy tanked shortly after the 2007 sale, dooming that strategy. It instantly raised rents, forcing dozens of artists and arts groups who had worked there for years to leave.

Earlier in October, iconic environmental non-profit group Sustainable South Bronx announced that after ten years in the building it was moving the job training part of its operations to Morris Heights. In a press release, the group’s executive director, Michael Brotchner wrote, “While it was difficult to say goodbye to our 4th floor offices in the BankNote building, the decision to move enables us to spend more of our financial resources on programs while simultaneously improving those programs by securing better space.”

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